On Wednesday, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin signed Virginia Senate Bill 739 into law, which creates the option for parents to opt-out from local school mask mandates on behalf of their children and prohibits schools from enforcing masking.
"Today we are reestablishing and restoring power back to parents," Youngkin told a crowd at Wednesday’s signing. "But we are also reestablishing our expectations that we will get back to normal. This is the path, this is the path. So thank you all for coming, and now we're gonna do a little work."
"It is my privilege and honor to be able to sign Senate Bill 739 into law in the Commonwealth of Virginia," he added, which was met by a long cheer from the crowd.
On Day one of Youngkin’s time in office, he signed 11 executive orders, one of which includes ending mask mandates in schools.
In response to Youngkin issuing a "mask-optional" policy for Virginia schools, late last month seven school boards filed a lawsuit against the governor, claiming that the school boards and districts have a right to require their students to wear masks.
The suit, filed in Arlington district court and helmed by Fairfax County Public schools, asked the court to bar enforcement of the policy.
The school boards complained that Youngkin's order violated "Article 8, Section 7 of Virginia’s constitution, which asserts that 'the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.'" The suit alleges that school boards, and not parents should determine who gets to show their face.
Following this lawsuit and orders from Youngkin, the Loudoun County Public School system said it would suspend any students who show up to school without a mask.
In response to Loudoun’s actions, Youngkin and other Virginia officials asked the court to include them as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by parents against Loudoun County Public Schools for their mask mandate.
A lawsuit was filed earlier this month by parents against Loudoun County Public Schools for ignoring an Executive Order signed by Youngkin that allowed parents to opt their kids out of having to wear a mask at school.
The following day, a Virginia judge placed a temporary pause on Youngkin’s mask orders after they said he can’t override local school board officials when it comes to the issue of who has the authority to demand what when it comes to mask mandates.
Days later, the Virginia Senate voted to approve an amendment to SB 739 allowing parents to choose whether or not their children will wear masks in school.
The Democrat-controlled Senate chamber voted 29 to 9 in favor of Democratic state Sen. Chap Petersen's floor amendment Tuesday to Republican state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant's in-person learning bill. The legislative amendment creates the option for parents to opt-out from local school mask mandates, without giving an excuse and regardless of rules adopted by local school boards.
The legislation, SB739, itself would require school boards in Virginia to offer in-person instruction to each public school division "for at least the minimum number of required annual instructional hours," according to the bill's summary.
"Notwithstanding any other provision of law or any regulation, rule, or policy implemented by a school board, school division, school official, or other state or local authority, the parent of any child enrolled in a public elementary or secondary school, or in any school-based early childhood care and education program, may elect for such child to not wear a mask while on school property. A parent making such an election shall not be required to provide a reason or any certification of the child's health or education status. No student shall suffer any adverse disciplinary or academic consequences as a result of this parental election," the floor amendment in the nature of a substitute reads.
"In an overwhelming bipartisan show of support, the Senate of Virginia took a significant step today for parents and children. I applaud Senator Petersen’s amendment to give parents the right to decide whether their children should wear masks in schools," said Gov. Glenn Youngkin, praising in a press statement the "overwhelming" adoption of Petersen's amendment to SB739.
"In the last week, we have seen Democrat-led states like Oregon, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware move away from universal mask mandates in schools. I am pleased that there is bipartisan support for doing the same in Virginia. This shows that when we work across the aisle, we put Virginians first. I look forward to signing this bill when it comes to my desk," he continued.