Thursday, July 7, 2022

The Ripple Effect: A New Governor

The use of masks in Virginia public schools has been an important topic of debate since Governor Youngkin signed Executive Order 2 on his first day in office. (Courtesy of Pexels)

HAMPTON ROADS — On Jan. 15, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) attended his gubernatorial swearing-in ceremony in Richmond, Va., and took office as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s 74th Governor.

The keys to Virginia’s Executive Mansion were probably found somewhere in Hampton Roads. During the campaign, Youngkin and his campaign staff managed to garner enough support in the region to flip both Virginia Beach and Chesapeake; two cities that voted blue in the last governor’s race, in 2017, and also in the 2020 Presidential race.

Across the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnels (HRBT), one can take a quick glance at the final tallies from all over the Penninsula. The data shows just how split the voters are in this part of Virginia. However, it was Youngkin who was able to gain enough confidence from voters across Hampton Roads to win the office:

  • Hampton:
    McAuliffe 66.5%, Youngkin 32.5% – Winner: McAuliffe
  • Newport News:
    McAuliffe 59.7%, Youngkin 39.2% – Winner: McAuliffe
  • Poquoson:
    McAuliffe 21.7%, Youngkin 77.8% – Winner: Youngkin
  • York County:
    McAuliffe 40.9%, Youngkin 58.6% – Winner: Youngkin
  • James City County:
    McAuliffe 47%, Youngkin 52.5% – Winner: Youngkin
  • Williamsburg:
    McAuliffe 64.6%, Youngkin 34.6% – Winner: McAuliffe
  • Gloucester County:
    McAuliffe 27.1%, Youngkin 72.4% – Winner: Youngkin

Needless to say, Youngkin captured the highest office in Virginia and now is currently in the midst of his first month guiding and influencing the Commonwealth.

For executive branches across the country, it’s an unlikely scenario perhaps without precedent. On top of the normal tasks related to running a state; a governor nowadays has to maneuver the COVID-19 pandemic and the social/economic issues that the pandemic has caused.

WYDaily has reported on some of these issues that are impacting the local municipalities: Labor Issues, Supply Chain Issues, increase in COVID-19 testing kit demand, and hospitals reporting a spike in COVID-19 cases that caused a State of Emergency to be declared by Younkin’s predecessor, Governor Ralph Northam (D), the week before Youngkin took office.

Executive Orders and Executive Directives

One of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s day one executive orders is to make mask-wearing in schools optional. (Wikipedia)

On his first day in office, Governor Youngkin signed nine Executive Orders and two Executive Directives at the Virginia State Capitol.

“It’s Day One, and we are going to work just like we promised,” said Governor Youngkin. “The important steps we are taking today begins the work of restoring excellence in education, making our communities safer, opening Virginia for business and reinvigorating job growth, and making government work for the people, and not the other way around. My Day One Game Plan also includes 59 pieces of legislation and a package of more than a dozen budget amendments I am working on with General Assembly leaders, including our efforts to double the standard deduction, eliminate the grocery tax, and end the tax on the first $40,000 in veteran retirement pay. It’s a new day in Virginia, but the work is only beginning.”

The Governor’s nine executive orders can be found linked below:

One of the executive orders immediately became a pressing matter for school boards and parents across Virginia; Executive Order Number Two.

This executive order provides parents with an option on whether or not they choose for their kids to wear masks while attending Virginia public K-12 schools.

School Boards across Hampton Roads were divided on the issue. Primarily because up until this point, Virginia schools under current state policies were complying with Senate Bill 1303.

Senate Bill 1303 is a state law that was signed into law last year with bipartisan support in Richmond. It requires that each school board offer “in-person instruction in a manner in which it adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies for early childhood care and education programs and elementary and secondary schools to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

One of those mitigation strategies is the use of masking in public schools.

Schools across the Peninsula and Hampton Roads were left to decide which path they wanted their school district to follow.

  • City of Hampton:
    The school board voted to keep their face mask policy. The mask policy is still required for all students, staff, and visitors to Hampton City School buildings and offices.
  • City of Newport News:
    Newport News Publics schools also decided to maintain their current masking policy. Newport News public schools decided to continue to follow the CDC mitigation strategies for its schools.
  • City of Poquoson:
    While the Poquoson School district continues to recommend CDC mitigation strategies, the school board has voted to make wearing masks optional and that decision went into effect on Jan. 24.
  • York County Schools:
    York County School District voted to maintain its mask requirement. The school district consulted legal resources such as the Deputy County Attorney and decided that it will be following the current mitigation strategies provided by the CDC.
  • Williamsburg – James City County (WJCC) Schools:
    WJCC School Board voted to have all students, staff, and visitors continue to wear masks. The school district cited Senat Bill 1303 and also consulted their school district attorney for further guidance.
  • Gloucester:
    Gloucester County Public Schools (GCPS) voted to make masks optional for its students. More information can be found here.
  • Chesapeake:
    Chesapeake School Board voted to give parents the option on whether or not to have masks.
  • Portsmouth:
    The School Board of the City of Portsmouth voted to maintain their masking policy and continue to align with CDC and VDH mitigation strategies
  • Newport News:
    Newport News Public schools will continue to follow all VDH and CDC mitigation strategies for schools
  • Suffolk:
    Suffolk Public Schools decided to continue to follow CDC’s recommendation and require students to wear masks in schools.

During last week’s meetings by school boards across the state, Governor Youngkin Announced updated guidelines for Parents, Educators, and PreK-12 Schools.

“I have said all along that we are going to stand up for parents. Executive Order 2 is not about pro-masks versus anti-mask, it’s about empowering parents,” said Youngkin in a press release. “I am confident that the Virginia Supreme Court will rule in the favor of parents, reaffirming the parental rights clearly laid out in the Virginia code § 1-240.1. In the meantime, I urge all parents to listen to their principal, and trust the legal process.”

The 55-year-old governor was propelled to office partly because of his stances on education reform and promises that he made to parents. In the months to come, there will surely be more developments and decisions from the governor on COVID-19 related issues.

Readers can visit Virginia’s official governor website for more updates.

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