Despite a new executive order from Governor Glenn Youngkin, school districts responsible for hundreds of Virginia schools have indicated that mask mandates will continue.
As one of his first acts as governor, Youngkin, a Republican, issued an order on Saturday that effectively allows parents to exempt their children from school-mandated masks.
Despite Youngkin’s order, which is set to take effect on January 24, several school districts in the state said they would continue to impose mask requirements on students and staff.
According to Youngkin’s executive order, “parents of any child enrolled in an elementary or secondary school or a school-based early childcare and educational program may elect for their children to be exempt from any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is Virginia’s largest school district and one of the largest in the United States, with 198 schools.
In a letter to the school community, Superintendent Scott S. Brabrand stated: “FCPS continues to require the use of a universal mask in accordance with guidance. Our multi-tiered prevention strategies have been shown to be effective in reducing transmission rates in our schools.”
Brabrand was referring to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations that all children over the age of two wear masks at school in indoor settings.
Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS), which consists of 72 schools and program centers, has also stated that masks will continue to be required.
Marcie Shea, Chairwoman of the School Board, stated that HCPS takes the “responsibility to support in-person teaching and learning very seriously.”
“Masks are currently required to accomplish this as part of layered mitigation strategies,” she wrote. “My board colleagues and I will always consider the most recent health guidance and data in order to make decisions that are in the best interests of the Henrico community.”
On Sunday, Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. sent a letter to families in which he stated that the district would maintain its mask requirement while also providing KN95 masks. The school district is in charge of 25 schools and programs.
Arlington Public Schools, which oversees 41 schools and programs, also stated that the mask requirements would be maintained.
“As part of our layered approach to safety, Arlington Public Schools will continue to require all staff and students to wear masks inside on school grounds and on buses,” the district said. “Use of universal masks has proven effective in reducing COVID-19 transmission rates in our schools while also ensuring that schools remain safe and open.”
“Arlington Public Schools implemented our mask requirement this school year, prior to Governor Northam’s K-12 mask mandate, and we will continue to make decisions that prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of our students and staff, in consultation with local and national health professionals.”
On Saturday, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras tweeted that his district “will maintain its 100% mask mandate for students, staff, and visitors.”
Kamras’ school district oversees 53 schools and centers.
On Saturday, Youngkin was asked about Arlington Public Schools’ decision and told WTOP, “I hope they will listen to parents because we will use every resource within the governor’s authority to explore what we can and will do to ensure parents’ rights are protected.”