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Virginia's law barring mask mandates does not apply to 12 children with disabilities

Last month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin posed with school children and parents after signing a bill that bans mask mandates in public schools in Virginia.
Steve Helber
Last month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin posed with school children and parents after signing a bill that bans mask mandates in public schools in Virginia.

A new Virginia state law prohibiting mask mandates in public schools does not apply to 12 students with disabilities whose parents challenged the law, a federal judge has ruled.

Last month, the parents of 12 students across Virginia asked the court to halt enforcement of the law, saying it violated their rights under the federal American with Disabilities Act. The law, signed by newly elected Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, went into effect March 1; it gives parents a sayover whether their children should wear masks in school.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon issued a preliminary injunction, saying the new law cannot prevent the 12 students from seeking "reasonable modification" to their classroom setting, which could include requiring the rest of the class to wear masks.

The group of parents have children whose health conditions range from cystic fibrosis to asthma that put them at heightened risk for COVID-19.

Moon said that federal law requires that schools be able to afford "reasonable modifications" from general policies and said that the children involved in the case would suffer "irreparable harm" should modifications not be made.

The judge also emphasized that the Virginia law would stay in place and that the injunction only applies to the 12 plaintiffs in this case.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which was one of several legal organizations that filed on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the injunction served as a "blueprint."

"While the injunction is limited to these 12 students, it is clearly a blueprint for any parent of a student with disabilities to assure their school district can make accommodations when the safety of their children is at stake and that state law cannot stand in the way," the ACLU said.

In a statement, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said the ruling affirms that "parents have the right to make choices for their children."

The case was seen as a significant step in Virginia's mask mandate controversy because it used the American with Disabilities Act as a legal argument to counter the new law.

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Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
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