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Opinion Glenn Youngkin: Virginia’s parents can decide what’s best for their children

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) at the State Capitol in Richmond on Jan. 15. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)
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Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, is governor of Virginia.

In November’s election, Virginians came together to declare that too many local leaders were failing a generation of schoolchildren. Students deprived of a quality education, teachers who are underpaid and overw​​orked, and parents deserving a voice in their children’s schooling fueled a movement to end the government’s one-size-fits-all approach.

The will of Virginians was clear: Parents should have a say in education. Virginia’s laws reinforce parents’ fundamental rights to make decisions with regards to their child’s upbringing and care. As governor, it is my duty to protect the health and welfare of Virginians. My predecessor issued executive orders at the beginning of the pandemic to accomplish what he viewed as his responsibility. Almost two years later, it is time to adjust our approach to the coronavirus emergency, while considering vaccinations, natural immunity, and the adverse mental and physical health effects on children. A path through the end of this pandemic is possible while also respecting individual freedom and choice. We can keep kids in school, provide a parental opt out to mask mandates, and protect lives and livelihoods.

On Day 1 of my administration, I signed an executive order that delivered on a promise I made to parents, empowering them to make decisions regarding their children. While some are seeking to sow division between masking factions, I want to be clear: My executive order ensures that parents can opt out their kids from a school’s mask mandate. It bans neither the wearing of masks nor the issuing of mask mandates. Parents can now choose whether wearing a mask at school is right for their child. There is no one better to determine what is best for children, especially after two years of a pandemic, than their parents. And only they should be able to decide whether wearing a mask in school is the right choice for their children.

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Virginians know that the practice of silencing parents, the era of divisive partisan politics and the time for statewide mandates are over. The long-term effects of the coronavirus on our youngest generation cannot be ignored. While some children have endured the pandemic adequately, that is not the case for all children. Too many fell behind because classrooms were locked down for too long. Students have been under tremendous stress, and symptoms of anxiety and depression have doubled.

For the sake of our future generations, we need to recognize the potentially damaging impacts of mask-wearing on some children. Experts suggest masks can hide visual cues, hinder emotion recognition and reduce students’ abilities to hear teachers clearly. Studies also indicate that masks worn in public settings, school or day care might impact a range of early developmental and processing skills.

If November’s election made one thing clear, it’s that too many bureaucrats and politicians had stopped listening to parents. Those parents shared with me the concern that the cold halls of government are disconnected from the reality they face every day. Allowing parents to decide whether their children wear masks reflects that reality.

Virginia’s parents have had enough with the government dictating how they should raise their children. On the campaign trail, I listened to parents and, as governor, I will continue to listen. School boards throughout the Commonwealth should do the same. To parents, I say: We respect you. And we will continue to work to empower you in the education and well-being of your children.