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School mask mandate legislation likely headed to Youngkin's desk

Virus Outbreak Schools
David Goldman/AP
Kindergarten teacher Karen Drolet, left, works with a student at Raices Dual Language Academy, a public school in Central Falls, R.I., Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Governor Glenn Youngkin may soon be considering a bill that would prohibit local school boards from issuing mask mandates.

Three Senate Democrats crossed party lines to vote with Republicans on a bill that would end mask mandates in schools across Virginia. The dramatic vote in the state Senate came after more than an hour of debate about whether masks work to prevent the spread of coronavirus and whether school boards should have the authority to mandate them. Senator Dave Marsden is a Democrat from Fairfax County who says removing the mandate will create unhealthy conflict.

"Children can sometimes be cruel and thoughtless. And this has the potential of bringing a parent's political views, which unfortunately have been caught up in this pandemic, bringing their political views with their kids coming to schools."

Senator Chap Petersen is a Democrat from Fairfax City who voted with the Republicans on this one.

"When you force a child to wear a mask without any scientific basis for doing that, you're forcing them to adopt a statement that they or their family may not believe in. If there's scientific data to back it up, that's one thing. But if there's no scientific data and you're just saying, 'No, wear the mask because that's what the community wants.' That's a violation of the First Amendment, folks."

Now that the bill has passed the Senate, it'll go over to the Republican-led House of Delegates which seems certain to send it to the desk of the governor.

The House Education Committee also sent a similar measure to the full House floor Wednesday.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.