Virginia Schools Defying Governor Youngkin with Mandatory Mask Regulations

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FamVeld/shutterstock.com

Newly elected Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin has been putting his campaign promises into practice since taking office. But now there are a number of Northern Virginia schools that are refusing to enact the governor’s orders. These schools are not providing in-person education to students who were not wearing a mask on Monday and thus defied the executive order from Youngkin. 

When faced with the decision to obey the state’s rules or the school district’s rules, most of the students wore masks to avoid punishment from their school system. Those who did not wear a mask were forced into segregation in a separate room. 

There were approximately a dozen adults along with a dozen students at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville, VA who gathered together before school started to prepare for resistance. They stood as cheerleaders for other students who came to the school without masks telling them to be strong and that they deserved to breathe. They also chanted words like freedom, asking the students if they wanted it or did they want to be a slave to the school board. Students were challenged to get rid of the bacteria that comes with mask use. 

An 11th grader was interviewed by a news agency and said, “It’s our parents’ rights that they are taking away from us. We’re told to listen to our parents. Now they are not listening. It’s about respecting the government. We followed [Democratic Gov. Ralph] Northam, they should follow Youngkin.”

One of the adult organizers, Erin Thomas shared with students that they had every right to exercise their civil rights. They were given a copy of the governor’s executive order and they had a note from their parents. Some students chose to wear a mask to school, but then take them off when they got into the classroom and refuse to get up from their seats.

But most of the students chose not to defy their school board even if they disagreed with them. One student summed up the general sentiment by stating that he believed corona was basically over, but he was going to wear a mask so that he wasn’t sent home. 

As the school day started, students without masks were put in the auditorium. Megan Rafalski, the mother of a fifth-grader at Banneker Elementary in Loudoun, had this to say, “My son right now is sitting in the principal’s office. We have a special exception to go to the school we’re at so my son can go to the school with the kids he started with. They’re now telling me his exception is being rescinded for disciplinary reasons. For a one-time incident. He’s never been in trouble before.”

A sheriff’s deputy told the group that the sheriff would not be enforcing trespassing laws on people. Sheriff Mike Chapman said that the school would have to ask a judge for an arrest warrant.

But the protest may not need the courts to find a resolution. Chap Peterson is a moderate Democrat who joined with the state GOP to force school reopening last year. He wrote in an email to the Fairfax County Parents Associate that the school board should define an off-ramp for mandatory masking. He believes the forced masking policy will end very soon, or the General Assembly will step in. What is happening now is not a long-term solution. 

The GOP controls the statehouse while the Democrats control the state senate by a 21 to 19 margin. That means that any bill backed by Republicans and Peterson can be passed into law because a tie will be broken by Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears, a Republican.