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Virginia Senate Votes to Make Masks in Schools Optional

‘This is not about masks; this is about parents' rights to have judgment,’ said Education Secretary-designee

The Virginia Senate voted Wednesday to make masks optional in all of the state’s K-12 schools. The bill now goes to the Republican-led House, which is expected to support it.

The Senate voted 21 to 17 for a bill that would require schools to instruct students in person and give parents the right to decide if their children should wear masks in school. 

The bill would take effect July 1, but Governor Youngkin hopes to implement it sooner, possibly as soon as the end of February.

Youngkin celebrated the vote as a win in a written statement that also took a jab at school boards who continue requiring masks.

“I promised that as governor, Virginia would move forward with an agenda that empowers parents on the upbringing, education, and care of their own children. I am proud to continue to deliver on that promise,” he said. “This vote also shows that school boards who are attacking their own students are stunningly detached from reality.”

Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant and Sen. Chap Petersen teamed up to create the mask measure, which emerged as governors in several other states have recently moved to end statewide school mask mandates. 

The other states are still leaving masking decisions up to local school boards. However, the Virginia bill would let individual parents decide.

Democrats have narrow control of the Senate, and three — Sen. Chap Peterson, Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey, and Sen. Lynwood W. Lewis Jr. — joined Republicans to support the bill. 

In November, Youngkin won the governor’s race with a campaign that played into a range of school-related culture wars, ranging from educational materials to mask and vaccine mandates. 

The new governor issued a battery of executive orders on Inauguration Day, including one giving parents the right to decide if their children wear masks in schools.

Several school districts, aided by parents, have challenged that order, arguing it violates a state law that expires in August and the state constitution, which gives local school boards authority over their schools.

Education Secretary-designee Aimee Guidera told the senate committee that masks are no longer seen as effective deterrents to the spread of coronavirus. She said that’s not the point of the bill.

“This is not about masks; this is about parents’ rights to have judgment” of what’s best for their children, Guidera said.

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