Glenn Youngkin was sworn in on Saturday as Virginia’s 74th governor. On his first day in office he enacted 11 Executive Orders, and as promised, a significant portion of the orders centered around education in Virginia. Experts believe that Youngkin’s focus on education during his campaign was key to securing a win in the election.
On Saturday, Youngkin stressed the importance of in-person learning for schools, stating that school closures are causing way too many setbacks for Virginia’s children. He also spoke of keeping politics out of classrooms and increasing teacher pay. “It’s Day One, and we are going to work just like we promised. It’s a new day in Virginia, but the work is only beginning,” said Youngkin.
Youngkin’s first executive order aims to remove ‘divisive’ concepts from Virginia classrooms, most notably Critical Race Theory (CRT). This was a major talking point in the runup to November’s election, with Virginians from all political affiliations expressing concerns about its pervasiveness in the public school system. “Anyone who thinks that CRT and its underpinnings are not being taught in schools has not recently been in public schools,” Youngkin stated in his first television interview with Fox News since taking office. He went on to say that Loudoun County, in particular, went out of its way to obfuscate the fact that its tenets were propagated in their schools.
While former President Barack Obama claimed that suburban white parents are generating “phony, trumped-up culture war” issues such as CRT in his support of Youngkin’s opponent Terry McAuliffe, numerous reputable national polls continue to show that a majority of Americans, regardless of political leaning, are concerned about this very issue.
Loudoun County parent Scott Mineo of Parents Against Critical Race Theory stressed the importance of recognizing that CRT is just a framework for a collection of harmful ideologies and, early in the campaign, challenged Youngkin to go farther than banning CRT. Mineo said, “Promising to ‘ban CRT’ is empty unless he is willing to publicly state that he will also ban the tenets of CRT, as CRT is only a framework.” In the recent interview, Youngkin reiterated that his first executive order does precisely what Mineo suggested. The governor made it clear that he understood that the tenets themselves must be rooted out rather than taking a blanket approach
Youngkin’s second executive order centered around making masks optional for students in Virginia schools. He argues that the mandates have been ineffective and that the choice to mask should be in parents’ hands. The order drew sharp criticism from White House press secretary Jen Psaki. Psaki lives in Arlington County, one of the counties in Virginia that have publicly stated that they will continue to require masking in spite of Youngkin’s order.
“Jen, if for some reason you want to mask your children, you are still free to do so. This isn’t a ban on masks, this is a ban on forced masking of children against other parents’ wishes,” argued Mollie Hemingway, a Fox News contributor. Youngkin has continually doubled down on the importance of parental choice, masks being no exception.
The final education-related executive order signed by Youngkin was a charge to Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares to conduct a full investigation into the sexual assault cases involving two schools in Loudoun County. Youngkin asserts that school officials lied to parents and held back key details.
“Not only was the situation not taken seriously; it was hidden,” Youngkin said. The order is meant to hold the school board accountable for their poor handling of the situation. When asked if school board members will be forced to resign, Youngkin said most of the resignations should have happened already. However, he also said that when the full scope of the investigation is brought to light, resignations will undoubtedly happen as there was a clear dereliction of duty.
Youngkin also spoke about the issue of in-person learning: “We must keep children in school five days a week…remote learning should be an absolute last resort.” The governor also expressed support for the test-to-stay strategy, which would allow asymptomatic children who have been exposed to covid to stay in school after negative tests.
Whether it’s masking, curriculum, or transparency in the public school system, Youngkin made it clear with his executive orders that parental involvement and parental choice will be paramount in Virginia. “Virginians spoke loudly for a new direction,” Youngkin said, and it appears he has hit the ground running.