The Democrat-controlled Virginia Senate on Feb. 8 passed a bill to make masks optional in schools. The move comes as a January executive order to the same effect has been challenged by lawsuits, and resisted by dozens of school districts across the state.
The bill, introduced by Democratic state Sen. Chap Petersen, would bar school districts from compelling mask-wearing in public schools, making it the choice of parents instead. The legislation now heads to the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.
“A parent making such an election shall not be required to provide a reason or any certification of the child’s health or education status. No student shall suffer any adverse disciplinary or academic consequences as a result of this parental election,” the bill read.
Virginia Gov. Youngkin welcomed the outcome. “In the last week, we have seen Democrat-led states like Oregon, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware move away from universal mask mandates in schools. I am pleased that there is bipartisan support for doing the same in Virginia,” he said in a statement.
“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,” Youngkin added.
Petersen, who has been a member of the state legislature for over 20 years, told The Epoch Times last week, “I think the masks are going have to go away this spring. This is not a long-term policy. It cannot be a long-term policy.”
He added, “I think at some point, there has to be an endpoint, and I think it’s going to be the spring. And I think you’ll see legislation to make that happen.”
Peterson told The Epoch Times today that the senate’s passing of the bill is “consistent” with his earlier prediction.
He said that he would prefer to have the state legislature resolve the issue on mask mandates rather than having it decided by the courts. Youngkin’s January executive order to make masks optional has been challenged in three separate lawsuits.
One of these cases was recently dismissed by the Supreme Court of Virginia. In another case, the Arlington Circuit Court issued a temporary injunction in favor of seven school boards challenging the order, allowing them to keep mask mandate before the final ruling.
Peterson also wrote a letter to Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) Superintendent Scott Brabrand on Feb. 8, in response to an FCPS email to staff and families about the Arlington Circuit Court’s ruling. He has two children studying in that school district.
In the senator’s letter, he rebutted two arguments made in FCPS’s letter: “forced masking of children saves lives,” and “forced masking of children is popular.”
Peterson wrote: “More critically, the decision to wear a mask in public—when there is so little correlation with public health—makes it de facto a political decision. In other words, by wearing a mask in a public setting, the wearer is able to communicate a political message, e.g. ‘I Care About Others’ or ‘I Voted for Biden’ or even ‘I’m Vaccinated.’
“The ability to communicate a political message is the essence of our First Amendment, but coercing others into adopting that statement, especially a student in a public school, is the exact opposite,” he added.
From The Epoch Times