Monday, March 4, 2024

State Senate Sends Parent Mask Choice Bill to House of Delegates

On Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, the Virginia State Senate voted on Senate Bill (SB) 739 and successfully passed the bill by a bipartisan vote of 21 yeas to 17 nays. (Pexels/Max Fischer)

STATEWIDE — On Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022, the Virginia State Senate voted on Senate Bill (SB) 739, and successfully passed the bill by a bipartisan vote of 21 “yeas” to 17 “nays.”

YEAS: Chase (R), Cosgrove (R), DeSteph (R), Dunnavant (R), Hackworth (R), Hanger (R), Kiggans (R), Lewis (D), McDougle (R), Morissey (D), Newman (R), Norment (R), Peake (R), Petersen (D), Pillion (R), Reeves (R), Ruff (R), Stanley (R), Stuart (R), Suetterlein (R), Vogel (R).

NAYS: Barker (D), Bell (D), Boysko (D), Deeds (D), Ebbin (D), Edwards (D), Favola (D), Hashmi (D), Howell (D), Locke (D), Lucas (D), Marsden (D), Mason (D), McClellan (D), Saslaw (D), Spruill (D), Surovell (D)

NOT VOTING: McPike (D), Obenshain (R)

SB 739 would allow parents to decide whether or not they wish to send their kids to school with masks.

Parental choice of whether or not their students wear face coverings in Virginia’s public schools has been highly contested previously in school board meetings across the Commonwealth as a result of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order 2, which calls for the end of mask wearing mandates in the schools.

However, a part of that debate was about the legality of Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order 2 versus Senate Bill 1303 (SB 1303) which, “requires each school board to provide such 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.”

Many school boards chose to stay the course and wait until a new state law would be put into place or replace SB 1303 before they felt as though they could safely move forward with the ideas put forth in Executive Order 2.

On Friday, Feb. 4, Arlington Circuit Court Judge Louise DiMatteo issued a temporary injunction on Executive Order 2 following a request put in by seven schoolboards from across the Commonwealth. The schoolboards from the cities of Alexandria, Richmond, Falls Church, and Hampton, as well as the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, and Prince William requested the temporary injunction in order to restore mandatory mask wearing in the Commonwealth’s public schools for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year.

It is important to note that the mandates set forth in SB 1303 are due to expire in August 2022.

According to the newly passed SB 739, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law or any regulation, rule, or policy implemented by a school board, school division, school official, or other state or local authority, the parent of any child enrolled in a public elementary or secondary school, or in any school-based early childhood care and education program, may elect for such child to not wear a mask while on school property. 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.”

Several Democratic State Senators sided with their Republican colleagues across the aisle and voted to pass SB 739. As a result, it will now make its way to the Virginia House of Delegates.

Youngkin posted a Tweet on Feb. 9, at 3:54 p.m. following news of the final count, “Kids across the Commonwealth win with this bipartisan vote today. Parents are now empowered to decide whether their children should wear a mask in schools.”

In another tweet, Youngkin added, “This vote also shows that school boards who are attacking their own students are stunningly detached from reality. It’s time to put kids first and get back to normal.”

The Virginia House of Delegates is a majority Republican house with 52 representatives from the party. The Democratic representatives total 48.

SB 739 is expected to pass through the Virginia House of Delegates.

If the bill passes, it wouldn’t go into effect until July 1. SB 1303 is set to expire only one month later. However, Governor Youngkin may add an “emergency clause” to the bill that could push its start date up to make it effective sooner.

According to the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) COVID-19 Dashboard, as of Friday, Feb. 11 at 4:30 p.m., the vaccination rates for age groups 5-11 years and 12-17 years old are lower than the population at large in the Historic Triangle. The following chart shows the rates as they stand:

5-11-year-olds Fully Vaccinated 12-17-year-olds Fully Vaccinated
James City County 27.1% 63.4%
City of Williamsburg 20.2% 49.7%
York County 26.5% 57.0%

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