Newly inaugurated Republican Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin recently fulfilled a campaign promise, allowing parents to opt-out of school mask mandates for their children.
Youngkin’s executive order was quickly met with defiance from some of Virginia’s more liberal areas, including White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s home base of Arlington County, as well as Richmond, Alexandria, and Fairfax counties.
Arlington County’s public school system issued a response to the order saying in a statement that its public schools will “continue to require all staff and students to wear masks inside on school grounds and buses, as part of our layered approach to safety.”
The statement quickly won applause from Psaki, who previously stated her kindergartner could wear a mask “all day” after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all Americans wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
Tweeting from her account, Psaki said, “Hi there. Arlington [County] parent here (don’t believe you are @GlennYoungkin but correct me if I am wrong). Thank you to @APSVirginia for standing up for our kids, teachers, and administrators and their safety in the midst of a transmissible variant.”
Gov. Youngkin was recently sworn in following a contentious election, powered mainly by parents fed up with coronavirus lockdowns and mandates.
While not requiring masks to be worn in schools, it does not prevent students from wearing masks if they choose. It allows parents to opt-out if they choose.
According to the order, “The parents of any child enrolled in an elementary or secondary school or a school-based early childcare, and educational program may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”
Conservatives sharply criticized Psaki’s vocal opposition to Youngkin’s executive order for speaking out. Some told Psaki that she was free to continue to have her children wear masks but should recognize and heed the will of Virginia voters.
CNN’s Mary Katharine Ham tweeted, “I have read the order, and Jen is welcome to do for her child as she pleases. Given that the effective masks are fitted N95s, she definitely doesn’t need to worry about my kids if her kid has the good gear.”
“Jen, if for some reason you want to mask your children, you are still free to do so. This isn’t a ban on masks; this is a ban on *forced masking* of children against other parents’ wishes,” wrote Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway.
Still another Fox News contributor, Guy Benson, tweeted, “Youngkin is Governor. He beat your candidate. Data shows that forced masking of kids doesn’t make schools safer, but there are established downsides for students wearing them. If you want your kid to wear one forever, that’s your prerogative. Other parents disagree.”
After Arlington County issued its statement saying students in their schools would continue to be required to wear masks, Youngkin responded, “The fact that that tweet came out from Arlington County within minutes of my Executive Order, what that tells me, is they haven’t listened to parents yet.” Youngkin’s executive order goes into effect on January 24.
In October, Psaki was hit with ethics complaints after appearing to advocate for Virginia Democrat gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe in his race against Youngkin.
“We’re going to do everything we can to help former Governor McAuliffe, and we believe in the agenda he’s representing,” said Psaki. An ethics watchdog group noted that Psaki’s comments appeared to have violated the Hatch Act, which forbids government officials from using their “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.”
President Biden and other nationally-recognized Democrats campaigned hard for McAuliffe, who previously served as governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018.
It would have been McAuliffe’s second term. Youngkin’s victory in a state Biden easily won in 2020 was seen as a rebuke of Democrats and a signal that parents are angry over coronavirus lockdowns and mandates.