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Fairfax County Public Schools still requires face masks, pushing back against new governor’s order

Face masks (via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash)

Fairfax County Public Schools plans to maintain its mask mandate despite Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order removing masking requirements in schools across the state.

The school system was one of several in the Commonwealth, particularly Northern Virginia, that pushed back against the freshly inaugurated governor’s order over the weekend.

FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the decision was made in alignment with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our layered prevention strategies have proven effective in keeping transmission rates low in our schools,” Brabrand wrote in a message to the community on Sunday (Jan. 16). “We know our students are best served by in-person instruction. Adhering to our layered prevention strategies, especially universal masking, keep our schools open and safe places for students to learn.’

In his executive order — one of several instituted after he took office on Saturday (Jan. 15) — Youngkin said that the universal masking requirements in schools has provided “inconsistent health benefits” and inflicted “notable harm.”

“There is no greater priority than the health and welfare of Virginia’s children,” the executive order reads. “Under Virginia law, parents, not the government, have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children.”

Brabrand did note that the school system is reviewing Youngkin’s executive order and will update the community about any changes to COVID-19 practices and protocol if they occur.

The Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics concurred with the school system’s decision.

“Face masks remain safe and reliable, and children have demonstrated their ability to wear them effectively,” the chapter’s statement reads, adding that masks allow schools to remain open.

The Democratic Party of Virginia called the governor’s actions “illegal” and an attempt to “appease the far-right instead of protecting Virginia’s children.”

“It’s a sad situation when local school boards in Virginia understand the law and the science more than the governor of Virginia does,” DPVA Chair Susan Swecker said.

But Youngkin says that while the CDC recommends masks, research has found no statistically significant link between mandatory masking and reducing transmission of COVID-19. He says that many children do not wear masks correctly and that the practice produces a “demoralizing” effect.

The executive order will go into effect on Jan. 24.

FCPS has reported 620 COVID-19 cases after five days of in-person instruction this year. A little over 1,500 students have been in quarantine this month.

Other school districts that plan to maintain their masking requirements include Arlington County, Alexandria City, Fauquier County, Loudoun County, Manassas City, Prince William County, Stafford County, and Spotsylvania County.

It is unclear how Youngkin will legally enforce the lifting of the mask requirement, but because Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, localities do not have powers outside of those enumerated by the state.

Photo via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

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