The Falls Church City’s School Board is convening in a special meeting tonight at 7 p.m. to take up the issue of whether or not to join other regional school districts that have acted to defy new Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s inauguration day executive order to remove mandates for students to wear masks in public schools.
Reaction against the new Republican governor’s order has been swift and emphatic throughout the Commonwealth in the days since. Virginia school divisions that have already gone on record defying the governor include Falls Church neighbors in Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria, Prince William and Manassas, and following their suit have also been Montgomery, Henrico, Richmond, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Albemarle, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Fredericksburg, Nelson and Suffolk counties.
A press conference of key state legislators on Tuesday in Richmond underscored the defiance of educators from around the state. Youngkin, they noted, has threatened to use official state resources to defund Virginia schools.
State Sen. Jennifer McClellan was one of five legislators who also lashed out at Youngkin’s inauguration day threat.
“I am a parent of two children in Richmond Public Schools who every morning feels the anxiety of sending my children into school and hoping they come home safe,” she stated. “Threats from the governor to reduce funding, which he cannot do on a legal basis he does not have, does not help. So we are here to say, we support our school divisions, doing what they need to do to keep our children and adults in those school buildings safe. We will not let the governor overstep his authority and bully our school systems into doing anything less,” she said.
Youngkin’s order rejects science and violates Senate Bill 1303 which was signed into Virginia law last year, it was noted. The law is designed to ensure that students are kept safe while receiving the maximum amount of in-person instruction time and it passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.
But Youngkin’s order Saturday cited that “Recent government orders requiring virtually every child in Virginia wear masks virtually every moment they are in school have proven ineffective and impractical.” It adds, “The universal requirement has also inflicted notable harm and proven to be impractical. Masks inhibit the ability of children to communicate, delay language development and impede the growth of emotional and social skills…Masks have increased feelings of isolation…exacerbating mental health issues that in some cases are a bigger health risk to students than Covid-19.”
Already, 13 parents of students in Chesapeake, Virginia, have sued Gov. Youngkin in the Virginia Supreme Court, contending he overstepped his legal authority in overturning mask mandates at school divisions statewide. The parents are asking the state’s high court to issue an emergency order blocking the new administration from enforcing Youngkin’s Jan. 15 executive order, which is otherwise expected to go into effect this coming Monday. The order says that “no teacher, school, school district, the Department of Education, or any other state authority” can force a student to wear a mask against his or her parents’ wishes.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control currently recommends “universal masking” in public schools nationwide with limited exceptions.
The lawsuit, filed by Virginia Beach attorney Kevin Martingayle, states that “a governor does not have the option of being unfaithful to laws with which he disagrees.” The governor “purports to sweep aside masking mandates with little or no consideration of or respect for CDC guidance, actions taken by the Virginia General Assembly, or the powers invested in local school boards.”
It is asking the Virginia Supreme Court to “declare the order void and unenforceable” and immediately bar its implementation.
Even in Falls Church, there are some parents who have dusted off their arguments from a year ago against the School Board here.
Superintendent Noonan issued a statement Friday that takes on the critics. He wrote, “As I hope you all know by now, we have tried to be honest and transparent information brokers through this pandemic. We have worked hard to communicate often and share pertinent information that has helped us all navigate this difficult period of time. I believe that our work is evidenced by the trust you put in us to send your students back to school.
He added, “In the past few days, we have been accused of ‘lack of transparency’ regarding the ViSSTA program and students/staff being tested. This is a bummer considering the work we have put in to keep the system open and moving forward.
“Further, in no way are we trying to ‘hide the ball’ with respect to data. However, just to clarify and clear the air if there is a concern, here is some information — and for what it is worth, these results have been included in our weekly data reports that everyone receives each week in our FCCPS by the Numbers.
“On Sunday, January 2nd, we held our drive-through testing session where we tested approximately 630 students and staff. We had 61 confirmed positive cases.
“We restarted our pool testing on Thursday, January 6th, and tested 335 students and staff. Fifteen were confirmed positive.
“On Thursday, January 14th (yesterday), we tested 313 students and staff\ and will have the results in the next day or two.
“We test on Thursdays so we can have the results before the start of the following week. This last week, due to snow and Covid cases in the lab that prepares our results, we didn’t get them until 6 a.m. on Monday morning. Our amazing staff called and emailed every family that was impacted before school started on Monday morning.
“We hadn’t planned to share the data from the ViSSTA program with the community because the numbers were very low, and we had no asymptomatic positives in the three weeks of test prior to the winter break and any positive result is already included in our weekly FCCPS by the Numbers, as I shared.
“There is the potential for personally identifiable information coming out to the public. However, since there seems to be a group in the community that wants the information we will report it if the percentage positive in the week’s testing pool is greater than five percent.”