The Commonwealth Court ruled against Pennsylvania’s mandate inside K-12 schools and childcare facilities.
Gov. Tom Wolfe announced the requirement in September. His administration cited a surge in cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant. At the time, the governor said the universal mandate was necessary because most of the 500 school districts in Pennsylvania did not introduce their own mask requirements.
All students, staff members, and visitors are required to wear a mask while inside a school or childcare facility.
“The school mask order has been critical in ensuring Pennsylvania’s children could safely learn and grow in an in-person classroom setting at the beginning of the school year,” Wolf said in a statement on Nov. 8.
He also announced that, beginning Jan. 17, schools would be allowed to modify or eliminate the mask mandate. This change coincides with the CDC’s approval of vaccines for children between the age of 5 and 11.
“My administration made clear that we would continue to reevaluate the status of the school mask mandate,” he said. “Now, we are in a different place than we were in September, and it is time to prepare for a transition back to a more normal setting.”
Republicans in the state senate opposed the mandate since its initial introduction.
“Republican state lawmakers pushed through a pair of constitutional amendments that voters approved in May, limiting the length of gubernatorial disaster declarations,” reports AP News. “Voters agreed to end a governor’s emergency disaster declaration after 21 days and gave lawmakers the sole authority to extend it or end it at any time with a simple majority vote.”
Parents, including State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, also spoke out against the requirements. Ultimately two lawsuits were filed, challenging the state’s authority on the matter.
In the majority decision, Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon wrote that state law does not give health secretaries “the blanket authority to create new rules and regulations out of whole cloth, provided they are related in some way to the control of disease or can otherwise be characterized as disease control measures.”
She noted that judges “express herein no opinion regarding the science or efficacy of mask-wearing or the politics underlying the considerable controversy the subject continues to engender.”
The Wolf administration immediately appealed the court’s decision, putting a hold on the ruling. The mask mandate will remain in effect pending further legal proceedings in the state’s Supreme Court.