Gov. Youngkin seeks dismissal of lawsuit over school masks

Since issuing the executive order, he has faced pushback from school districts and Democratic lawmakers

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivers his State of the Commonwealth address before a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly in the House chambers at the Capitol Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

RICHMOND, Va. – Gov. Glenn Youngkin has asked the Supreme Court of Virginia to dismiss a lawsuit challenging his executive order allowing parents to opt out of mandates requiring children to wear masks in school.

A filing late Thursday from the office of Attorney General Jason Miyares cites a state law that says parents have a “fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care” of their children. Miyares also argues that Youngkin’s order falls well within the broad authority given to the governor to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Miyares argues that the executive order- issued by Youngkin on his first day in office - “restores to parents the authority to assess the risks and benefits COVID-19 poses to their children’s specific circumstances and to make the best decision for their children based on current health information.”

School districts in Virginia have required masks in part under a state law passed in 2021 that requires in-person instruction during the pandemic and for schools to adhere “to the maximum extent practicable” to mitigation guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC currently recommends masking by anyone 2 or older, regardless of their vaccination status.

Since Youngkin issued his executive order on Jan. 15, he has faced pushback from school districts and Democratic lawmakers. A group of parents from Chesapeake filed the lawsuit in the Supreme Court of Virginia, saying Youngkin’s order violates state law.

“Petitioners have no adequate remedy at law and no time to spare. They and their children are likely to suffer irreparable harm and damage if this Court declines to grant immediate relief,” they wrote.

Youngkin’s order said parents of any child in elementary or secondary schools or a school-based early childcare or educational program “may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate.”

School districts in many of the state’s most populous localities have informed parents, however, that they plan to keep existing mask mandates in place, at least temporarily. Several other school districts said they plan to comply with Youngkin’s order and will allow parents to opt out of mask mandates. On Thursday, the Chesapeake School Board voted to remove the district’s requirements for masks, WAVY-TV reported.

Youngkin, a Republican who is an advocate of vaccination efforts but campaigned against mask and vaccine mandates, recently said he would “use every resource within the governor’s authority” to ensure parents can choose whether their children wear masks.

Miyares argues that one of the reasons the court should dismiss the lawsuit is because the Chesapeake School Board’s decision to lift its mask mandate “means that whatever injury petitioners believe they have suffered is not fairly traceable” to Youngkin’s executive order.