Virginia Senate advances legislation to make masks optional at school

Posted at 10:26 AM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 19:29:05-05

NORFOLK, Va. - State senators voted 29-9 Tuesday to advance legislation to make masks optional at schools.

The legislation would be in line with Gov. Glenn Youngkin's executive order, which has been the subject of several lawsuits.

"I don't think the policy has been working. I think it's irrelevant, and I think we need to get rid of it and move on," Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) said about universal mask mandates.

Petersen made it clear he plans to end the policy of universal masking at schools in a letter he wrote to the Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools.

"As a parent, I've had enough," Petersen wrote in the letter. Click here to read the full letter.

Fairfax County Schools, along with six other school districts, sued Gov. Youngkin over his executive order making masks optional at schools.

On Friday, a judge ruled in favor of the school districts, but the ruling is being appealed.

In the letter, Petersen questioned the effectiveness of universal masking and whether the policy is popular.

"I just felt like the whole thing was going in the wrong direction, so I responded respectfully to the school superintendent, and obviously we're advancing our legislation in the Senate," he said.

On Wednesday, the legislation could get final passage in the Senate. After that, it would move to the House of Delegates, where Republicans have the majority.

From there, Gov. Youngkin has signaled he supports the legislation. Petersen said Youngkin could attach an emergency clause to make the legislation take effect immediately. That would require additional legislative action, but if everything passed, Petersen estimates masks could be optional by the end of the month.

"We're going to move pretty quickly," he said.

In addition to the school divisions' lawsuit, a group of parents from Chesapeake also filed a lawsuit against Youngkin. On Monday, the Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed the lawsuit for largely procedural reasons.

The parents say they plan to re-file the legislation, but are reviewing their options.

"We plan to move forward with a legal case in one way or another, so this is just unfortunately, a slight delay in finding a resolution to this," said Matthew Castillo, one of the parents.

A legal expert tells News 3 if there is a law on the books saying masks are optional, the lawsuits filed in the state would become irrelevant.

Another federal lawsuit challenges whether the order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which could still proceed regardless of a law change.