The school system hasn’t yet outlined how it will change its policy, which currently mandates students wear masks indoors, but the new state law allows parents to opt their children out of mask requirements.
“APS has been reviewing the latest health guidance and planning for when we can safely ease our masks requirements,” spokesperson Andrew Robinson said in a statement. “We will present our plan and revised policy at Thursday’s School Board meeting. We have come far together as a community in maintaining safe, open schools, even during the Omicron spike, and we will continue that work together.”
The Arlington School Board and six other Northern Virginia school boards sued Youngkin challenging his power to prohibit local mandates and were able to continue requiring masks until the lawsuit was resolved. But Senate Bill 739 makes that suit moot, establishing the order as law.
“This new legislation supersedes the Executive Order, so the injunction in the Arlington case is moot starting March 1,” a spokesperson in the Office of the Attorney General told ARLnow.
The bill ultimately passed the state Senate last week and the House of Delegates Monday before it swiftly made its way to Youngkin for a signature.
Tune in as I sign bill SB739 into law,
empowering parents by creating a
parental opt-out from local school
— Governor Glenn Youngkin (@GovernorVA) February 16, 2022
And as APS may have to roll back its masking requirement, the school board is also set to vote on whether to pause an in-house Virtual Learning Program (VLP) it debuted this school year for families who preferred keeping their kids home due to the ongoing pandemic.
“VLP families fear that many, faced with an impossible choice, will be forced back into APS facilities,” said the VLP Parent Coalition, which represents families in the program, in a statement. “Immunocompromised children and families will have no choice but to put themselves at risk for COVID-19 infection.”
APS has said that students may continue with virtual instruction through the state’s online learning platform, Virtual Virginia, if they or a family member has a medical condition that complicates going to school every day. APS staff will supplement whatever Virtual Virginia courses don’t cover and will support students during the transfer to their home schools.
But this alternative will likely result in less live, remote instruction for students when they have already experienced learning loss due to the pandemic and to understaffing when the VLP got started, the parent group said.
Jo DeVoe and Matt Blitz contributed to this article.
Mask Optional Bill Heads to Governor — “As had their state Senate colleagues the preceding week, members of Arlington’s delegation to the House of Delegates were unanimous in their opposition to legislation ending mask mandates on students in Virginia’s public-education system. But the opposition did nothing to stop the bill’s momentum – the measure on Feb. 14 won final passage in the House of Delegates and is on its way to Gov. Youngkin.” [Sun Gazette]
More on Roosevelt Bridge Work — “The Roosevelt Bridge connecting Arlington and D.C. got a close-up inspection Monday after transportation officials ordered emergency road work to the bridge over the weekend. D.C. Department of Transportation Director Everett Lott said the bridge, which is 58 years old, was given a ‘poor’ rating during an inspection in 2018 and a “fair” rating in 2016. Lanes will be shut down on the bridge for as long as six months due to a rusted beam.” [NBC 4]
Homeless Shelter Moved Everyone to Motel — “Staffers at Arlington County’s largest homeless shelter for adults have spent the better part of the past two years trying to keep the coronavirus in check. They tested everyone regularly, moved any person who caught the virus into isolation. They had strict protocols, high vaccination rates among the nearly 100 homeless residents who use the facility and required that face masks be worn indoors… But then came omicron.” [Washington Post]
Preservation Bill Dead for 2022 — “Advocates of historic-preservation legislation patroned by two Northern Virginia lawmakers will have to wait until 2023 to try and win enactment. The House of Delegates Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns voted Feb. 11 to delay final consideration of legislation patroned by Del. Hope (D-Arlington) to next year.” [Sun Gazette]
Towing Accountability Bill Fails — “A measure its patron said would provide more teeth to Virginia’s statutes regulating the towing industry died a perhaps predictable death in the House of Delegates. Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington-Fairfax) had patroned legislation that would have made violations of state and local towing rules subject to the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. It also would have provided ‘meaningful civil penalties’ for towing malfeasance, the patron said in comments to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation.” [Sun Gazette]
Small House Fire in N. Arlington — From the Arlington County Fire Department: “This morning at approx. 0920 crews were dispatched for a reported structure fire in the 3600 BLK of N. Vermont St. Crews found a small fire with minimal extension. No injuries were reported.” [Twitter]
W-L Track Wins Championship — “For what is officially supposed to be an indoor sport, the Washington-Liberty Generals improvised quite well and won a Liberty District boys track and field championship as a result. The Generals finished first with 128 points, with the Yorktown Patriots second with 88.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Tuesday — Today will be sunny, with a high near 40. Sunrise at 6:58 a.m. and sunset at 5:46 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny and breezy, with a high near 54. [Weather.gov]
A bipartisan bill that will allow parents to opt their kids out of masking rules at schools has passed the Democrat-controlled Virginia State Senate, despite opposition from Arlington’s senators.
