The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Arlington schools are wrong to buck Youngkin’s mask policy

Innovation Elementary School in Rosslyn neighborhood in Arlington County on Sept. 20. (Shuran Huang for The Washington Post)
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Mary Vought is an Independent Women’s Forum fellow. She’s the mother of two children and lives in Arlington County.

The decision of Arlington County’s public schools to maintain their school mask mandate despite an executive order from new Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) ignores the “public” part of “public schools” in several respects. First, Youngkin won election to his post on a pledge to allow parents to choose whether their children should be forced to wear masks in school. For the governor to fulfill his promise on his Inauguration Day via an executive order amounts to implementing the expressed will of Virginia voters — which Arlington Public Schools apparently wants to defy.

Second, the schools system released a blog post and tweet reiterating no change to the masking policy mere hours after Youngkin issued his order. As the new governor stated, such actions hardly represent the behavior of governmental entities that want to listen to the needs of parents and students — far from it, in fact.

Then again, school boards have made ignoring parents a matter of policy. Youngkin’s opponent, former governor Terry McAuliffe (D), infamously stated in a gubernatorial debate that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” And the Biden administration’s attorney general, Merrick Garland, sent a memo — after possible coordination with the White House — instructing federal prosecutors to investigate protests against school boards as possible incidents of domestic terrorism.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, no school administrator has asked this parent of school-age children living in Arlington County for my opinion on the county’s masking policy. If they had, they would know that I gladly stand with Youngkin over the county bureaucracy.

Masking policies in Virginia schools this academic year have effectively replaced one form of mental anguish and isolation — virtual learning — with another. Masks have given children breathing problems while inhibiting socialization and emotional development. Other students face difficulty communicating, growing academically and improving their learning comprehension while behind a mask for the entire school day. And the science behind masking, particularly for young children, remains uncertain at best.

The former dean of Harvard Medical School has noted that “we lack credible evidence for benefits of masking kids aged 2-5.” Leana S. Wen, a practicing physician, recently admitted that “cloth masks are little more than facial decorations,” making them of little help to students (or adults, for that matter). And The Post last spring published an opinion piece from three professors, including an epidemiologist and infectious-disease specialist, calling for children to “return to their normal lives” in school, “without masks and regardless of their vaccination status.”

Youngkin’s executive order still allows parents to have their children wear masks if they wish. But it places the choice back where it belongs — with the parents, not the government bureaucracy. For all their support of masking, perhaps Arlington schools officials need to breathe a bit themselves — and then work to follow the will of the people, rather than mandating it from above.

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