Mar 25, 2022 - Health

Virginia judge allows 12 families to enforce mask mandates in their schools

Photo of an empty classroom with desks spaced six feet apart from each other
Desks are separated in a classroom to help students practice social distancing at the Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Virginia on Aug. 26, 2020. Photo: Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images

A Virginia judge issued an injunction this week to allow 12 families to request and enforce mask requirements in their schools while the case plays out in court.

Why it matters: The families had sued the state over a law that gives parents the right to exempt their children from mask-wearing in schools without providing a reason.

Though the injunction is limited to the 12 families while litigation is ongoing, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia called it a "win for schools and students."

Details: The families argue that the law violates federal disability law by putting the lives of immunocompromised students at risk. The students in the case have a range of health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID.

  • U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon's order means the state cannot enforce the law in the plantiffs' 10 school districts amid legal proceedings concerning the merits of the case. The impacted districts will be able to issue mask requirements based on the students' needs.
  • "E.O. 2 and S.B. 739—just like any other state law—cannot preclude Plaintiffs from asking for some required masking as a reasonable modification, nor can they bar Plaintiffs’ schools from implementing some required masking, if in fact, it would constitute a reasonable modification under federal law," Moon wrote in the opinion.
  • "This is not a class action, and the twelve plaintiffs in this case have no legal right to ask the court to deviate from that state law in any schools in Virginia (much less school districts) their children do not attend, or indeed even those areas of their schools in which Plaintiffs’ children do not frequent."

What they're saying: The injunction is narrow in application, but "it is clearly a blueprint for any parent of a student with disabilities to assure their school district can make accommodations when the safety of their children is at stake and that state law cannot stand in the way," the ACLU of Virginia, which represents the plaintiffs, said in a release.

  • "The Court’s injunction affirms the basis of our case: That schools must have the authority and discretion to provide accommodations for students with disabilities, including the masking of those around them during infectious disease outbreaks, so that they can attend public school like their nondisabled peers."

Worth noting: The Virginia Education Association, which represents over 40,000 teachers and other school support professionals, criticized the bill in February before it became law, saying it "would remove local decision-making power from local school divisions and place it into the hands of the state."

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