The bill would take effect on July 1. If it were also to pass the House of Delegates and be signed into law by the governor, it would essentially make the local school boards’ recent, tentative court victory over Gov. Glenn Younkin’s executive order on masks in schools moot.
The legislation took shape yesterday when Sen. Chap Petersen, a Fairfax County Democrat, proposed an amendment on the Senate floor to a Republican-proposed bill that continues a requirement from last year to keep schools open five days a week for in-person instruction. Chapman’s amendment effectively sunsets mask mandates in time for the next school year.
The amendment “permits a parental option in regard to wearing a mask on school property,” Petersen told ARLnow. “We need to return to normal for the benefit of our children, and this legislation helps us get there.”
The amendment received significant Democratic support on Tuesday, passing the Senate with 29 votes in favor, including ten Democrats, and only nine votes opposed. Among local legislators, Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) voted in favor of the amendment while Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31) and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) voted against it.
All three voted against the final bill, which passed by a 21-17 vote today.
Youngkin declared victory after the vote today. It’s likely to pass the Republican-controlled house.
“Kids across the Commonwealth win with this bipartisan vote today,” Youngkin said in a statement. “Parents are now empowered to decide whether their children should wear a mask in schools. I promised that as governor, Virginia would move forward with an agenda that empowers parents on the upbringing, education, and care of their own children. I am proud to continue to deliver on that promise.”
“This vote also shows that school boards who are attacking their own students are stunningly detached from reality,” the statement continued. “It’s time to put kids first and get back to normal.”
Petersen told ARLnow’s sister site FFXnow that he proposed the amendment because he’s frustrated that no deadline had been set by Fairfax County Public Schools for lifting mask requirements or “shown scientific proof” that it has made difference in limiting Covid’s spread.
He agreed with Youngkin that masks should be optional in schools, but said decision needs to be made by the Virginia General Assembly as opposed to the governor.
That was the basis for the decision made by the Arlington Circuit Court last week to issue an injunction on banning mask mandates. In its lawsuit against the governor’s order, Arlington Public Schools cited a Virginia law passed during the pandemic that requires schools to take necessary, federally-recommended safety measures to combat the spread of the virus.
With the new bill overriding that clause, the court victory could be short-lived for APS and other Northern Virginia school districts that opposed the governor’s order. The bill’s implementation could even potentially be moved up after it reaches the governor’s desk, the Washington Post reported
When the bill gets to Youngkin’s desk, the aide said, the governor could add an emergency clause that would require the law to be implemented immediately. That would have to go back to the General Assembly for approval. Most bills with emergency clauses require 80 percent approval from the legislature, but a governor’s request for emergency needs only a simple majority vote. If that’s granted, the mask law could go into effect as soon as the end of February, the aide said.
Sen. Ebbin wrote to ARLnow in an email after the amendment passed that, while he isn’t opposed to lifting mask mandates soon, he wants the decision to be based on data.
(updated at 5:30 p.m.) In a win for a number of local school boards, the Arlington County Circuit Court has issued a temporary injunction preventing Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin from banning mask mandates in schools.
The ruling came late Friday afternoon, after an emergency hearing that was held on Wednesday (Feb. 2).
As was discussed in the courtroom, the final ruling will come down to if Gov. Glenn Youngkin, even with emergency powers, has the ability to override local school boards’ decisions given to them in Senate Bill 1303. The court ruled today that the argument has merit so issued a temporary injunction allowing schools to continue their policies.
