Federal judge in Virginia issues ruling reinstating COVID mask mandate for small number of immunocompromised school children

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signs a bill that bans mask mandates in public schools in Virginia on the steps of the Capitol Wednesday Feb. 16, 2022, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo / Steve Helber)

On March 23, a federal judge in Charlottesville, Virginia ruled that a small number of schools could reinstate mask mandates to protect the lives of a dozen immunocompromised children from the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia on behalf of the twelve families over Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s state law that made wearing masks in optional schools.

The ruling pertains only to the school districts attended by the dozen families belonging to the class action lawsuit, which had been filed in February in response to an executive order Youngkin signed when he took office in January. In late February, Youngkin and the Republican-dominated state senate were able to turn the order into law with the critical support of several Democratic Party state senators.

The families alleged that the law, State Bill 739, presented “parents of… Virginia children with disabilities with an unconscionable choice: to choose between putting them at risk of severe illness… and keeping them home with little or no education.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6.2 percent of adults ages 18-64 in the United States live with weakened immune function, along with 2.6 percent of children. This amounts to 15 million people who are still vulnerable to COVID-19 even after being vaccinated. It is likely that every community in the country has immunocompromised members for whom the removal of mask mandates is a potential death sentence.

The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the most narrow fashion possible. Judge Norman Moon sought to strike a middle ground between Youngkin’s law, which made it illegal for any school district to require masks inside buildings, and the obvious danger which it creates for the immunocompromised.

“The Court enjoins Defendants [the various school districts]”States the judge,“ from enforcing [Youngkin’s mask mandate ban] only as against these Plaintiffs in their ability to ask for (not definitely to receive) ”a mask requirement in their particular school.

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