Legal expert explains how schools are rejecting Governor Youngkin’s executive order

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 7:33 AM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order lifting mask mandates in Virginia schools is now in effect, but some schools in the Commonwealth are continuing to require masks indoors.

Albemarle County Public Schools and Charlottesville City Schools are still requiring students, faculty, and staff to wear a mask at all times. It’s a decision, a legal expert we spoke with says the districts have the right to make.

“It’s no accident that this was one of the first executive orders,” University of Virginia School of Law professor, Margaret Riley said.

Youngkin’s executive order states that face coverings should no longer be required in schools.

“So you have an executive order, Executive Order Number Two, which includes an end to mask mandates for the schools. There was also a statute that was passed last year, that was part of an effort to reopen the schools. That statute was a compromise between Republican legislators and Democratic legislators and in that statute, what is required is that schools follow CDC guidelines. Right now, CDC guidelines require or strongly support, masking in schools in indoor situations,” Riley said.

Riley says an executive order can’t be in conflict with a state statute.

“What the governor would say is that they’re not in conflict or that in interpretation of that statute would bring it directly in conflict with other laws and therefore that interpretation should be read in a way that says this part of the statute is not applicable and the governor is appropriately able to impose a rule that says no mask mandates,” Riley said.

Despite Youngkin’s executive order, students, faculty, and staff at ACPS will be required to wear a mask.

“Our school principals support the wearing of masks in school,” ACPS spokesperson, Phil Giaramita said. “We believe it’s a proven part of our mitigation strategies that it works well.”

Ultimately, Riley says the Virginia Supreme Court will decide if the executive order is in conflict with the statute.

“That will be the final word of this,” Riley said.

In a statement, Charlottesville City Schools says it’s following the state rule that requires schools to follow the mitigation recommendations of the CDC and the federal requirement for masking on buses.

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