New GOP governor signs bill ending mask mandates in Virginia schools

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(RICHMOND, Va.) -- Virginia's newly elected Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a law Wednesday that ends mask mandates in public schools throughout Virginia and lets parents opt out of their children from wearing masks, despite conflicting local mandates, without providing a reason or getting an exemption.

The law prevents school districts from adapting policies using the infection and hospitalization data of a particular area and prevents school boards from enacting policies that Youngkin's critics say could be safest for their community.

Youngkin, who signed an executive ordering barring mask mandates on the day he was inaugurated in mid-January -- but that several school districts challenged in court -- rushed to deliver on his campaign promises to end the mandates and affirm what he said are the rights of parents in education.

At his request that it be treated as an emergency, Republican lawmakers quickly passed an amendment to a just-passed measure requiring school board compliance no later than March 1, instead of the bill's original effective date of July 1, when students would already be out of school.

The law also bars online learning options, preventing schools from enacting hybrid systems, and requires schools be open for in-person learning five days a week.

Youngkin's signature comes as school board meetings have increasingly become political battlegrounds over COVID mandates and as an increasing number of states controlled by Democrats have let indoor mask mandates expire this month, including California, New York, Delaware and Nevada.

"In the last week, we have seen Democrat-led states…move away from universal mask mandates in schools," Youngkin said in a statement last week. "I am pleased that there is bipartisan support for doing the same in Virginia. This shows that when we work across the aisle, we put Virginians first. I look forward to signing this bill when it comes to my desk."

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and Oregon will stop requiring masks in the next few weeks, leaving it up to individual school districts to decide if students should wear them or not. While Texas, Utah, Florida, and Oklahoma are banning requirements altogether at a state level.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that all children ages 2 and older wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

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