1/20/2022, 6 p.m.
It didn’t take long for new Gov. Glenn A. Youngkin to show us exactly who he is.
Just a short while after the pomp and circumstance of the Republican’s swearing in last Saturday afternoon and his country-themed, cowboy boot-wearing inaugural party Saturday night, Gov. Youngkin signed nine executive orders and two executive directives that already have spawned a lawsuit and have parents, lawmakers, public school districts and others in an uproar.
And we understand why.
Among other things, his orders essentially ban the teaching of how racism is embedded in the history of the United States and its laws and institutions; repeals a mask mandate in public schools, which was put in place to protect students, teachers and staff from the spread of COVID-19; rescinds the mandate that all state employees and those at public colleges and universities be vaccinated against the coronavirus; and replaces all the current members of the Virginia Parole Board with his own appointees. He said the previous members had released inmates who had been denied parole or been deemed ineligible for parole, raising “questions about the lawfulness of the abrupt reversals of these decisions.”
Never mind that Gov. Youngkin tried to come off during his inaugural address as someone who wanted to work in the spirit of bipartisanship for the good of all people in the Commonwealth.
“No matter who you voted for, I pledge to be your advocate, your voice, your governor,” he told the crowd in Capitol Square.
But we don’t put full stock into what he says. We watch what he does. And his first actions as governor incinerated any notion of bipartisanship.
The executive orders he immediately drew up were like red meat thrown to his supporters in Saturday’s stands – a largely white and unmasked crowd, who elected the political neophyte and Trump supporter on the basis of his anti-vax, anti-mask and anti-Critical Race Theory positions.
If the past few days are any indication, the next four years are likely to be an epic battle. His actions signal he is willing to ignore or subvert state law when it comes to school mask policy to appease his followers.
A measure passed last year by the General Assembly requires that local school boards follow measures recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC guidelines recommend masks for everyone age 2 and older in a school buildings.
By eliminating mask and vaccine mandates, Gov. Youngkin is putting children’s, teachers’, families’ and workers’ health at risk, allowing personal preferences to override the scientifically proven protections that masks and vaccines provide.
Even going so far as to threaten to withhold money from public schools shows that Gov. Youngkin cares more about making a political statement than the health and safety of the people of the Commonwealth.
Hospitals in the state already are overburdened by the latest surge in COVID-19 cases from the highly transmissible omicron variant. According to the latest state health department numbers, 1 in 3 people testing for the virus are found to be positive. Those figures are bound to go up if our best protections against the virus – requiring people to wear masks and to be fully vaccinated and boosted – are eliminated.
We also are concerned about the strident message Gov. Youngkin is sending with his stance against Critical Race Theory and his appointment of one of its opponents, Angela Sailor, a Black conservative, as Virginia’s new director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
In his executive order, Gov. Youngkin called CRT “political indoctrination,” proving that he doesn’t understand the concept and cares little about anti-racism efforts and promoting equity and truth-telling in education.
CRT, he stated in the order, “denies our students the opportunity to gain important facts, core knowledge, formulate their own opinions and to think for themselves. Our children deserve far better from their education than to be told what to think.”
Gov. Youngkin knows that CRT is not taught in public schools. It is a graduate level course of study. But his executive order shows that he is willing to weed from the state’s public education system any lessons, books and programs about the true history of this nation, which has been bound up with race since 1619 and the arrival of the first Africans on Virginia’s shores at Port Comfort not as free citizens, but enslaved people.
We have little trust in Gov. Youngkin, his administration and his appointees, including the new state superintendent of public instruction, Jillian Balow, to offer an honest, fair and complete history of race in this nation and its continuing impact in current events and policy. Ms. Balow has been in the news this past year for leading the fight against CRT in Wyoming, where she was the elected superintendent of public instruction.
The people of Virginia deserve better. People of conscience and goodwill in Virginia must gear up now for the fight of the next four years.