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Virginia Democrat breaks ranks, demands immediate end to forced masking of schoolchildren

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Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Virginia state Sen. Chap Petersen, a Democrat who represents Fairfax County, took a bold stand against the forced masking of schoolchildren on Monday, breaking with his Democratic colleagues and siding with Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R).

What is the background?

On Youngkin's first official day in office, he signed a series of executive orders, one of which declared that school districts should no longer be the sole authority on whether children wear masks in schools. Importantly, Youngkin's order did not prohibit masks in schools; the directive simply empowered parents — not school board officials — to make that decision for their children.

However, several school districts across the commonwealth immediately vowed to ignore Youngkin's order, setting up what will become intense legal battles.

Some school officials argued they could not comply with Youngkin's order because a new Virginia law forces school districts to align COVID mitigation policies with CDC guidance. However, CDC guidance does not require students wear face masks in schools; the guidance simply recommends face masks.

What did Petersen do?

The moderate Democrat sent an email to the Fairfax County Parents Association demanding the Fairfax County School Board immediately outline a plan to end forced masking in schools — or face legislative intervention.

Petersen's email, according to the Daily Wire, demanded the school board "define an ‘off ramp’ for mandatory masking. That means plainly stated metrics as well as a final deadline (e.g. Valentine’s Day)."

"They should announce that immediately. The forced masking policy is going to end very soon, i.e. in a few weeks. Otherwise, the General Assembly will again step in," the email added. "IT IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE LONG-TERM SOLUTION."

In other interviews, Petersen clarified that he does not agree with Youngkin's executive order per se on the basis that he believes Youngkin should not usurp legislative authority.

In fact, the Washington Post reported that Petersen described the order as "unconstitutional." Still, Petersen agrees with the spirit of the order: hat forced masking of children in schools must have an immediate terminal point.

"All I’m saying is — and I don’t see how anyone can disagree with this — we’re not going to have masks forever," Petersen told the Post.

Meanwhile, the Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted Petersen as saying, "While I am sympathetic to the Governor's position giving power to parents, an Executive Order cannot overrule state law giving authority to school boards."

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