Together with two other families, I am suing Fairfax County Public Schools for openly and willfully violating Governor Youngkin’s Executive Order 2, which requires Virginia schools to allow parents to opt their children out of the mask mandates still in place in some Virginia schools. Following the implementation thereof, my three sons entered FCPS schools without their masks. Each day, a teacher or administrator escorted them to the principal’s office. Just as the school bell rang for other students to start their day, public school administrators – under Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s leadership – called me to pick up my sons, with the notification of yet another day of suspension.
I suspect that Superintendent Brabrand and FCPS School Board members knew their Draconian measures were illegal. They justified their actions with SB1303, a bill indicating that public schools would follow CDC guidelines to the extent practical for the sake of in-person learning. Meanwhile, the Virginia Senate sponsors of SB1303 – Senator Chapman and Senator Dunnavant – stated that the bill was not intended to be a mask mandate. While CDC only *recommends* mask use, FCPS was clearly denying my sons the actual intent of this bill – in-person learning. All of this occurred as scientific evidence pointed to the fact that FCPS-required masks do not protect against the transmission of COVID.
The eleventh-hour inclusion of a mask in the FCPS dress code is proof that Brabrand and FCPS School Board members knew they were on legally tenuous ground. When we signed the Student Rights and Responsibilities document in September 2021, masks were not part of the dress code. Suddenly, a week before the implementation of Executive Order 2, FCPS dress code was amended to include masks. Further, dress code violations became a “Level 3” infraction (on a 1-5 scale), now as serious as some cases of drug possession, discriminatory harassment, and bullying. So serious in fact, that students could be suspended for them. To FCPS, these Level 3 dress code violations were deemed such an insidious offense, that after four consecutive infractions, administrators could use their discretion to increase penalties against the culprits. So they did. After four dress code violations, under Brabrand’s guidance, school administrators issued my sons two days of suspension each time they arrived at school without their masks.
FCPS illegally suspended my sons for nine consecutive days. FCPS, Arlington Public Schools, and five other school districts filed suit against Executive Order 2. Arlington Circuit Court Judge Louise DiMatteo (who is married to an Arlington Public Schools teacher) ruled in favor of her husband’s employer and placed the temporary injunction on the afternoon of Friday, February 4, 2022. But nothing superseded the legality of Executive Order 2, which allowed parents to opt their children out of masks, between January 24, 2022 and February 4, 2022.
While FCPS clearly acts as though it is above the law, my sons are good citizens. On Monday, February 7, because of the temporary injunction, they wore their masks to school. Their masks displayed the truth. My middle-schooler bravely walked the steps of his bus with a mask that read: “It’s not about safety, it’s about control”. Meanwhile, my elementary schoolers entered the doors with masks that read: “This mask is useless”. A school official stopped my third-grader and strongly encouraged him to wear a different mask. Fortunately, he was armed with a book I published on human rights advocacy which explains how 1st Amendment rights apply to children in public schools. The relevant page was bookmarked and he shared it with the school administrator. She later called me later that day to discuss the incident. That administrator’s display of humanity, in a difficult situation created by FCPS, is consistent with the administrators at the school level we have encountered throughout this tumultuous process. They have acted professionally and sympathetically. On the other hand, I have sent six appeals letters to Brabrand and FCPS School Board members. I even phoned Senator Marsden, Senator Chapman, Senator Dunnavant, and Delegate Tran’s offices to request that they urge Brabrand and FCPS School Board members to contact me. Despite their political inclinations and positions on Executive Order 2, their staffers all agreed that Brabrand and FCPS School Board members owed me a response. Still, Brabrand and our *elected* FCPS School Board members have not contacted me.
With Governor Youngkin’s signing of SB739, we hope that mask mandates in Virginia will be a thing of the past on March 1, 2022. While our lawsuit is in part meant to provide relief from FCPS’ continued mask mandates, it also seeks to declare that the penalties imposed on children that exercised their rights—such as the suspensions my children received—are arbitrary and contrary to law. Expunging the records of those students’ illegal suspensions will help preserve parents’ rights to make decisions regarding the health and education of their children. After two years of Draconian, harmful “mitigation measures,” it’s past time to move past these divisive, anti-scientific mask mandates.
Stephanie Lundquist-Arora is an FCPS mother of three, author, small business owner, and member of Independent Women’s Network.