Although Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order making masks optional in the state’s public schools, the majority of public school districts in Virginia have continued to mandate mask-wearing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Washington Post found that 69 districts in the state or 53%, where more than two-thirds of the state’s students are enrolled are still requiring masks for all students while inside school buildings. The Post notes that almost every district that did make masks optional is in an area that voted for Youngkin in the last election.
"These findings lay bare the absurdity of the governor’s claims that he is listening to the parents," Mark Rozell, dean of George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, told the newspaper.
"Most disagree with what he is doing. He seems to be listening primarily to the parents of a particular political stripe — the ones who made the most noise in the heat of a political campaign but in no way represent a consensus among parents of public school children."
"This breakdown clearly shows how partisan the issue of education has become" during the pandemic, added Todd Belt, the director of the graduate school political management program at George Washington University.
"The original issue with schools — reopening — wasn’t terribly partisan. But issues surrounding schools became more partisan with the flap over critical race theory and as vaccine skepticism has become more politically polarized."
Youngkin, in a statement to the Post, said, "If localities want to have a mask mandate, they absolutely are able to. However, parents have a right to opt-out. They know what is best for their kids."
A spokesperson for the governor added: "Localities are fighting over something they already have the ability to do, and Virginia has continually sidestepped the importance of parent and student rights. Gov. Youngkin is simply giving students and parents an opt-out of mask mandates."
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