In response, Arlington County Public Schools issued a statement on behalf of all the involved school boards. It reads in part:
“The School Boards of Alexandria City, Arlington County, City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County are pleased with the temporary injunction granted today by the Arlington Circuit Court. The order allows schools to continue to protect the health and well being of all students and staff. While the legal process on this matter continues, today’s ruling preserves the existing policies and practices in Virginia school divisions, which includes masking requirements.”
The judge writes the case rests on the issue of authority, She finds Gov. Youngkin’s Execuive Order, issued through his emergency powers, can’t override school district policy. pic.twitter.com/PCKTt9yO55
— Julie Carey (@JulieCareyNBC) February 4, 2022
On Jan. 15, the day after his inauguration, Youngkin issued an executive order banning mask mandates in Virginia schools. Days later, he was sued by seven state school boards including by those in Arlington, the City of Alexandria and Fairfax County.
The lawsuit claims that the executive order is in violation of the Virginia Constitution that gives individual school boards the authority to supervise public schools. The suit also alleges that the order violates Senate Bill 1303, signed into law last March, that requires schools to offer for in-person learning while following CDC guidance and applying “any currently applicable mitigation strategies” to reduce the transmission of Covid.
“Without today’s action, school boards are placed in a legally untenable position — faced with an executive order that is in conflict with the constitution and state law,” the Arlington Public Schools press release said about bringing the lawsuit. “Today’s action is not politically motivated. These seven school divisions would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the governor to ensure the safety and welfare of all students.”
Another hearing will be set in regards to a permanent injunction.
Opinion Pages 1-4 pic.twitter.com/SfjRJZA6BL
— Karl Frisch (@KarlFrischFCPS) February 4, 2022
The full APS statement is below.
The Arlington County Board says it’s on the side of Arlington Public Schools in the battle with the state over mask mandates.
Arlington and six other Northern Virginia school systems filed a lawsuit Monday challenging Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order on Jan. 15, his first day in office, prohibiting school systems from requiring students wear masks.
The order states parents should be able to “elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”
During the County Board’s recessed meeting yesterday (Tuesday), Board Chair Katie Cristol and Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey affirmed masking as an important COVID-19 mitigation strategy and pledged to support APS.
“I think I speak for all of us in saying that we are supportive of Arlington Public Schools, the School Board and superintendent and all of their efforts to keep students and teachers safe and therefore learning in person,” Cristol said.
Dorsey said the Board believes the school system’s actions are lawful and “absolutely the right thing to do.”
“We will figure out how we can support them any way possible,” he said.
He criticized the executive order — which also requires School Boards to marshal up additional resources to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — as being vague and counter-productive while lacking funding.
“There’s a great question as to whether communities broadly, not just school systems, are going to be held to certain standards of making certain spending to offer COVID-19 mitigation that are currently being met with masks,” he said.
But the County Board stopped short of showing its support with a vote, a step the Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors took yesterday (Tuesday). The Fairfax County School Board is another plaintiff in the lawsuit, alongside the school boards of Alexandria City, Falls Church City, Hampton City, Prince William County and the City of Richmond.
The lawsuit claims Youngkin can’t make an order that supersedes the right of school boards to enact policy at the local level. It also claims the order contradicts a recently adopted law directing school boards to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s health and safety requirements.
Arlington Circuit Court, where the suit was filed, scheduled a hearing in the suit for Wednesday, Feb. 2. While Arlington awaits a ruling from the judge on the complaint, it had already determined it would continue its school mask requirement despite the order, which was set to take effect Monday.
The governor’s press secretary said in a statement they are disappointed in the school boards.
“The governor and attorney general are in coordination and are committed to aggressively defending parents’ fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child’s upbringing, education, and care, as the legal process plays out,” she said in a statement to FFXnow.
Following the executive order, the Virginia Department of Health issued updated guidance Friday on preventing COVID-19 in schools, which reiterates points made in the executive order emphasizing parents’ rights, keeping schools open and providing a safe environment.
(updated at 3:35 p.m.) The Arlington School Board is suing to stop Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order that doesn’t allow school systems to require students to wear masks.
