Point-Counterpoint: Mask Mandate Battle

Glenn Youngkin defies state law for political points

An executive order has to be worth more than the piece of paper it’s written on.

Youngkin’s day-one executive order banning mask mandates ought to be thrown in the trash. It isn’t just reckless, it’s illegal. The General Assembly’s SB1303, written by Republicans and with bipartisan support in 2021, through the support of every Republican in both the House and the Senate, requires school districts to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on COVID-19 mitigation to “the maximum extent practicable.” The CDC guidelines are quite clear: universal masking is requisite to preventing the spread of COVID-19. Youngkin’s executive order is in deliberate defiance of this state law. I know the concept of government is quite foreign to our new governor, but he’ll need to learn that we have three branches of government. If the governor doesn’t like a law, he can work with the legislature to change it, but he cannot unilaterally rescind laws passed by the legislature. Virginia elected a governor in November, not a king.

Youngkin is playing fast and loose with the health and safety of students, teachers and their families in order to score partisan political points. He’s also broken from his “appeal to the centrist voter” approach that brought him an electoral victory in November. On the campaign trail, Youngkin made clear that he would repeal Governor Ralph Northam’s order requiring masks in schools but maintained that the issue of whether to require masks would be left to each school district. In other words, the pledge was that if Fairfax County wanted to require masks for students, we could, and if neighboring Fauquier County didn’t want to require masks, it could as well.

FCPS is in no position to bash partisan policy

The “appeal to the centrist voter” which Glenn Youngkin campaigned so hard on is intertwined with the partisan actions of school boards. Politically influenced curriculum aside, delayed return-to-school efforts were a major misstep by local boards, particularly in Fairfax County.

Despite pushback from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, who is local chapters FCPS now uses for medical expertise in their town halls, the county did not return to school until its hand was forced by the aforementioned SB1303 bill. Even students with severe disabilities, unable to participate in virtual learning and with parents working during the day, were kept out of school all the way until Feb. 16. The vast majority of students only returned between March 2 and 16, conveniently nine days after SB1303 passed the second of Virginia’s legislative chambers, requiring in-person learning in 2021.

Notably, then-governor Northam and the recently inaugurated President Biden also started showing strong support for a return to school. With those endorsements, the FCPS school board, which features 12 members all endorsed by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, finally agreed to the consensus the experts had reached half a year earlier.

Politics have influenced county policy throughout the pandemic, to the detriment of the students schools exist to educate and the parents funding them. Removing masking policies is not what FCPS needs at this time, but county leadership has no merit in crying foul over politically motivated decisions by the new governor or demanding he “listen to the experts.” After all, those partisan actions affecting our education are what swayed voters to put him into office.