Del. Ken Plum: Getting Down to Work

This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Many say that I have the best view of the Jefferson-designed State Capitol from the window in my office in the Pocahontas Building where members of the House of Delegates and State Senate have their Richmond offices. It is an awe-inspiring view. This past week workers have been busy dismantling the seating and stand where Governor Youngkin was inaugurated. While the formal structure of the Inaugural has been removed from the outside of the Capitol building, inside the structure of a new government dominated by a new Republican governor and a Republican-majority House of Delegates is quickly taking shape. Campaign rhetoric is being replaced by executive orders and draft legislation. Faces new to Virginia government including the new governor and most of his appointees are moving into their roles in the new administration.

Last week I expressed my concern about Executive Order One and its potential impact on education as it seeks to end “the use of inherently divisive concepts” in schools. My concern has been heightened as the governor has taken a further step in controlling the curriculum of the schools by establishing a “tip line for parents to report to the state any school officials behaving objectionably–including teaching divisive subjects.” On a local radio show the governor said, “We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations…to help us be aware of their child being denied their rights that parents in Virginia have.” The announcement of the “snitch line” brought a strong reaction from teachers and parents who see this move as adding undue stress to teachers without clear direction.

The Constitution of Virginia puts responsibility for the public school system under the State Board of Education and local school boards. This arrangement has insulated the schools from undue political influence for the most part until the current governor came to realize that running against the schools was attractive to his political base.

Following through on one of his political promises the new governor, acting outside of advice from health experts and demonstrating his willingness to overcome educator objections, lifted the mask mandates that had been put in place as a way to keep the schools open and safe. Most large school divisions ignored his ban on mask mandates, and several districts have asked the courts to decide if the governor has the authority to do what he has done. A decision from the court should be forthcoming in the near future.

In the meantime, on the same radio program the governor justified to the host his ban on local mask mandates by saying that we should “love our neighbor.” I could not agree more with the plea to love our neighbor, but in my mind in a pandemic we should love others as well as ourselves by wearing masks! The governor may have shown his true purpose by expressing to the host that his ban on masks was “moving against the left liberals.” As one who is eternally optimistic, I hope to have a more positive report next week on our getting down to work!

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