Despite a Jan. 13 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Biden administration’s COVID-vaccine mandate for large employers and an executive order from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to end mandatory masking in schools, Fairfax County officials said they have no plans to deviate from current pandemic policies.
“In Fairfax County, we will continue to make decisions based on science and the guidance of our public-health professionals,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) told the Sun Gazette.
“We know that getting vaccinated and wearing a mask, particularly while we remain in a state of high community transmission, are essential measures to help keep our employees and the people we serve safe and are within our authority to require,” McKay continued. “No significant changes to our county’s vaccination/testing policy and masking requirements are planned at this time.”
The situation was much the same at Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) after Gov. Youngkin’s issued nine executive orders immediately upon taking office Jan. 15.
Youngkin’s Executive Order No. 2 gives parents the option to not have their children wear masks at school.
Youngkin’s order, set to take effect Jan. 24, would allow parents of children enrolled in elementary or secondary schools, school-based early childcare and educational programs to choose not to let their children be subject to mask mandates at those institutions.
The order also specifies that parents making such decisions do not need to provide reasons or certifications regarding their children’s health or education.
The governor’s executive order states that school mask mandates have “proven ineffective and impractical” and failed to keep pace with rapidly changing scientific information.
“Many children wear masks incorrectly, providing little or no health benefit,” the order reads. “The masks worn by children are often ineffective because they are made from cloth material, and they are often not clean, resulting in the collection of impurities, including bacteria and parasites.”
In addition to making students’ breathing difficult and uncomfortable, they increase feelings of isolation and exacerbate mental-health issues, the order states.
“Masks inhibit the ability of children to communicate, delay language development, and impede the growth of emotional and social skills,” it reads.
In a Jan. 16 statement, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the school system was reviewing Youngkin’s executive order, but still would require students and staff to wear masks.
“FCPS continues to require universal mask wearing in alignment with CDC guidance,” Brabrand’s statement read. “Our layered prevention strategies have proven effective in keeping transmission rates low in our schools. We know our students are best served by in-person instruction. Adhering to our layered prevention strategies, especially universal masking, keeps our schools open and safe places for students to learn.”
Reaction to the governor’s new policy has varied by locality, with school systems closer to Washington, D.C., vowing the most resistance and those farther out looking to end the masking requirements. The Loudoun County School Board voted unanimously Jan. 18 to continue requiring students and staff to wear masks.
Youngkin’s new policy is not the first time an outside authority has stepped in during the pandemic to overrule local school officials.
Vexed by online-learning programs that were not proving effective, the Virginia General Assembly last year passed a bill requiring school boards to offer in-person instruction for each student. Former Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed the bill into law and it is set to expire Aug. 1.
State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax-Vienna), was the lead Democratic sponsor on that bill and advanced a companion budget amendment to requiring schools to reopen.