Republicans handed Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin a huge victory on Monday, passing a ban on mask mandates in schools through the state legislature.
According to The Associated Press, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill which would make masks optional in all Virginia public schools. The legislation had already passed the state Senate.
The legislation codifies an executive order by Gov. Youngkin on day one of his governorship allowing individuals to opt out of any mask mandate imposed by a school.
The executive order had been subject to several court challenges, potentially delaying its implementation.
In the House of Delegates, the bill passed 52-48, exactly the advantage Republicans have in the lower chamber.
Republicans had advanced the bill through the Democrat-controlled Senate 21-19 with the help of several votes from moderate Democrats.
In the House, the Republicans also fended off several amendments Democrats had put forth. One, from Del. Marcus Simon, would have let the opt-out expire in 2023.
“We don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know what variants are coming,” Simon said.
“Let’s revisit this issue next year, maybe in less politically heated circumstances, maybe without this super urgent rush to give the governor a political win.”
Republicans blocked the amendments. According to the AP, they argued “the mask mandates have thwarted learning. They said communication is muffled and children lose the ability to learn from facial expressions.”
“Students are uncomfortable, unable to discern emotions, hear words and communicate clearly. This poses clear challenges to social interaction and mental health,” GOP Del. Amanda Batten said.
Youngkin has said he would sign the bill, but also attach an emergency clause to it.
That would let it take effect immediately, not on July 1 as it ordinarily would — but it requires a majority vote from both houses of the legislature.
Youngkin called the bill a “a significant step” that “will give parents a choice regarding their child’s health, education, upbringing, and care” in a statement.
It’s also a major victory for the governor, who won on a platform of education reform. At least so far, he’s delivering on what Virginians have been waiting for.