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Judge Puts Virginia Ban on School Face Mask Mandates on Hold

February 4, 2022 by Dan McCue
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, center, signs executive orders in the Governors conference room as Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, left, Suzanne Youngkin, second from left, Attorney General Jason Miyares, second from right, and Secretary of the Commonwealth, Kay Cole James, right, look on at the Capitol Saturday Jan. 15, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin cannot enforce a ban on face mask mandates in the state’s schools until the outcome of several pending cases on the issue are resolved, a state circuit court judge ruled Friday.

Judge Louise DiMatteo, of the Arlington County Circuit Court, issued a temporary restraining order against Youngkin’s ban two days after hearing arguments in a challenge to the ban filed by seven school districts.

Youngkin, the state’s newly elected Republican governor, signed an executive order imposing the ban on Jan 24. It not only overturns a statewide mask mandate signed by former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, but also bars local jurisdictions from imposing a mandate on students.

Several school boards across the state refused to comply with the governor’s order pending legal challenges, sowing uncertainty not only among school boards, but also parents.

On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Steven Popps argued Youngkin had every right and the power to impose the new executive order, and that the challenges to it were based not on a valid legal issue, but rather a difference of opinion on how to deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But John Cafferky, a lawyer for Alexandria Public Schools, one of seven school boards that jointly filed the lawsuit opposing Youngkin’s order, strongly disagreed.

Northam’s mask mandate was issued to protect public health; Youngkin, on the other hand, is trying to impose a personal preference that parents decide whether their children wear masks.

“The personal-choice rationale comes at the expense of schoolwide protection,” Cafferky said.

Joining the school board of Alexandria in the lawsuit were the boards of Arlington County, the City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Hampton and Prince William County. 

Cafferky also cited a state law that requires schools to adhere to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to the extent practicable, and said those guidelines recommend universal masking.

Both sides had asked that whatever Judge DiMatteo decided in regard to the temporary injunction, it apply statewide to provide clarity for local school administrators while the legal wrangling continues.

Related cases are also pending in Loudoun County and in front of the Virginia Supreme Court.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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