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Virginia school systems push back on Youngkin order lifting mask mandates

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Virginia school systems push back on Youngkin order lifting mask mandates
Multiple Virginia school systems said they would keep their current mask mandates in place after Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order giving parents the right to opt out of the requirements. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 17 (UPI) -- School systems in Virginia pushed back against an executive order by new governor, Glenn Youngkin, ending a statewide mask mandate for K-12 schools.

Youngkin issued nine executive orders shortly after taking office as Virginia's 74th governor on Saturday with one stating that parents have the right to exempt their children from their school system's mask mandate beginning on Jan. 24.

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Arlington Public Schools and Jason Kamras, superintendent of Richmond Public Schools, both announced Saturday that they would keep their existing mask mandates in place, requiring masks for all students, staff and visitors.

"Arlington Public Schools will continue to require all staff and students to wear masks inside on school grounds and on buses, as part of our layered approach to safety," the school system said in a statement. "Universal mask use has proven effective in keeping COVID-19 transmission rates low in our schools and ensuring schools remain safe and open."

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday tweeted in support of Arlington Public Schools' decision.

"Hi there. Arlington county parent here (don't believe you are @GlennYoungkin but correct me if I am wrong)," Psaki wrote. "Thank you to APSVirginia for standing up for our kids, teachers and administrators and their safety in the midst of a transmissible variant."

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On Monday, Fredricksburg City Public Schools also said it would keep its policy requiring masks for all students, staff and visitors inside schools and on buses in place, citing continued recommendations for masking from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Virginia Department of Health.

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"Layered prevention strategies have been successful in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our schools which has allowed us to provide in-person learning that is required by Virginia law," the school system said.

Manassas City Public Schools also pledged Monday to leave its policy for students, staff and visitors in place.

Loudon County Public Schools said its mask mandate would remain in place at least until the executive order takes effect and that school officials would review updated state guidance before publicly announcing plans Wednesday.

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Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent LaTanya McDade also said the school system would review Youngkin's order and expected guidance from the Virginia Department of Education.

"Any changes to our mitigation strategies will be made thoughtfully and with the health and safety of students and staff as our priority," McDade said in a statement. "Any decision to remove a mitigation layer must take into consideration our ability to continue in-person instruction."

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In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Youngkin said he would "consider all options" to protect the right for parents to opt out of mask mandates.

"I think this is exactly what Virginians voted for in November and we delivered yesterday," he said.

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