The lawsuit filed this morning (Monday) challenges the order issued by Youngkin on Jan. 15, his first day in office. Arlington joined school boards from Fairfax County, Alexandria City, Falls Church City, Hampton City, Prince William County and the City of Richmond in the suit.
The order states parents should be able to “elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”
The order was supposed to take effect today but school districts across the state, including Arlington, already made decisions at the local level to go against the order and keep a mask requirement in place as part of a strategy to reduce the spread of Covid and maintain in-person instruction.
The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the executive order, and defends the right of school boards to enact policy at the local level. The lawsuit also claims the executive order goes against Senate Bill 1303, which was adopted in the General Assembly’s 2021 special session. The law states school boards should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s health and safety requirements.
“Everyone in our community plays a role in keeping schools open and safe for students through consistent mask wearing and other mitigation measures,” APS Superintendent Fransisco Durán wrote in an email to families. “Our shared goal remains to make sure every student continues to access in-person learning five days per week. We look forward to the opportunity to ease these requirements in APS once public health guidance indicates it is safe to do so.”
APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said the schools continue to follow the same guidelines in place since the beginning of the school year.
“If a student is not wearing a mask, our schools are advised to speak to the student and provide them a mask to wear,” he said.
He said the vast majority of APS families support and adhere to the health and safety guidelines and when students arrived at school Monday, there were “very few incidents.”
The Arlington School Board put out a statement as well, stating it “stands together with participating school boards across the Commonwealth to defend our constitutional right to set policies and supervise our local schools. We continue to make decisions that allow us to keep schools open and safe for in-person learning, in accordance with Virginia law SB 1303 and the CDC’s guidance regarding the use of universal masks and other layered prevention strategies.”
Over the last seven days, 467 students and 98 staff members were positive for Covid, according to the school system’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The full press release from Arlington Public Schools is below.
Today, the Schools Boards of Alexandria City, Arlington County, City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County, filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Executive Order 2 issued by the governor on January 15, 2022. The legal action, representing 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 well-being of all students and staff.
This legal action centers on 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 today’s action, 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. These seven school divisions would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the governor to ensure the safety and welfare of all students.
This lawsuit is not brought out of choice, but out of necessity.
With COVID-19 transmission rates high, our hospitals at crisis level, and the continued recommendation of health experts to retain universal mask-wearing for the time being, this is simply not the time to remove this critical component of layered health and safety mitigation strategies. School divisions need to continue to preserve their authority to protect and serve all our students, including our most vulnerable, who need these mitigation measures perhaps more than anyone to be able to continue to access in-person instruction.
This week was yet another filled with plenty of news about snow, but unlike previous January weeks not a lot of actual snow.
Using its last traditional snow day allotment, Arlington Public Schools closed Thursday for what turned out to be a bust — a rainy, cold day. Lucky for students looking to enjoy the weather when school’s closed, this weekend should at least be sunny, albeit a little cold, in Arlington.
Now, here are the most-read Arlington articles of the past week.
- Feds release new details about Jan. 6 weapons cache at Arlington hotel
- JUST IN: Winter Weather Advisory issued ahead of Thursday morning snow
- BREAKING: APS closes schools Thursday due to expected snow
- Morning Poll: Should APS continue to require masks in schools?
- The shift from rain to snow delayed in Arlington, NWS decreases possible accumulation
- Guaranteed income pilot program moves forward without any county funding
- NEW: Covid cases falling in Arlington, following regional trends
- Winter Restaurant Week to feature 18 Arlington restaurants
- ‘Old Lee Highway’ gets new name: Cherry Hill Road
- JUST IN: APS says masks still required for students, despite Youngkin’s order
Feel free to discuss those stories or anything else of local interest in the comments. Have a great weekend!
The Diocese of Arlington is advising Catholic schools to follow Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) executive order exempting families from school-based mask mandates.
One of Youngkin’s first acts in office was an executive order intended to let parents decide whether their children wear masks to school. It goes into effect Monday and rescinds former Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order last year requiring masks in schools.
In a letter to school leaders explaining what this means for schools in the Diocese of Arlington — which encompasses 21 counties and seven cities in Northern Virginia — Superintendent of Schools Joseph E. Vorbach III says state requirements supersede local public health guidance.
