LOUDOUN COUNTY, Virginia – Numerous Northern Virginia schools refused to provide in-person education to students who were not wearing a mask on Monday, defying an executive order from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin that went into effect this week.
Faced between following the rules of the state or the school district, the vast majority of students wore masks to avoid punishment from their schools, but those who did not were segregated into a separate room.
At Woodgrove High School in rural Purcellville, about a dozen adults and a dozen students gathered just before the morning bell to prepare for resistance. They shouted encouragement to other students who were not part of the group but who approached the doors without masks. “Be strong, kids!” they said. “You deserve to breathe … Freedom! Do you want it? Or do you want to be a slave to the school board? … Get rid of the bacteria.”
One 11th grader told The Daily Wire, “It’s our parents’ rights that they are taking away from us. We’re told to listen to our parents. Now they are not listening. It’s about respecting the government. We followed [Democratic Gov. Ralph] Northam, they should follow Youngkin.”
Erin Thomas, one of the adult organizers, told kids, “You have every right to exercise your civil rights. … You have a copy of the EO, a note from your parents. … The school must provide in-person learning.”
Another student who was not part of Thomas’ group said of Loudoun County Public Schools’ defiance of the executive order, “I think it’s horrible. We’re not going to wear them.”
But the majority of students interviewed by The Daily Wire said they disagreed with LCPS but would comply with it anyway to avoid getting in trouble. “I think it’s bull … I think corona is kind of over,” one said. But “I’m going to wear [a mask] because I don’t want to be sent home.”
Another student said “I don’t personally think we should have to wear them because I don’t think they do anything.” But that student had not heard of the new Virginia governor’s executive order, which is designed to restore rights to parents.
A few minutes after school began, Thomas said that “we just heard from the inside that there’s about 25 kids in the auditorium,” adding that the number was still growing as non-compliant kids were collected by administrators one by one. “Some parents said our kids will be wearing masks until they get to class, then taking them off and refusing to get up, like modern day Rosa Parks,” she said.
She and others said many of the kids told to do work on the computer could not do so because the online platform, Schoology, was not set up.
“A lot of our kids have straight As,” she said. School systems have “been hiding for two years behind the idea that they have to follow executive orders so their hands are tied. That’s why they kicked everyone out of school in March 2020.” But now that the governor is a Republican instead of a Democrat, the districts claim they do not have to, she said.
She said a sheriff’s deputy told the group that the sheriff would not be enforcing trespassing laws on people who were on school grounds for mask protests or disputes, and that the school system would have to ask a judge for an arrest warrant. Sheriff Mike Chapman, a Republican, publicly chafed at the school system for attempting to enlist police to quash dissent as it pushed a controversial transgender policy.
Megan Rafalski, the mother of a fifth-grader at Banneker Elementary in Loudoun, told The Daily Wire her son was being permanently kicked out of his elementary school for refusing to wear a mask Monday.
“My son right now is sitting in the principal’s office. We have a special exception to go to the school we’re at so my son can go to the school with the kids he started with. They’re now telling me his exception is being rescinded for disciplinary reasons. For a one-time incident. He’s never been in trouble before,” she said, adding that she’s been waiting more than two months for a phone call from superintendent Scott Zeigler about masks.
Jill Guercio, the head of the Parent Teacher Organization at Chris Young Elementary in Prince William County, said she walked her two kids into school without masks, the principal told her they would not be permitted to join their classes, and she took them home. “I said I’m not going to let you segregate my kids,” she told The Daily Wire.
Karen Mineo, a LCPS teacher, said she was sent home and put on leave without pay for refusing to wear a mask Monday. She said a substitute took over her classes after her first period. She said her daughter was also blocked from attending school for 10 days for a “quarantine.” Her husband, Scott Mineo, said he would deliver pizzas to students who were isolated in cafeterias.
Tiffany Polifko, the mother of a 13-year old at Eagle Ridge Middle School, said her son was sent to the auditorium and told to do schoolwork online. “We didn’t force this on our kid, after all they’re the ones who have to do it, we’re not there with him, and he said ‘I’m not wearing it. I don’t have to seek permission from anyone to not wear the mask,’” she said.
“They know they are on the wrong side of this and that they are breaking the law right now because of the codified law that says parents have a fundamental right to the education of their children,” she added.
“We didn’t coordinate with any other families, we’re not worried about what other people are doing,” she said. But “courage is contagious. Some kids will take it off and when they see one kid without a mask then they’ll take it off too. And that terrifies Loudoun County because they are so afraid of these dirty kids without their masks, and they are so afraid to lose their power.”
Seven school districts, including Prince William but not Loudoun, filed a lawsuit against the state on Monday challenging the executive order.
“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,” Fairfax County Public Schools, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
“With COVID-19 transmission rates high, our hospitals at crisis level, and the continued recommendation of health experts to retain universal mask-wearing for the time being, this is simply not the time to remove this critical component of layered health and safety mitigation strategies. School divisions need to continue to preserve their authority to protect and serve all our students,” it continued.
But the standoff may not need the courts to be resolved. On Monday, Chap Peterson, a moderate Democrat who joined with Republicans to force school re-opening last year, said in an email to the Fairfax County Parents Association that Fairfax’s school board “must define an ‘off ramp’ for mandatory masking. That means plainly stated metrics as well as a final deadline (e.g. Valentine’s Day). They should announce that immediately. The forced masking policy is going to end very soon, i.e. in a few weeks. Otherwise, the General Assembly will again step in. IT IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE LONG-TERM SOLUTION.”
Republicans control the state house, while the Democrats control the state senate 21-19, meaning that any bill backed by Republicans and Peterson can be passed into law, with the Senate tie being broken by Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears, a Republican.