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Republicans fast-track legislation to end mask mandates in Virginia schools

Published: Feb. 11, 2022 at 7:48 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - Republicans in the General Assembly are fast-tracking legislation designed to end mask mandates in Virginia’s public schools.

Friday, the House Education Committee voted to report Senate Bill 739, which passed the Senate Wednesday.

“I believe we need to act. And we need to act quickly,” said Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico Co.), who introduced the legislation.

Dunnavant said Virginia’s children have suffered because of school closures and mask mandates. Her legislation requires school divisions to provide in-person instruction, and allows parents to opt out of the mask requirements.

“Political entities need to get out of this decision,” Dunnavant said. “We are no longer in a state of emergency. We have evidence that shows what works and what does not. And this is a constitutional issue of parental rights.”

Parents and teachers lined up to oppose the bill.

“Every district knows what their COVID rates are,” said Kathy Beery, President of the Harrisonburg Education Association. “And they should be able to decide what is safe for their school.”

“I don’t want to wear masks forever. And I know we have to learn to live with the virus,” said Virginia Beach parent Lindsey Nathaniel, “but we need to do it safely.”

Matt Moran, a representative of the Governor’s Office, spoke in favor of the legislation.

“The Governor says often this is not about being pro-mask or being anti-mask, this is about empowering parents,” Moran told lawmakers. “And we’ve seen recently a number of Democratic-led states move to ease mask restrictions. And the Governor appreciates the bipartisan support for this bill.”

Democrats on the House Education Committee voted against the bill, but they were outnumbered.

The bill should win approval on the House floor next week, and the Governor hopes to add an emergency clause that would allow the legislation to take effect immediately.

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