“Throughout the pandemic, our Catholic schools have been directed to follow state and local public health directives,” he writes. “Where those have been in conflict, the state requirement has primacy.”
The executive order says parents of a child enrolled in elementary or secondary school or a school-based early child care and educational program “may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program,” the order reads.
The state legislature, however, passed a law that some schools systems interpret as protecting their ability to establish mask mandates in order to offer in-person instruction. The executive order’s legality has since been challenged by some parents who sued. Attorney General Jason Miyares has already asked the lawsuit be dismissed.
In response, Arlington Public Schools, as well as other public school systems, including those in Alexandria and Fairfax County, have come out with guidance defying Virginia’s new governor. Last night (Thursday), the Arlington School Board voted to retain the school system’s mask requirement.
But Catholic schools in the sprawling Diocese of Arlington, which reaches from Arlington to Shenandoah County, are being told to follow Youngkin’s order while keeping up other mitigation strategies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Diocesan direction to our schools is to continue following local public health guidance, without however, violating the rights of parents as described in Executive Order 2,” Vorbach said. “The governor’s executive order is clear on the right of parents not to have their child be subject to a mask mandate.”
As for how school administrators should walk this tight-rope, Vorbach says schools should provide updated, school-specific guidance to faculty and parents and maintain other COVID-19 protocols.
“The diocese continues to elect to follow CDC guidelines for isolation of those who contract COVID-19 and quarantining for those who come in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19,” he said.
Spokeswoman Amber Roseboom tells ARLnow that one way administrators can navigate this shift in approach is to identify “which parents prefer their children to wear a mask in school.”
In addition, she said, the schools will keep up with other public health recommendations related to isolation and quarantine.
“Local public health guidance remains very important, and our schools are continuing to employ a variety of COVID-19 mitigation strategies,” she said. “We are following isolation and quarantine recommendations to the greatest extent possible. Our schools communicate with local public health offices regularly. The Executive Order allowing parental choice on masks is a new variable our schools will work with, as we have done in each situation over the past two years.”
Arlington Public Schools is not alone in defying Virginia’s new governor.
One of the first acts in office for Gov. Glenn Younkin (R) was an executive order intended to let parents decided whether their children wear masks to school. But APS — along with Alexandria and Fairfax County, among other public school systems — says that masks are still required, despite the order.
APS argues that state and federal law still requires masks in schools and on buses, and thus the governor’s order is, essentially, invalid. Youngkin hinted that a legal clash may follow.
“The fact that that tweet came out from Arlington County within minutes of my executive order, what that tells me is that they have not listened to parents yet,” Youngkin said, when asked about it by a WTOP reporter. “We will use every resource within the governor’s authority to explore what we can do and will do in order to make sure parents’ rights are protected.”
On Twitter and in interviews, Arlington’s Democratic state lawmakers backed the local school system.
Governor Youngkin talks about parental involvement in schools. The overwhelmingly majority of Arlington parents want masks worn in schools. Does parental involvement only matter if the Governor agrees?
— Barbara Favola (@BarbaraFavola) January 16, 2022
“No authority at all.” Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington County responds to Governor Youngkin who said he may use state resources to try to force the county’s school system to comply with his order – which effectively removes school mask mandates. @WTOP @HopeforVirginia pic.twitter.com/Z6ZoFGQ9yp
— Nick Iannelli (@NickWTOP) January 16, 2022
Also issuing a statement of support for APS was a notable Arlington resident: White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
“Hi there. Arlington county parent here (don’t believe you are @GlennYoungkin but correct me if I am wrong),” President Biden’s primary spokesperson said on Twitter. “Thank you to @APSVirginia for standing up for our kids, teachers and administrators and their safety in the midst of a transmissible variant.”
Legality aside, Youngkin’s executive order suggested that, in practicality, requiring masks in schools is ineffective and fails to substantially reduce virus transmission.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends use of masks, and has published studies showing more Covid cases among schools without universal masking policies. But some have questioned the science behind the CDC’s guidance.
At last check, there were nearly 1,000 confirmed Covid cases among students and staff in the seven days following their return to school from winter break and a week of snow days.
