Virginia prohibition on school mask mandates to be determined by courts

(The Center Square) – A new Virginia law prohibits school divisions from enforcing face mask mandates, but at least one school district and some parents are suing the commonwealth to overturn the legislation.

Senate Bill 739, which Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed into law in February, allows parents to opt their children out of any school-imposed mask rules. Under the legislation, which school districts were required to comply with beginning March 1, school officials are prohibited from using any disciplinary or academic punishments to enforce mask rules if a parent opted a student out.

According to the law, which the governor championed as a parental rights bill, the parents could opt their children out of mask rules in any school setting and would not need to provide any justification. Masks are still required on school buses, in accordance with federal guidelines.

The legislation was controversial among some school districts that wanted to continue imposing their mask mandates on children. A group of Virginia parents filed a lawsuit against the new law, claiming that it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and puts at-risk children in harm’s way. The parents are receiving legal representation from the Virginia American Civil Liberties Union.

“The students in our lawsuit have disabilities that make them susceptible to severe illnesses if they contract COVID-19,” the Virginia ACLU said in a statement. “C.B. has a reactive airway disease & C.S. has leukemia & a weakened immune system. They should not have to choose between their health & in-person education.”

The lawsuit does not seek to reinstate the statewide mask mandate that was in effect during the Gov. Ralph Northam administration, but rather seeks to overturn the statewide prohibition. If the judge rules in favor of these parents, the certain masking decisions would be left up to the local school divisions.

Fairfax County Public Schools filed a motion in support of the lawsuit, arguing the school division should be allowed to impose its own rules to best accommodate students with disabilities.

Attorney General Jason Miyares urged the judge to throw out the lawsuit and the Fairfax County Parents Association filed a motion in support of the current law. The FCPA argued mask mandates negatively impact certain children with disabilities, such as those who need speech therapy.

The judge intends to make a ruling quickly. The ACLU is requesting the judge halt the enforcement of the law pending the outcome of the ruling on the case.