Masks Can Be Required for Classmates, Teachers of 12 Virginia Students with Disabilities

The recent settlement also says schools must take reasonable steps to accommodate parents who don’t want their children to wear a mask.

Masks Can Be Required for Classmates, Teachers of 12 Virginia Students with Disabilities

Photo: Vasyl, Adobe Stock

RICHMOND, Va. — Parents of 12 students with disabilities in Virginia public schools have the right to request that peers and teachers wear a mask while in class with their children.

The parents filed a federal lawsuit in February challenging Governor Glenn Younkin’s executive order giving parents the right to exempt their children from mask mandates, reports 8News. The lawsuit said that under the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), requiring masks is a reasonable accommodation for students at high risk of complications from COVID-19.

The settlement, reached on Monday, clarifies that the involved schools will have to accommodate students under the federal law regardless of Executive Order 2 and Senate Bill 739. As the twelve students move through the public school system, the settlement will also apply to all other schools they attend. The currently impacted schools are Brownsville Elementary, Stanton River Middle, Grassfield Elementary, Southeastern Elementary, Enon Elementary, Cumberland Elementary, Stenwood Elementary, Quiocassin Middle, Trailside Middle, Loudoun County High, Jennie Dean Elementary, and Tabb Middle.

A letter explaining the joint understanding of the law will be sent to the 10 districts where the students attend and must also be shared on the Virginia Department of Education’s website, according to CNN.

Through an “interactive process,” the school districts will first be required to determine if masking is necessary to satisfy ADA requirements or if alternative steps, such as one-way masking, improved ventilation, or social distancing, can be taken instead. If it is determined that masking is needed, “any required masking should be limited to the places and times necessary to satisfy the requirements” of the law, reads the letter.

“Those parents essentially filed a suit to say, ‘We want the school to be able to make other students who are near our children mask up if necessary,’” described 8News legal analyst Russ Stone. “So that is what the settlement says but it also gives the schools a great deal of discretion in how they make those accommodations.”

The letter also says schools must take reasonable steps to accommodate parents who don’t want their children to wear a mask, including offering an alternative seat or classroom assignment. However, the schools cannot require a student with disabilities to be segregated or excluded because of their need for peer masking.

As part of the settlement, the plaintiffs will also be awarded $295,000 for attorney fees, costs, disbursements, and expenses by the state. The settlement did not include an admission of fault or liability.

“This was a fair settlement for all,” said Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for the governor.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented the plaintiffs, said it hopes this case offers modifications to policies, practices, and procedures to give students with disabilities and others an equal opportunity to benefit from public education.

“We’re hopeful that every school in Virginia will view this settlement as a sign that they should make similar accommodations for their students, even if they are not part of the case,” said Eden Heilman, legal director of the ACLU of Virginia.

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About the Author

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Amy is Campus Safety’s Executive Editor. Prior to joining the editorial team in 2017, she worked in both events and digital marketing.

Amy has many close relatives and friends who are teachers, motivating her to learn and share as much as she can about campus security. She has a minor in education and has worked with children in several capacities, further deepening her passion for keeping students safe.

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