Arlington Court Issues Temporary Injunction in Favor of School Boards
Posted on 02/04/2022
Justice Scales

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 granted today by the Arlington Circuit Court. The order allows schools to continue to protect the health and well-being of all students and staff. While the legal process on this matter continues, today’s ruling preserves the existing policies and practices in Virginia school divisions, which includes masking requirements.

This declaratory judgment action was brought by seven school boards: the School Boards of Alexandria City, Arlington County, City of Richmond, Fairfax County, Falls Church City, Hampton City and Prince William County. Together these school districts serve 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.

Update on January 24, 2022:

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.

Pleadings Filed:

On January 19, 2022, in open session at its regular meeting, the Prince William County School Board voted unanimously to authorize the filing of a declaratory judgment action in order to obtain legal clarification of its authority to require continued masking in PWCS schools. The School Board meeting can be accessed here. Links to the pleadings filed on Monday, January 24, 2022, in the Arlington Circuit Court can be found below. A hearing has been set for 1 p.m. on February 2, 2022, in Arlington Circuit Court on the School Boards’ motion for temporary injunction asking the court to prevent the Governor from enforcing Executive Order No. 2.