Masks will be optional at public schools in Loudoun County, Virginia, starting Thursday, following a ruling by a county circuit court judge.
The ruling comes as a statewide law goes into effect allowing parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates, with schools required to comply by March 1.
Loudoun County Superintendent Scott Ziegler initially said Wednesday that masks would be optional beginning February 22, but a judge approved an injunction later that day filed by three parents to remove the existing mask mandate immediately, CNN affiliate WUSA reported.
In the letter to the community, Ziegler noted the judge’s ruling and said starting Thursday, students can continue to wear masks if they choose to, but it won’t be required.
“The decision of whether to wear a mask or not is deeply personal for many families, we ask that you respect the decision of others,” Ziegler wrote. “No one should be made to feel uncomfortable about their choice.”
Ziegler also said in accordance with the court’s order, any students who were punished for not complying with Covid-19 mitigation measures, including the mask mandate, will have the disciplinary action expunged from their records.
Schools have become battlegrounds in the fight over mask mandates, especially in Virginia, where Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, won office after focusing much of his campaign on rolling back Covid-19 restrictions and giving parents more agency in their children’s education.
On the day he took office, Youngkin issued an executive order that effectively banned school districts from mandating masks, but several school districts said they would continue to enforce them, resulting in several lawsuits.
It’s unclear how the new state law will affect the litigation, and the offices of the governor and attorney general did not return CNN’s requests for further comment. Julie Moult, a spokesperson for Fairfax County Public Schools, one of the districts that has sued to keep its mask mandate in place, said the district was reviewing what the law meant for its policy.
University of Virginia law professor Margaret Foster Riley, however, told CNN that the new law could be “fatal for much of the litigation currently pending.”
“But the new law is quite vague in some areas and possibly overbroad– and that might provide some potential opportunities,” she told CNN in an email.
Responding to the Loudoun County ruling, Youngkin called Wednesday a “great day for Virginia’s parents and kids.”
“Not only did we pass a bipartisan bill empowering parents to opt-out of school mask mandates, but also the Loudoun Circuit Court reaffirmed parents’ rights to have a say in their child’s health, education, care, and wellbeing,” he wrote.
Virginia students will still be required to wear a mask on school buses due to federal transportation guidelines, Ziegler said. Non-vaccinated employees for Loudoun County Public Schools will still be required to wear masks while Covid-19 transmission levels are high.
Loudoun County is located about an hour from Washington, DC, and its public school system has about 80,000 students enrolled in its 97 schools and educational centers, according to its website.
This story has been updated to include additional reaction.
CNN’s Paradise Afshar contributed to this report.