Setting a bad precedent

Published 1:16 pm Thursday, January 20, 2022

New Gov. Glenn Youngkin had been in office only a few hours when he signed an order letting Virginia parents and public school students know that they don’t need to pay any heed to the mandates issued by their local school division.

It’s hardly surprising, considering Youngkin took advantage of rancor surrounding such issues as masks in schools and critical race theory to make his way to the governor’s mansion. He essentially promised Virginia voters that parents — not our state’s army of well-trained, professional educators — would be in charge. And he’s delivering, but this executive order is not a delivery we wanted to see.

Youngkin’s executive order could have simply rescinded a previous order by his predecessor, Ralph Northam, requiring masks in all Virginia public schools. That would have allowed each school division to form its own policy surrounding masking in school, and considering the pandemic’s varying effects on various parts of Virginia, that may not have drawn as much criticism.

However, that’s not what Youngkin did. What he did was issue an order that says, in relevant part, “The parents of any child enrolled in a elementary (sic) or secondary school or a school based early childcare and educational program may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.” The order goes on to state that parents do not need to provide a reason their child is not wearing a mask.

This is not only a bad precedent for a governor to tell parents they don’t need to follow the policies of their local school divisions, but also likely to lead to some case law before the month is out. In fact, on Tuesday, the first business day after the executive order was signed, the first lawsuit was filed by a group of Chesapeake parents.

The science is clear that wearing masks properly, in conjunction with other public health measures, helps quell the spread of the virus. Following the science is crucial. Yes, COVID-19 can and does sometimes take the lives of children, and continued spread of the virus in schools is not sustainable for anyone.

The order also tells schools they should “marshal any resources” to improve the indoor air quality in school facilities, and we certainly can’t disagree with that. We do wonder, however, how many resources Virginia’s public schools have left after weathering two years of this pandemic.