Pennsylvania Court Rejects Statewide School Mask Mandate

An order by Pennsylvania’s acting health secretary requiring masks in schools for grades K-12 was rejected on Wednesday by a state court, which sided with a Republican state senator and several parents who argued that the official had overstepped her authority.

The acting secretary, Alison Beam, had issued the order at the end of August, after a summer of raucous uproar in school board meetings across the state over whether districts were going to require masks.

A spokeswoman for the governor said that an appeal was being filed immediately to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, leaving the school mask requirement in place for now.

Ms. Beam’s order was in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national public health authority, which recommends that all students, teachers and staff members in K-12 schools wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status. Masks — even cloth ones — can limit the dispersal of airborne virus particles from an infected person and also keep some of the particles from reaching mask wearers.

But the ruling, by a 4-1 majority in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, emphasized that the judges were not taking a position on “the science or efficacy of mask-wearing, or the politics underlying the considerable controversy the subject continues to engender.”

Instead, the judges ruled that the acting secretary could not issue such an order without going through certain statutory rule-making procedures in the absence of a disaster emergency declared by the governor. In June, the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Assembly voted to end the disaster emergency that Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, had declared in March of 2020 for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Mr. Wolf announced that school districts would be allowed to decide mask policy for themselves starting in January, effectively declaring an end date to the statewide order.




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