Gov. Glenn Youngkin today will sign a bill prohibiting local school districts from imposing mask mandates.
The bill was fast-tracked through both houses of the General Assembly and yesterday the Senate approved amendments to designate it as emergency legislation that could take effect immediately.
The amendments set out a March 1 effective date. Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34), of Fairfax, said was to provide school districts, especially in Northern Virginia, a period to transition out of their mandates.
The bill signing comes two days after the Republican-controlled House of Delegates voted 52-48 to approve Senate Bill 739.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant (R-12) and replaced with a substitute by Peterson, moved through both chambers in less than a week, and landing briefly on Youngkin’s desk on Monday before being sent back to the Senate overnight for the emergency enactment.
In the statehouse debates, supporters championed the legislation as a victory for parental rights and an end to measures they said are unnecessary and ineffective. Opponents objected to having the decisions about public health taken from local officials who best know the threats to their communities and the wishes of their constituents.
Loudoun’s representatives split along party lines on the proposal. Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33) voted yes, while delegates Suhas Subramanyam (D-87), Wendy W. Gooditis (D-10), and David A. Reid (D-32) voted no.
In the senate, Jill Vogel (R-13) supported the bill and Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33) and John J. Bell (D-13) voted no.
Youngkin touted the bill as a win after it passed in the Senate with a 21-17 vote on Feb. 9.
“Parents are now empowered to decide whether their children should wear a mask in schools,” Youngkin said in a statement after the vote. “I promised that as governor, Virginia would move forward with an agenda that empowers parents on the upbringing, education, and care of their own children. I am proud to continue to deliver on that promise.”
Youngkin first signed an executive order on Jan. 15 seeking to make masks optional in schools, although many school divisions, including Loudoun, continued to require them, citing last year’s Senate Bill 1303. That bill requires school divisions to adhere to CDC COVID-19 mitigation guidance “to the greatest extent practicable,” which includes wearing masks in areas of high transmission of the virus.