Pennsylvania’s school mask mandate has been struck down by the Commonwealth Court, which claimed that the Health Secretary did not have the authority to issue the requirement.
In a decision made on Wednesday, the court ruled that acting Health Secretary Alison Beam was not permitted to issue the mask requirement under the state’s Disease Control and Prevention Law. The mask order will remain for now, as Governor Tom Wolf’s administration immediately appealed and subsequently blocked the court’s decision, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The court sided with the argument from Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and parents, who had stated that in order for the requirement to be legitimate Beam needed to adhere to a formal process for creating new regulations instead of just enacting the mandate, the Inquirer reported.
The decision, made by a court consisting of three Republicans and two Democrats, stated that the judges had “no opinion regarding the science or efficacy of mask-wearing or the politics underlying the considerable controversy the subject continues to engender.” It was praised by parents who believed decisions on masks should solely be influenced by school boards and parents while raising concerns for school administrators, the Inquirer reported.
The ruling comes two days after Wolf announced plans to lift the mask mandate for K-12 schools on Jan. 17, stating that it is “time to prepare for a transition back to a more normal setting.” Wolf cited the availability of COVID-19 vaccines for children ages five to 11 as the measure that allows for the reversal of the mandate.
The interpretation of the court’s decision has varied across different school districts. Bill Harner, superintendent of the Quakertown Community School District, expressed that school buildings would immediately “return to ‘mask optional’” in a message sent home to families, the Inquirer reported. Steve Yanni, superintendent of the Upper Dublin School District, told the Inquirer that his district would still require masking regardless of the Wolf administration’s appeal due to high community transmission levels of COVID-19.
The current mask mandate in Philadelphia, which covers all indoor locations including schools, will remain for now, CBS Philly reported.
The statewide school mask mandate was issued on Aug. 31 in response to the surge of the Delta variant and what administration officials deemed was too few school districts that had decided to enact their own mandates at the local level, the Inquirer reported. Beam told the Inquirer that the potential end to the statewide school mask mandate in January marks a return of decisions on mask mandates at the state level rather than a universal suspension of masking requirements.