But Youngkin’s effort to give parents unilateral control over whether they endanger the lives of their own children while simultaneously endangering the lives of other parents’ kids unleashed immediate havoc on educators and parents across the state. Seven school boards, including the largest in the state—Fairfax County Public Schools—sued the governor immediately to stop his order from taking effect.
A Washington Post analysis of all 131 school districts found that 69 districts—or 53%—are still mandating masks for all students in defiance of Youngkin’s order, which was supposed to take effect Monday. The Post writes:
Cumulatively, those districts enroll 846,483 students, or about 67 percent of the state’s public school student population. The divide falls along partisan lines, although not perfectly: Almost every district that opted to make masks optional is in a locality that voted for Youngkin in the 2021 gubernatorial election.
Youngkin’s order was also a bait and switch on what he said about masking when he was campaigning for governor. Youngkin had suggested he would leave masking decisions up to individual school boards, saying that “localities are going to have to make decisions the way the law works.”
At the time, Youngkin’s stance was consistent with the wishes of some two-thirds of the Virginia electorate. In a September 2021 Washington Post-Schar School poll, 66% of Virginia’s public school parents said they supported mask mandates for teachers, staff, and students, as did 69% of registered voters overall.
Now Youngkin claims his new order is consistent with comments he made on the campaign trail.
“What I said all along is that I’m going stand up for parents’ rights when it comes to their children. I do believe that this should be a local decision, and I think parents should have the right to opt out,” the governor told reporters Wednesday. “If localities want to have mask mandates, they absolutely are able to do that. However, parents have a right to opt out — they know what’s best for their kids,” calling the bait and switch “100% consistent” with what he campaigned on.
The science is clear: Multiple studies have found that in-school mask mandates decrease transmission of the coronavirus and that universal mask wearing saves lives and keeps kids safe in in-person school settings.
So what Youngkin is defending is the right of one parent to put another parent’s child at risk.
“The governor and attorney general are in coordination and are committed to aggressively defending parents’ fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child’s upbringing, education and care, as the legal process plays out,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement.
But not to worry, Youngkin’s “having a ball.” Wonder how many Virginia parents are sharing in the levity.