RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed 11 executive actions on his Inauguration Day, including ones banning critical race theory in public education, appointing an entirely new parole board, ending mandates on masks in schools and COVID-19 vaccines for state employees.
But questions remain on whether the new governor has the authority to implement such changes with executive orders, specifically the ban on critical race theory. The new governor’s orders could also face legal challenges that prevent Youngkin from moving forward.
A release from Youngkin’s office lays out the first 11 executive actions he signed after being sworn into office on Saturday, Jan. 15. Among them are orders that fulfill promises the Republican political newcomer made while on the campaign trail.
The first one signed by Youngkin would end “the use of divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory, and to raise academic standards” in public education. Critical race theory, an academic framework based on the idea that racism is systemic and is perpetuated in society, was one of the main issues during the heated election cycle.
Despite concerns from parents and Youngkin’s order to block it, the Virginia Department of Education said repeatedly that critical race theory is not part of the Commonwealth’s K-12 curriculum.
Youngkin also signed an order that rescinds the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state workers put in place by former Gov. Ralph Northam. The new governor also reversed a rule requiring public and private school students to wear masks, although Northam’s office said this week that any school board that ends its mask mandate would violate a state law passed last year and could be vulnerable to lawsuits.
State lawmakers disagree on whether that would be the case, with the Republican state senator who sponsored the bipartisan bill saying she would be looking to hear how the new attorney general would interpret the law.
Youngkin also fulfilled a campaign pledge to terminate the state’s entire parole board and appoint new members to the board. According to the signed order, Youngkin has appointed the following people to the Virginia Parole Board:
- The Honorable Chadwick Dotson of Wise County, Chairman
- Tracy Banks of the City of Charlottesville
- Cheryl Nici-O’Connell of Chesterfield County
- The Honorable Hank Partin, Sheriff of Montgomery County
- Carmen Williams of Chesterfield County
The governor signed orders requesting an investigation into issues in Loudoun County schools that caused an uproar during the election and create a Chief Transformation Officer, the release stated. The orders regarding the parole board and Loudoun County schools will allow new Attorney General Jason Miyares to open investigations into scandals that Republicans criticized before the elections.
State investigators found that the parole board violated its own policy and state law by not alerting local prosecutors and victims’ families before granting parole to incarcerated people, including a man convicted of killing a Richmond police officer decades ago.
Republicans also expressed outrage over a crime reporting law on the campaign trail, many of them, including Youngkin and Miyares, pointing to a case in Loudoun County where a high student was charged with sexually assaulting another student in a bathroom but then was transferred to another school within the district.
The student was convicted for the bathroom assault but not before being charged with sexual battery and abduction after an investigation into an incident at the other school.
“As a candidate, I promised to investigate these scandals and be as open and transparent as possible – because Virginians deserve nothing less,” Miyares said in a statement after Youngkin signed the orders. “As Attorney General, I am proud to say that the process has begun. Investigations by my office into the Parole Board and Loudoun County Public Schools are open.”
Miyares added the investigations were not meant to target one member of the board or school district, but would instead focus on learning “what mistakes were made so that no other Parole Board or schools ever repeats them.”
Youngkin also signed an executive order to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multi-state program aimed to reduce carbon pollution, but it’s unclear if he has the unilateral authority to back up the pledge he made during his transition without the General Assembly.