Schools Stick to Masking Mandate

The Falls Church City School Board, having joined a lawsuit this week to challenge the constitutionality of new Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order prohibiting mandatory masking in public schools, proceeded with its mandatory masking policy at its meeting this Tuesday amid reports that the Covid-19 pandemic is now abating precipitously in this region.

Despite loud protests amid parents with children in the school districts that joined the lawsuit defying the governor’s order – Alexandria City, Arlington County, the City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Hampton City, Prince William County and the City of Falls Church – F.C. Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan reported Tuesday that only a tiny handful of students showed up at Falls Church schools Monday morning unmasked and all subsequently accepted masks to attend classes.

While Falls Church had become ranked as an area with a high rate of Covid transmission, Noonan said he hopes an updated report from the Fairfax Health Department will show that dropping quickly, both for Fairfax County and Falls Church City. Overall, the rate of infections have dropped 40 percent in this region most recently, as reported Tuesday.

With 99 percent of City schools staff fully vaccinated, and 97 percent of students aged 12-17, the City schools are considered among the most highly vaccinated in the state. Among those students ages 5-11, out of 1,135 total only 166, or 15 percent, were not fully vaccinated as of this week, and of those ages 12-15 only 48 of 819, or six percent, were not fully vaccinated, and of those ages 16-17, only three out of 400, or one percent, were not fully vaccinated and those age 18, only nine, or nine percent, were not fully vaccinated.

Noonan said that at this rate, the projected date for mandatory masking in the City schools of Feb. 14 still holds.
In terms of extracurricular activities, masking will remain mandatory until that date except otherwise stipulated by the Virginia High School League and as participation impacts grades are a factor, but that with optional activities, such as attendance at clubs, remain mandatory.

No quarantining is required of fully vaccinated students who have been identified as in contact with a positive case, and otherwise a five-day quarantine and 6-10 day mandatory masking is required.

Testing protocols remain in effect, with 600 students tested on Tuesday, including a “test to stay” option for students identified to have been in contact with an infected person.

The legal action by the school boards that represent over 350,000 students across the state, defends the right of school boards to enact policy at the local level, including policies that protect the health and wellbeing of all students and staff.

It is described as addressing fundamental questions about the framework of public education in Virginia, as set out in the Virginia Constitution and by the General Assembly. At issue is whether locally elected school boards have the exclusive authority and responsibility conferred upon them by Article VIII 7 of the Constitution of Virginia over supervision of the public schools in their respective communities, or whether an executive order can unilaterally override that constitutional authority.

Also at issue is whether a governor can, through executive order, without legislative action by the Virginia General Assembly, reverse a lawfully-adopted statute. In this case, Senate Bill 1303, adopted with the goal of returning students to safe in-person instruction five days a week in March 2021 and still legally in effect, provides that local school boards should follow The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health and safety requirements.

Without the lawsuit, school boards are placed in a legally untenable position — faced with an executive order that is in conflict with the constitution and state law. Today’s action is not politically motivated. The seven school divisions who have joined the suit have stated that they welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the governor to ensure the safety and welfare of all students.