The vast majority of Virginia school districts have required in-school masking throughout the pandemic. But virtually no one knew what to expect Monday after most superintendents in the tony Virginia suburbs just outside the Beltway vowed to continue enforcing mask mandates, and the state’s lieutenant governor threatened on Fox News to yank funding from any non-compliant districts.
“The governor [is] throwing jet fuel on an already divisive culture clash in Virginia, and inviting lawsuits that will now consume much of his administration,” Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, told the Washington Post.
As some parents protested in support of mandates and others planned anti-mask walk ins with their children, many school boards braced to enforce masking measures that would ensure the safety of their students.
“We advised our members to report students and staff who don’t want to wear their masks,” said Kimberly Adams, board chair of the 4,000-strong Fairfax Education Association told the Post. “Now it’s just a waiting game to see what happens.”
Arlington was one of six districts that signed on to a lawsuit brought by Fairfax County Public Schools seeking an immediate injunction to block Youngkin’s order from being implemented. Fairfax filed the legal challenge on grounds that the order violated the Virginia Constitution, which states: “The supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” State lawmakers also passed a law last summer mandating that schools adopt federal health guidelines to the “maximum extent practicable.” CDC guidelines currently recommend in-school masking in K-12 schools for everyone aged 2 and up.
According to a Post tally, school officials in at least 58 of the state’s some 130 districts vowed to defy Youngkin’s order and continue requiring masks.
Meanwhile, things escalated in some rural areas of the state as angry parents agitated for their districts to lift the mandates. One anti-masking mother in Page County threatened school officials if they failed to make mask wearing optional.
“My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on, that’s not happening,” Amelia King said at a Page County school board meeting last week. “And I will bring every single gun loaded and ready,” she said, adding, “I will see you Monday.” The board ultimately voted to follow Youngkin’s order and make masking optional.
Youngkin seemed to acknowledge that things were escalating out of control in a tweet over the weekend begging for people to stay calm and peaceful.
“While the legal process continues on the parental opt out of mask mandates for their children in schools, I urge everyone to love your neighbor, to listen to school principals, and to trust the legal process,” the Youngkin tweeted Saturday morning.
That’s not the tweet of a governor who feels like they have a handle on things. That’s the tweet of a political novice who failed to anticipate the explosion before jumping on the pyre.
So much for Youngkin’s Midas touch and the GOP’s sure-fire education formula for the midterms. Youngkin just might end up being exhibit A in what suburban America can expect if they put Republicans in control in November—sheer chaos.