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Seven School Divisions Take Joint Legal Action to Affirm Local Constitutional Authority to Keep Public Schools Safe
Today, the Schools Boards of Alexandria City, Arlington County, City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County, filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Executive Order 2 issued by the governor on January 15, 2022. The legal action, representing over 350,000 students across the state, defends the right of school boards to enact policy at the local level, including policies that protect the health and wellbeing of all students and staff.
This legal action centers on 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, 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 legally in effect, provides that local school boards should follow The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) health and safety requirements.
Without today’s action, school boards are placed in a legally untenable position -- faced with an executive order that is in conflict with the constitution and state law. Today’s action is not politically motivated.
These seven school divisions would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the governor to ensure the safety and welfare of all students.
This lawsuit is not brought out of choice, but out of necessity.
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, including our most vulnerable, who need these mitigation measures perhaps more than anyone to be able to continue to access in-person instruction.