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FCPS can keep mask requirement for now, judge in lawsuit rules

FCPS Superintendent Scott-Brabrand wears a face mask (via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools will continue requiring face masks after notching a victory in its lawsuit against Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order prohibiting school mask mandates.

Arlington County Circuit Court Judge Louise DiMatteo granted a temporary injunction today (Friday) to Fairfax County and the six other school boards suing Youngkin, allowing them to enforce their mask requirements until a permanent ruling is made.

“This temporary order takes immediate action to protect the health and wellbeing of all students and staff and reaffirms the constitutional right of Virginia’s local school boards to enact policy at the local level,” FCPS said in a statement.

The school boards argued in a hearing on Wednesday (Feb. 2) that Youngkin’s optional mask order violates Virginia’s Constitution as well as Senate Bill 1303, which required schools to provide in-person learning while following federal COVID-19 health guidelines “to the maximum extent practicable.”

In her opinion, DiMatteo makes clear that the temporary injunction was granted based not on the benefits of universal versus optional masking, but on whether Youngkin had the authority to issue his executive order.

“The single issue before the Court is whether the Governor, via his emergency powers, can override the decision of local school boards delegated to them under SB 1303,” the judge wrote. “On this pivotal point, the Court concludes that the Governor cannot.”

As local school and health officials stated in a virtual town hall earlier this week, FCPS reiterated in a message to families that requiring mask-wearing inside schools remains necessary to limit Covid’s spread so students can keep learning in person:

Dear FCPS Staff and Families,

Just a short time ago, a judge in Arlington Circuit Court agreed to a temporary injunction requested by FCPS and six other Northern Virginia school districts, that takes immediate action to protect the health of our community and also reaffirms the constitutional right in the Commonwealth of Virginia of school boards to make policy decisions for their districts.

A final hearing will be held at a future date. In the meantime, Fairfax County Public Schools will continue our mask requirement for all students, staff, and visitors, a regulation that is overwhelmingly supported by our staff and families. Read our statement on today’s decision.

Universal mask wearing has been a critical safety measure throughout the pandemic, especially during this most recent surge. We are committed to providing all students safe and in-person instruction. We believe that in order to do so, masks and our other layered prevention strategies must remain in place for now. As a reminder, all students are required to wear a face covering while indoors on school property or during FCPS-provided transportation, unless they have an exemption.

We are working with health experts to determine a safe and effective plan to scale back when it is appropriate to do so. FCPS will continue, as it has since this pandemic began, to prioritize the health and safety of all students and staff.

Some of you will be relieved by today’s decision and others will be frustrated. We understand. We ask everyone to treat each other with kindness, respect school procedures, and work together to safely move forward.

Fairfax County Public Schools

A date for the court hearing on a possible permanent injunction has not been set yet.

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