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Judge Says Schools Can Require Masks Despite Different Virginia Law

March 25, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Judge Says Schools Can Require Masks Despite Different Virginia Law
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin announces that he is calling a Special Session of the Legislature on April 4, as he stands outside the Senate. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

LYNCHBURG, Va. — A federal judge’s ruling this week modifies a Virginia law abolishing mask mandates in public schools.

U.S. District Judge Norman Moon ruled that schools with 12 students who have health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 could require their classmates to wear masks. 

The judge called the schools’ option for mask mandates a “reasonable accommodation” for students facing potentially lethal health hazards.

The Virginia General Assembly approved a law this year that allows parents to opt out of mask mandates. 

The court decision means some parents and their children will no longer have that choice if their schools decide to require masking.

The immunocompromised children range from preschool through 11th grade. They attend 10 different schools throughout Virginia.

Their parents asked the schools to require masking. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed the lawsuit on their behalf.

Moon wrote that the state law, along with an executive order from Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin that also made masking optional, will remain in effect.

His ruling grants the school systems attended by the 12 students a right to ignore the law.

The state law and governor’s executive order “cannot preclude plaintiffs from asking for some required masking as a reasonable modification, nor can they bar plaintiffs’ schools from implementing some required masking, if in fact, it would constitute a reasonable modification under federal law,” Moon wrote.

His ruling cited authority from the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which can require state agencies and public schools to offer reasonable modifications to give disabled students an equal opportunity to public education.

The ACLU of Virginia described the ruling as a precedent that transcends the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the injunction is limited to these 12 students, it is clearly a blueprint for any parent of a student with disabilities to assure their school district can make accommodations when the safety of their children is at stake and that state law cannot stand in the way,” the civil rights organization said in a statement.

The 12 students suffer from conditions that include asthma, Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, cancer and diabetes, all of which make them more susceptible to viral infection.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com

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