The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Youngkin is failing Virginia parents, children and schools

People gather in support of continuing the school mask mandate outside the Loudon County Government Center prior to a Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 18 in Leesburg. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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Eileen Filler-Corn is the Democratic leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, where she represents Fairfax County.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating effect on nearly every aspect of life here in Virginia and around the world since the initial outbreak. At the start of the pandemic, the novelty of the virus and its high transmissibility coupled with national mismanagement by the Trump administration led to hard choices having to be made to protect the health and safety of Virginians.

Those decisions were difficult, but they were guided by science, not politics. Ultimately, they saved lives and helped to manage the spread of the virus while a vaccine was being developed. One of the most difficult decisions was the movement of schools to online learning. Local communities took this action across our commonwealth in the interest of keeping kids safe while very little about the virus was known.

A top priority of our Democratic majority was to give our local communities the tools needed to get kids back in the classroom as soon as they could do so safely. And as a mom who was active in the PTA while my children were in school, I know that our children’s success is a collaborative effort. That is why we worked with families, teachers and local communities and passed legislation such as SB 1303, which put our schools on a path to return to safe in-person learning, while also allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to protect public school funding, put safety equipment into our schools and lifted our commonwealth’s vaccine rollout efficiency into the top 10 in national rankings.

We also gave our schools the resources to help our children catch up, providing $429.5 million to ensure our schools had the resources they needed to hit the ground running for in-person instruction, $123 million to assist with coronavirus remediation and student supports, $26.6 million to put more counselors in schools and $30 million to support competitive grants for other innovative learning loss programs.

Now, every single school district in Virginia is open for safe in-person instruction, an accomplishment attributable to our commonwealth’s partnership with federal and local governments, parents, educators and local communities. However, on his first week on the job, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) is putting our children’s ability to stay in school safely in jeopardy.

Hours after being sworn in, Youngkin began an assault on the coronavirus protocols and safety measures put in place to keep our commonwealth open and healthy. Chief among his reckless measures is an unconstitutional executive order that attempts to take away the discretion of local school boards to keep kids safe with mask requirements in schools. Youngkin claims to fight for the rights of parents, but this rushed directive is a clear political stunt that has thrown families, teachers and schools into turmoil with little guidance.

With coronavirus cases rising and our hard-fought recovery still so fragile, Youngkin is putting the health and education of our children at risk to satisfy his political base. That is unacceptable.

For that reason, I stand with the school districts across Virginia and their decision to keep their mask requirements in effect. This is important. Communities should make this call, not the governor.

I continue to share the goal of parents, teachers and local leaders of every political affiliation across Virginia to keep our kids healthy and safely in the classroom especially as we face a new surge spurred by the omicron variant. I also know that the steps needed to get there can only be guided by science, not politics. Youngkin’s executive order will win him the plaudits of extreme right-wing supporters, but it will ultimately be a disservice to the children of Virginia, and that is why we have no choice but to continue to speak out.

It is my hope Youngkin will put his politics aside and rescind his unconstitutional executive order. Virginians deserve a governor who will do everything possible to keep our kids safely in school.

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