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Judge blocks Va. Gov. Youngkin's order making masks optional in public schools

Seven school districts sued to block the order, which overrode local masking policies.
Image: Glenn Youngkin
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks during a news conference at the Capitol, in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 27, 2022.Steve Helber / AP file

A state judge in Virginia on Friday issued a temporary restraining order blocking Gov. Glenn Youngkin's executive order making masking in schools optional.

In her ruling, Arlington County Circuit Court Judge Louise M. DiMatteo found the seven school districts that had sued to block the order were "likely to succeed" with their argument that Youngkin did not have the authority to overrule the local school boards.

The school districts filed suit last month, contending that Youngkin's Jan. 15 order allowing parents to decide if their children wear masks in public schools despite district mask requirements was “a clear violation of the School Boards’ constitutional rights and responsibilities.” They also contended making the masking optional would make their universal masking policy to combat the spread of Covid-19 "ineffective."

Youngkin's lawyers contended he had the authority to issue the order because of the governor's "very broad" emergency powers. His team sought a court order enforcing Youngkin's directive, which was supposed to take effect on Jan. 24 but has been defied in some school districts, the Washington Post reported.

Youngkin, who campaigned on giving parents more control over their kids' education, signed the order on his first day in office. The judge's order, which will remain in place until she issues a final decision in the case, is Youngkin's first major setback in court.

Macaulay Porter, a spokesman for Youngkin, said the administration would appeal the ruling.

“The governor will never stop fighting for parents’ ability to choose what is best for their children," Porter said.

In a joint statement, the school districts praised the ruling.

"Prior to today’s decision, Virginia school boards were placed in a legally untenable position — faced with an executive order in conflict with the state constitution and state law. That conflict has also put the health and safety of our students and staff at risk, as the Omicron variant continues to affect Virginia localities," the statement said.

"We look forward to a day in the not too distant future when universal mask-wearing is no longer needed as part of our layered health mitigation strategies in order to keep our schools open for in-person learning, but that day is not yet here."