Virginia Senate Democrats join Republicans in passing amendment barring school mask mandates

( Virginia Democrats have joined with Republicans in the state in saying they support eventually getting rid of a mask mandate in Virginia’s public schools.

Liberals in the state are setting a deadline of July, which marks progress toward ending the mask mandate, even if it doesn’t align with Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s efforts to overturn the mandate immediately.

While the governor said in his first month in office that parents should have the choice whether their children wear masks in school, he called the bipartisan progress on the issue “a significant step … for parents and children.”

What convinced Democrats in Virginia to change their mind isn’t quite clear yet. But, many other Democrat-led states are starting to peel back their school mask mandates as the worst of the Omicron surge seems to be waning significantly.

Governors in Delaware, Connecticut and New Jersey all said this week that mask mandates in schools would end in the coming weeks in their state.

The progress in Virginia is a significant win for Youngkin, as it was possible that the issue could’ve been tied up in courts for months had he not gotten at least a little bipartisan support.

The governor is still hoping to get Virginia’s school mask mandate ended by the start of March, which could put a wrench in more progress. But, the fact that Democrats in the state are even considering agreeing to the end to the mask mandate is good news for Youngkin and his fellow Virginia Republicans.

State Senators Chap Petersen, a Democrat, and Siobhan Dunnavant, a Republican, both worked with the governor to craft the end of the mask mandate. On Tuesday, the bill won preliminary passage, and the state Senate will take up a final vote on the bill this week.

As Youngkin said in a statement:

“This shows that when we work across the aisle, we put Virginians first. I look forward to signing this bill when it comes to my desk.”

The state Senate has 21 Democrats on it, and 10 of them voted in favor of the amendment to a bill regarding various school issues. The bill allows parents to opt out their children from mask mandates that are in place at schools.

It follows the message that Youngkin pushed forward as he signed an executive order on the matter the first day that he took office.

After the governor signed the order, several school systems and parent groups challenged it in court. An Arlington judge blocked the order in seven school districts in the state, but the state’s Supreme Court also rejected a separate suit from a Chesapeake parents’ group on technical grounds.

All of those legal challenges would be moot, though, once state lawmakers officially make Youngkin’s order state law. As Dunnavant explained:

“This law would basically codify the executive order.”

Even Petersen believed that it was the duty of the state legislature to take action, rather than relying on what he believes is overreach by governors using executive actions.

As he said recently:

“We needed to solve this ourselves. And we will. I don’t like executive orders … We needed to act to end the mask wars.”