The legislation allows parents to opt their children out of wearing a mask in school without having to provide a reason, and would make the Republican governor the latest state leader to lift Covid-19 mitigation measures as case numbers decline around the US.
“I am pleased that there is widespread and bipartisan support in Virginia for a parental opt-out of mask mandates in schools. Today, the General Assembly took a significant step for parents and children,” Youngkin said in a statement Monday.
The House of Delegates sent the legislation to the governor’s desk Monday after it passed the chamber along party lines, with no Democrats in support of the measure. Three Democrats had joined all Republicans in the Virginia Senate in approving the legislation last week.
Inaugurated on January 15, Youngkin campaigned heavily on the rights of schoolchildren’s parents and signed an executive order on his first day in office that allowed parents and guardians to “elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.” That order, however, faced a flurry of legal challenges from Virginia school districts and parents, and a judge had ruled earlier this month that mask mandates in seven Virginia school districts could remain in place.
While a number of states have pushed forward with plans to lift mask mandates in schools, the move goes against guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends universal masking in schools.
Some public health experts, however, have questioned whether it’s time for the CDC to update its school guidance, especially as the nation mulls what life after the pandemic might look like.
Dr. Carlos del Rio, the executive associate dean of the Emory University School of Medicine, previously told CNN it’s the right thing to do for school districts in highly vaccinated communities.
“In a highly vaccinated community, as the cases are decreasing right now with Omicron, in a couple of weeks, maybe removing masks is actually the right thing to do. It allows us the opportunity to actually peel off one of those restrictions that has been so controversial,” del Rio told CNN.
He added that there are other mitigation measures that schools can adopt, such as improving air ventilation in classrooms.
Such guidance has had buy-in from both political parties, with the Democratic governors of three East Coast states — Connecticut, Delaware and New Jersey — announcing this that they will lift mask requirements in schools in the coming weeks.
“If hospitalizations are clearly coming down and positivity rates are coming down in the community, it is the right thing to do,” del Rio said.
CNN’s Jacqueline Howard contributed to this report.
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