Court: Virginia county can’t enforce mask rules, must expunge punishments

(The Center Square) – A court ordered that Loudoun County, Virginia Public Schools cannot enforce its mask mandate on students and will need to expunge students’ records if they had been punished for not wearing masks.

Loudoun County schools had intended to end the mask mandate Feb. 22, but the court order requires them to end it immediately. The school district immediately complied with the order and sent a letter to the school community, students and staff that explained the new policy.

“Students may continue to wear masks if they choose to, but masks will not be required,” ​​Superintendent Scott Ziegler said in the letter. “The decision of whether to wear a mask or not is deeply personal for many families, we ask that you respect the decision of others. No one should be made to feel uncomfortable about their choice.”

Ziegler said all disciplinary consequences students faced for defying the school’s directives will be removed from their records, in compliance with the order. He thanked students, families and staff for their patience and said he understands the frustration many people have felt regarding the school’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies, particularly masking, but that the school division’s top priority has been student safety.

“I also understand that this is a rapid change,” Ziegler said. “If you have any specific questions or concerns, I ask that you reach out to your child’s principal for more specific guidance.”

Several court battles ensued after Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order that allowed parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates for any reason. To ease the confusion and ensure parents will have the authority to opt their children out of making requirements prior to the court rulings, the General Assembly passed legislation that instituted the same rules as the governor’s executive order. The legislation took effect immediately, but schools have until March 1 to comply with the law.

“Today is a great day for Virginia’s parents and kids,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Not only did we pass a bipartisan bill empowering parents to opt-out of school mask mandates, but also the Loudoun Circuit Court reaffirmed parents’ rights to have a say in their child’s health, education, care, and wellbeing. We’re excited that Loudoun has reached this decision. Importantly, the court ordered that any disciplinary action against students who were punished for following their parents’ decision to remove their mask will be expunged from their records.”

Students will still need to wear masks on school buses, per a federal order.