What do you think: should APS stand firm on its masking policies, or do you support Youngkin’s call to make masks optional at schools?
Weekend Snowfall Total — From the Capital Weather Gang: “Observer at Reagan National Airport reports 2.6 inches, pushing Jan. total to 12.2″ – most since 2016 and more than double the norm. Most of the immediate area saw 1.5 to 3 inches.” [Twitter]
Long-time Hospital CEO Retiring — “Virginia Hospital Center ‘was quite a different place’ when Jim Cole arrived in 1985, he recalls… Now 37 years later, Cole is getting ready to retire from one of the area’s only independently owned hospitals — for real, this time after delaying his planned departure in 2020 to remain at the helm through the Covid-19 pandemic.” [Washington Business Journal]
‘Smart Restart APS’ Donates Masks — “Over the winter break, a bunch of other Arlington parents joined Headrick’s effort. They collected money and drove to Home Depots and hardware stores in three states to buy all the available masks they could.
This week, the group donated about 6,000 masks to APS. They will be distributed to all full-time and part-time school employees.” [Patch]
Fire Dept. Recruits Graduate — “After 30 weeks of hard work, ACFD Recruit Class 80 graduates today with 25 new Probationary FF/EMT’s.” [Twitter]
New Va. Gov. Inaugurated — “Virginia began a new chapter Saturday with the inauguration of Glenn Youngkin, the first Republican governor to take the oath of office in 12 years. In his inauguration speech, Youngkin promised a change in direction in the state, with shifts on COVID-19 policies, education, criminal justice and taxes. Youngkin was sworn in as the commonwealth’s 74th governor on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.” [NBC 4]
Fmr. Gov. Says Farewell — From Ralph and Pam Northam: “It has been the honor of our lifetimes to serve as your 73rd Governor and First Lady. From the bottom of our hearts–thank you, Virginia.” [Twitter]
Another Storm Possible This Week — “The European modeling system Monday morning showed a number of projections that would offer some snow but also had some that showed dry weather. On Sunday, one of the model runs from the American modeling system showed a snowstorm, then the next took it away. Monday morning’s run of the model has the storm just missing us to the southeast, but it’s close.” [Capital Weather Gang]
It’s Tuesday — A couple of brisk days are on tap. Today will be sunny, with a high near 39. West wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 29 mph. Sunrise at 7:23 a.m. and sunset at 5:14 p.m. Tomorrow will be partly sunny, with a high near 48. Southwest wind 13 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 31 mph. [Weather.gov]
Photo courtesy Wolfkann/Flickr
(Updated at 7:40 p.m.) Students and parents are in the middle of a tug-of-war between Arlington Public Schools and newly-inaugurated Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
One of the Republican’s first acts today (Saturday) after succeeding now-former Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was issuing eleven executive actions, including one that allows parents to “elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”
The order is set to take effect next Monday, Jan. 24.
Youngkin’s order suggests that mask mandates have been ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools, citing incorrect mask usage and the use of low-quality cloth masks. It further suggests that schools instead focus on air filtration systems and other environmental mitigation measures.
Nonetheless APS, which has had a mask mandate for the entire school year, said tonight that the mandate is still in place on school grounds and on buses.
In a statement, APS said state law requires it to adhere to “any currently applicable mitigation strategies.” It also said that federal law requires masks on public transportation, like school buses.
Arlington Public Schools will continue to require all staff and students to wear masks inside on school grounds and on buses, as part of our layered approach to safety. Universal mask use has proven effective in keeping COVID-19 transmission rates low in our schools and ensuring schools remain safe and open.
Arlington Public Schools implemented our mask requirement this school year prior to Governor Northam’s K-12 mask mandate, and we will continue to make decisions that prioritize the health, safety and wellbeing of our students and staff, following the guidance of local and national health professionals. Current law in Virginia, per SB1303, says: school divisions need to “provide such in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
The federal requirement from February 2, 2021, is still in place on all forms of public transportation. Anyone riding a school bus is therefore required to wear a mask when riding on our school buses to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Over the past week there have been just under 1,000 Covid cases identified by Arlington Public Schools — 850 among students, 125 among teachers and staff — according to the school system’s public Covid dashboard. APS has around 27,000 students.