Governor-Elect Glen Youngkin on masks in schools

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 7:16 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Days away from a new administration in the governor’s mansion, we’re getting a closer look at what changes to expect for your kids in school. Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin has promised to rescind the mask mandate on his first day in office.

We wanted to get to the bottom of what that will mean for your students.

To get straight to the point - expect some changes. But, it may take some time to get clarity on how those changes are implemented for our kids.

“I think parents should be empowered to make decisions for their children,” Glenn Youngkin, Governor-Elect told Henry Graff in a one-on-one interview. “So, we’re going to have a common sense, common sense approach but also one that protects lives and livelihoods and I think together we can in fact forge a new path forward.”

The numbers show COVID cases are on the rise, and hospitals are stretched thin.

Schools have adjusted: Colonial Heights hoping to pause case outbreaks with a 5-day virtual pause for class. Chesterfield is looking at options to use the state virtual academy. Henrico and other school systems have operated with hundreds of staff members out.

But the question at the core of the discussion: should kids wear masks in school?

Parents have long been divided on the issue - as have lawmakers - pointing to not just COVID-19, but mental health and education as factors to consider.

A bipartisan bill, SB 1303, promises Virginia students an in-person option for class. It also has a clause stating that schools would have to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in their reopening plans “to the maximum extent practicable.”

That’s been the controversial part.

Democrats say CDC guidelines strongly suggest mask-wearing, and that’s how Governor Ralph Northam justified the current mandate.

CDC recommends universal indoor masking by all students (ages 2 years and older), staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.

This week, when we sat down with the Governor-Elect, we asked for clarification on his position on masks in schools and what to expect school to look like, if the the mask mandate is rescinded.

“Parents, in fact, should have a say about whether their children should wear masks or not in school,” said Youngkin. “And I think that parents actually are guaranteed that right under the constitution and our laws and so we know that respecting parents priority over their kid, the fundamental right that parents have to make decisions in regards of their children’s education and their wellbeing, that’s a fundamental right that we’ll protect.”

Here’s the verbatim of the Virginia Code on the subject. It says: “A parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child.”

Youngkin did not say how he would make the mask mandate change happen - whether through a new bill or an executive order.

We also reached out to the Virginia Department of Health.

“CDC guidance hasn’t changed around this, and our understanding of what we see in Omicron cases is telling us that we still feel like it is going to be necessary for us to make recommendations for folks that have to wear masks,” said Melissa Viray with the Virginia Department of Health. “As much as they’re possible. We understand that it may not have the backing of a mandate, but we hope that individual will still choose to go ahead and have their kids wear masks to school, have their kids, wear masks and are out in public just to protect themselves and to keep it from getting to their kids.”

If at the end of all that, you’re still wondering: so what exactly is my kid’s school day going to look like? Is my kid going to wear a mask? We hear you - we’re wondering the same.

The reality is, these school districts are going to have to wait for official guidance from the Youngkin administration, once he is officially in office and based on that direction, they’ll either take action, or they won’t.

In some cases, it may require a school board vote.

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