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The Bottom Line Youngkin Rips Off the School Mask Mandate

Crossposted at Chapman's News & Ideas

Newly minted Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed nine executive orders and two directives that, among other things, ended a mandate that state employees be vaccinated and a school mask mandate. He embraced the radical idea of allowing parents to decide if their children mask up in the classroom, effective Jan. 24.

Addressing a joint assembly of Virginia lawmakers Monday, Youngkin noted there are 1.6 million unvaccinated Virginians and declared that speaking as governor, “I’ll never tell you what you must do. But speaking to you as a friend and a neighbor, I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine.”

The Republican thus established himself as a commonsense conservative who is both pro-vaccine and anti-mandate. Amen. This is the posture needed to lead the way out of the lockdown era.

“I know a slew of parents who do not want the mask mandate,” Ish Boyle, an Alexandria, Virginia, parent who ran unsuccessfully for school board last year, told me.

As for those who want masks, Boyle offered, “If a parent wants to send their child to a school masked, that’s their prerogative.”

Boyle, a decorated Marine Corps veteran and cybersecurity professional who, according to ALXnow, got a medical mask exemption for his children, rattled off the many other anti-COVID-19 measures the school district employs, including daily temperature checks, seating children three feet apart and a requirement that parents answer a Daily Symptom Checklist.

Masks, he argued, do not enable “a great learning environment” and impede children’s social development and achievement.

“For anyone to say it’s normal, it’s not normal,” Boyle noted.

As David Leonhardt of The New York Times has noted, the last two years entailed a “trade-off” in which officials tried “to minimize the spread of Covid — a worthy goal absent other factors — rather than minimizing the damage that Covid does to society. They have accepted more harm to children in exchange for less harm to adults, often without acknowledging the dilemma or assessing which decisions lead to less overall harm.”

The left’s reaction to Youngkin’s school mask order was, well, not pro-parent or pro-choice.

Using her personal Twitter account as an Arlington, Virginia, parent, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki thanked the district, which has announced it will continue to require masks, “for standing up for our kids, teachers and administrators and their safety in the midst of a transmissible variant.”

Sen. Louise Lucas, the top Democrat in the state Senate, tweeted, “Cry harder @GovernorVA! Your executive orders do not change LAWS we passed. Better learn how government works, we elect Governors not dictators.”

She was referring to SB1303, a law signed last year by former Gov. Ralph Northam, which requires schools to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

GOP Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, a sponsor of SB1303, countered that the measure “does not mandate the use of masks in school because the CDC does not mandate masks.”

A practicing physician, Dunnavant added in a statement, “Today, we know that the risk of hospitalization for children is almost none. In fact, of Virginia’s estimated almost 1.9 million children, .07% have been hospitalized with Covid-19 since March 2020. At the same time, the use of masks in school presents risks of learning loss, social emotional challenges, and other issues. Parents, constitutionally and logically, are the best people to do an analysis of what’s best for their child.”

If masks were a magic wand that prevented children from infection, pro-mask parents should feel secure that their children are protected by mask wearing — so there’s no need to force others to comply. But masks aren’t a magic wand; they’re a tool in a large tool kit that works best when employed universally, but at a cost. It’s a cost many parents find unsustainable.

Another tool is listening. Youngkin’s response to Arlington’s decision to mandate student mask wearing — “what that tells me is, they haven’t listened to parents yet,” he told WTOP.

Savvy school officials should be able to find ways to accommodate parents on both sides of the mask divide.

As Youngkin’s victory has made clear, making parents adhere to rules they believe are harmful to their children’s health won’t work anymore.

Boyle is hardly the only parent who wants a return to normal.

Shame on elected officials who want to slam the door on their legitimate concerns.

Debra J. Saunders

Fellow, Chapman Center for Citizenship Leadership
A fellow with Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership, Debra J. Saunders worked for more than thirty years covering politics on the ground and in Washington, as well as American culture, the news media, the criminal justice system, and dubious trends in public schools and prestigious universities. Her column is nationally syndicated with Creators Syndicate.
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