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Washington — Republican Glenn Youngkin began his term as governor of Virginia on Saturday with executive actions that tackle education and the COVID-19 pandemic, including a ban on critical race theory in public schools and a lifting of school mask requirements.
Youngkin, the first Republican to win statewide office in Virginia since 2009, signed nine executive orders and two executive directives following his swearing-in. Youngkin said the executive actions are "important steps" that launches "the work of restoring excellence in education, making our communities safer, opening Virginia for business and reinvigorating job growth, and making government work for the people, and not the other way around."
The first executive order from the governor prohibits the teaching of "inherently divisive concepts," including critical race theory, an academic concept developed by legal scholars to examine the ongoing effects of racism in American policies and institutions. The issue became a flash point in the Virginia governor's race and a lightning rod for conservatives. At least have sought to restrict the teaching of critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism.
"Political indoctrination has no place in our classrooms," Youngkin said in his executive order, adding that "inherently divisive concepts, like critical race theory and its progeny, instruct students to only view life through the lens of race and presumes that some students are consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist, or oppressive, and that other students are victims."
Youngkin also took unilateral action to remove school mask requirements statewide, a move that prompted pushback from school districts outside of Washington, D.C. The governor's order states that parents with children in public schools "may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child's school or educational program."
"A child whose parent has elected that he or she is not subject to a mask mandate should not be required to wear a mask under any policy implemented by a teacher, school, school district, the Department of Education, or any other state authority," Youngkin's order continued.
Following the governor's executive order, Arlington Public Schools announced Saturday there would be no change to its mask requirements, with the face coverings still required for staff and students inside school grounds and on buses. Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent Scott Braband also said the district, the state's largest, would continue to require universal masking, though the system is examining Youngkin's executive order.
Alexandria City Public Schools said it, too, would continue to require all individuals wear masks in schools, facilities and on buses.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki praised the decision by Arlington Public Schools to leave its mask requirements in place, thanking the district on Twitter for "standing up for our kids, teachers and administrators and their safety in the midst of a transmissible variant."