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VIRGINIA — As Gov. Glenn Youngkin faces a challenge to his executive order on masking in schools, the governor has announced interim COVID-19 guidance for parents and K-12 schools.
One of Youngkin's day one executive orders called for parents to make the choice on whether their child wears a mask in school, repealing the mandate previously issued by Gov. Ralph Northam in 2021. According to the Washington Post, a parent group in Chesapeake is challenging the order in the Supreme Court of Virginia, claiming the order goes against state law. On behalf of Youngkin, Attorney General Jason Miyares asked the Supreme Court of Virginia to dismiss the lawsuit.
Youngkin's order also drew an immediate response from some school districts. Some school districts, including those in the Northern Virginia region, indicated they would keep their current mask requirements.
As Youngkin awaits a ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court, he appeared to ask families to listen to school leaders' direction in the meantime.
"I am confident that the Virginia Supreme Court will rule in the favor of parents, reaffirming the parental rights clearly laid out in the Virginia code § 1-240.1," said Youngkin in a statement. "In the meantime, I urge all parents to listen to their principal, and trust the legal process."
The interim guidelines from the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Education address COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Youngkin said in a statement the guidelines were redeveloped around his principles of "parental rights, keeping kids in the classroom five days a week, and keeping kids safe and healthy."
COVID-19 prevention strategies recommended for parents in the guidelines are keeping children home when sick, seeking care and testing as needed, vaccination, and masks. The masks section in the guidelines states "there are benefits and costs to mask wearing in the school environment." The guidelines claim reduced or little benefits from cloth masks, soiled or poorly-fitted masks, and masks not worn properly.
The guidelines acknowledge the CDC's recommendation for N95 or K95 masks but say "such masks are very tight and uncomfortable, and may be poorly tolerated by children." However, temporary masking is recommended in cases where a child returns from COVID-19 isolation or had a close contact exposure.
Aside from recommending mitigation strategies, guidelines also address COVID-19 notifications from schools, screening testing and test-to-stay options, and guidance for parents on when their child should return to school.