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Parents’ bid to block Youngkin school mask policy dismissed, but temporary hold granted to school districts still stands

Tierney Sneed, CNN

The Virginia Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit filed last month by parents in Chesapeake, Virginia, who alleged that Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s mask executive order ran afoul of the state constitution.

The court said that the challengers had failed to show that the dispute met the procedural threshold that would warrant the direct intervention by the state Supreme Court that the parents were seeking. In a footnote, the court said that it was offering “no opinion on the legality” of the Youngkin executive order “or any other issue pertaining to petitioners’ claims.”

Youngkin’s executive order, which he issued the day he took office in mid-January, allowed for parents and guardians to “elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”

The case before the state Supreme Court was separate from a lawsuit brought by seven Virginia school districts that are also challenging the executive order. In that case, the school districts secured a temporary restraining order last week, with Judge Louise M. DiMatteo writing Friday that the governor could not override the decisions of local school boards delegated to them by state law.

“The efficacy of the Governor’s school mask policy contained in EO2 does not bear upon whether he has the authority to issue it. The single issue before the Court is whether the Governor, via his emergency powers, can override the decision of local school boards delegated to them under SB 1303,” DiMatteo wrote in part, adding: “On this pivotal point, the Court concludes that the Governor cannot.”

The state has said it intends to appeal DiMatteo’s decision.

In August, Youngkin’s predecessor, Democrat Ralph Northam, had announced that masks would be required in schools as part of a public health emergency order.

The lawsuit from the school districts argued the mask-optional order was unconstitutional and violated a state law that says schools must follow US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines “to the maximum extent practicable” until August 1, 2022. The CDC recommends all students, staff and school visitors wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.

John Cafferky, an attorney for the school boards, said at an earlier hearing that it should be up to the boards to decide whether to implement protective measures such as universal masking, not the governor. But Virginia Deputy Attorney General Steven Popps argued that Youngkin has “broad” authority as governor to issue the executive order.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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CNN’s Virginia Langmaid and Devan Cole contributed to this report.

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