Shortly after being inaugurated last month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed an Executive Order giving parents the right to opt-out of any local school mask mandates. School districts in the more left-leaning parts of the state — Richmond, Charlottesville, and heavily populated Northern Virginia — quickly announced that they would maintain their mask mandates. They also filed a lawsuit, claiming that the order conflicts with a state law passed last year that requires schools to adhere “to the maximum extent practicable,” to guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control (which currently still recommends universal masking).
That lawsuit will ultimately reach the Virginia Supreme Court, which has already turned away a lawsuit by pro-mask activists, unless the Virginia legislature makes it moot by passing a bill applying a statewide policy against school mask mandates.
But if you’re following the masking wars enough to click on this article, you probably know all that. What you don’t know is that part of the massive resistance to parental rights and student freedoms — to returning to normal post-pandemic — is the segregation of students whose parents opt them out of masking.
Take the city of Falls Church, where I live, and where I unsuccessfully ran for school board last fall. Five days after Youngkin signed the order, the Falls Church school board adopted a policy allowing for masking opt-out as of February 14. That’s three weeks later than the order specified— what’s three weeks of defying the law among friends? — but still leads the region. That’s an admittedly low bar, with Fairfax County simply turning away or suspending students who arrive at school without a mask, but at least it’s something.
To its credit, and despite pressure from the Branch Covidians who populate these parts, the school board did not change its policy after a local judge in Arlington granted a preliminary injunction against Youngkin’s order earlier this week. It came as welcome relief to parents who are hardly unreasonable for being worried about cognitive development, language learning, mental health, and other issues.
Superintendent Peter Noonan, however, went off-script with his latest missive to the community, part of a periodic series oleaginously titled “Roots, Resilience & Renewal.”
Bad enough was this notice, set off in all caps: “NEW – – All UNVACCINATED students whose parents have opted them out of masking will need to register and participate in weekly PCR screening testing.”
So what has been a voluntary testing program — which served no purpose, just quarantining asymptomatic students while making administrators feel like they were doing something to fight the pandemic — is becoming discriminatory medical surveillance and vaccination coercion: How dare you neither vaccinate nor mask? Go do a walk of shame to the school nurse’s office.
But what’s more, buried in Noonan’s communiqué was a link intended to visually explain the “new normal at school.” I initially didn’t click on that link because I was too busy fuming and rolling my eyes, but my wife did, and here’s what she found:
In other words, kids whose parents deign to follow what most of Europe has been doing from the beginning, and what most of the country has been doing all school year, will be physically set apart from their peers. But wait, there’s more!
Soon after the superintendent’s email, parents at the K-2 elementary school received the principal’s weekly email — cutely titled “Danny’s Corner,” after the school mascot, a purple hippo — which confirmed that “Unmasked children will need to remain 6 feet apart from their peers where possible while indoors in accordance with our current mitigation strategies.” This is just a few sentences before he reassures us that, “We always do our best to make sure that no child feels marginalized or excluded for any reason, including what they may or may not be wearing.”
If you don’t believe this bald gaslighting, here’s a screencap:
Given that differential or adverse treatment of maskless students, the school district may already be in violation of federal and state civil rights and education laws — even before the new anti-masking state law takes effect. Differential treatment here would include, but isn’t limited to, discriminatory policies with regard to masking, testing, vaccination, virtual learning, and anything else that would facilitate official or social ostracism or bullying.
What kind of sick person does this to children? As our kindergartner son, who has a moderate articulation disorder for which he was diagnosed without lowering his mask, told us last month after we explained to him that the school board decided that he had to keep his mask on for three more weeks even though the “president of Virginia” was trying to enforce his rights to the contrary, “nobody should be treated differently. That’s what Martin Luther King said.” (I kid you not; this is not some made-up Twitter virtue-signaling; we’ve talked to him, and his preschooler brother, about MLK and civil rights, and imagine that some of this got covered in school, too.)
That’s where we stand in the America of 2022. Both parents and kids have had enough; we will neither be silenced, masked, nor segregated.