Loudoun Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn)’s proposed resolution expressing support for the school system continuing to require masks despite Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s attempt to halt mask mandates will have to wait for another time.
County supervisors Tuesday night declined to suspend their regular rules of order to rush the resolution through. They have not yet voted on the resolution itself; that can still happen at a future board meeting, and is likely.
On his first day in office Saturday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order seeking to let parents decide that mask mandates do not apply to their children. The next day, Turner announced he would introduce a resolution to the Board of Supervisors affirming the the School Board’s authority to decide whether to require masks.
As some other supervisors pointed out at their meeting Tuesday night, the resolution is purely ceremonial and changes nothing. Youngkin’s order takes effect Monday, Jan. 24; the school district has so far only decided to maintain the mask mandate through the end of this week. Other large school districts around the state, including in Northern Virginia the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County and Arlington County, have already said they will continue to require masks.
Supervisor Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run), an elementary special education teacher’s assistant, supported the idea of adopting the resolution immediately.
“I look at it as someone working in LCPS, and knowing that our parents, our staff, our teachers are concerned about what is going to happen for them and their children,” Glass said. “…They’re looking to us on what we’re going to do and how we are going to help them with this issue.”
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said he was “disappointed” with the language of the executive order—“my understanding was the governor as going to support local control, as a good conservative I support local control”—but said Turner’s resolution introduced further confusion to the debate.
“I think all of us can express our opinions about it, but I think the School Board ultimately are the arbitrators,” Letourneau said. “I don’t want to do anything that’s going to confuse that issue for the public, because I think there is some confusion on that.”
Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) pointed out that under the board’s rules of order, resolutions are meant to be uncontroversial and approved unanimously.
“I just don’t think this is an issue we should be taking up. I think it violates our rules of order for resolutions, I think we’re putting our toes into someplace where they don’t belong right. It’s basically an unforced error on our part,” Buffington said.
Supervisors voted 5-4 to suspend their rules of order, but that vote required at least a super-majority 6-3 vote to pass. Letourneau, Buffington, and Supervisors Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) and Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) voted against.
Before the meeting, people rallied outside the County Administration Building in support of school district mask mandates, organized by political action committee Loudoun 4 All. Board Member Amanda Bean said they hope to encourage Loudoun schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler to keep the mask mandate in place.
“I do not want to mask forever, but I want to hear from public health experts that it’s the right time and the right thing to do, and I’m going to wait until I get that answer from them,” Bean said. “I’m not going to listen to a politician who’s trying to get political gain by pleasing a few angry voices.”
Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk also offered a few words.
“Let’s think as a community,” Burk said. “Let’s sacrifice, if it’s a sacrifice to wear this mask—let’s do it to keep our kids and our teachers safe.”
Youngkin’s executive order was immediately met with stern warnings from health experts who have advised repeatedly and consistently for close to two years that face masks are important for slowing the spread of the virus to avoid overwhelming hospitals and to protect vulnerable populations.
Aside from the health impacts of rescinding mask mandates in schools at a time when COVID-19 cases are just starting to come down from their highest-ever level, much debate has centered around whether Youngkin’s order is legal.
In 2021, the General Assembly passed a law requiring in-person instruction, with exceptions for periods of high COVID-19 transmission in schools, which also required schools to follow CDC guidance “to the maximum extent practicable” on the pandemic until August. Virginia governors cannot overrule state laws with executive orders.