School-system leaders in Northern Virginia and across the commonwealth considering defiance against a new state law on student masking can expect a swift response from the commonwealth’s chief legal enforcer.
“We’re going to sit back, we’re going to observe,” state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) told WMAL radio on Feb. 18, referring to newly enacted legislation requiring school systems to drop mask mandates by March 1.
“Any school board that thinks they’re going to defy [the new law] . . . they’re going to be hearing from our office very quickly,” Miyares said.
In the wake of the new law, passed on a party-line vote in the House of Delegates and with a key handful of Democrats joining Republicans in the state Senate, a number of Northern Virginia school districts already have dropped mask mandates, or are about to do so. Another (Loudoun County) now appears under court order to do so.
Full-frontal defiance by other school districts seems unlikely, but how the school districts implement policies in the wake of the legislation could cause intervention by the attorney general’s office.
Further legal action awaits, although it seems unlikely – or at least unwise – that local school districts would continue their battle against an earlier executive order on the masking topic from Gov. Youngkin. The recently enacted mask-freedom law would seem to render that battle moot, since it codifies into state law much of what had been in the executive order.
In his remarks to the radio station, Miyares said Democratic leaders in Virginia seem incapable of moving forward in working to balance concerns about COVID with other student-health issues.
“They’re kind of stuck in an ideological straitjacket they can’t get themselves out of, and our kids are suffering,” said the new attorney general, who last November defeated two-term incumbent Democrat Mark Herring in a GOP sweep of statewide offices brought about, in part, by voter concerns about the performance of Virginia’s local-education leaders.
Miyares already has shown himself willing to interject his office into school affairs on Northern Virginia. Acting on a request from Youngkin, he dispatched former Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos to investigate the Loudoun County school system’s handling of several sexual-abuse cases.