Arlington Court Issues Temporary Injunction in Favor of School Boards
This temporary order takes immediate action to protect the health and wellbeing of all students and staff
The Schools Boards of Alexandria City, Arlington County, City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County are pleased with the temporary injunction issued today by the Arlington Circuit Court with regard to optional masking of children.
This temporary order takes immediate action to protect the health and wellbeing of all students and staff and reaffirms the constitutional right of Virginia’s local school boards to enact policy at the local level.
The Governor’s request for a temporary injunction preventing local school boards from enforcing their mask mandates was denied by the court. Until such time as the legal challenges raised in the School Boards’ Petition are fully adjudicated, this Order preserves the existing state of affairs in those school divisions-which includes masking requirements.
This declaratory judgment action was brought by seven school boards, together serving over 350,000 students in Virginia.
The lawsuit raises fundamental questions about the framework of public education in Virginia, as set out in the Virginia Constitution and by the General Assembly. At issue is whether locally-elected school boards have the exclusive authority and responsibility conferred upon them by Article VIII, § 7 of the Constitution of Virginia over supervision of the public schools in their respective communities, or whether an executive order can unilaterally override that constitutional authority.
Also at issue is whether a governor can, through executive order, and without legislative action by the Virginia General Assembly, reverse a lawfully-adopted statute. In this case, Senate Bill 1303, adopted with the goal of returning students to safe in-person instruction five days a week in March 2021, and still in legal effect, provides that local school boards should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health and safety guidelines to the maximum extent they deem practicable in their respective jurisdictions.
Prior to today’s decision, Virginia school boards were placed in a legally untenable position -- faced with an executive order in conflict with the state constitution and state law. That conflict has also put the health and safety of our students and staff at risk, as the Omicron variant continues to affect Virginia localities. We are confident that the court will soon come to the right decision to resolve this pressing matter.
We look forward to a day in the not too distant future when universal mask-wearing is no longer needed as part of our layered health mitigation strategies in order to keep our schools open for in-person learning, but that day is not yet here. We would like to thank our community for their diligence and patience as we navigate these challenging times, keeping the safety and best interests of our students and staff at the forefront in our communities.