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June 20, 2024

School mask mandate remains until Pennsylvania Supreme Court renders decision

3 min read

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled a school mask order imposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health will remain in effect until the high court makes a final decision.

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam issued an order that took effect Sept. 7 that requires all who enter a school, early learning program or child care facility to wear a face covering, reversing course on a promise to leave the decision to local school boards.

The order cited a rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state and recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Republican lawmakers, two private Christian schools and parents in three public schools sued Beam days later, arguing she lacked the authority to impose a mask mandate without an emergency declaration or law approved by the General Assembly.

A commonwealth court agreed in a ruling Nov. 11, when Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon wrote Beam did not have “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.”

Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration immediately appealed the decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a move that automatically suspended the Nov. 11 decision and left the mask mandate in place.

Cannon approved an Application to Terminate Automatic Stay a week later and ruled the mandate must expire by Dec. 4, but the Supreme Court’s order Tuesday supersedes that decision.

“The order of the Commonwealth Court … dated November 16, 2021, granting the Application to Terminate Automatic Stay, and lifting automatic supersedeas effective December 4, 2021, is hereby vacated in light of this Court’s order of the same date noting probable jurisdiction, expediting briefing, and scheduling oral argument for December 8, 2021,” according to the Supreme Court order.

“Supersedeas is reinstated pending further consideration of the Court following oral argument.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, a plaintiff in the case, responded to the decision in a statement to The Associated Press.

“I appreciate the court scheduling oral arguments early in December so we can resolve this case as quickly as possible,” he said. “We look forward to making our case that parents should be empowered to do what is best for their children.”

Wolf announced in early November he planned to turn over decisions about masks in schools to local officials on Jan. 17. He told Pittsburgh radio station KDKA-AM on Tuesday he is not seeking additional containment measures for the omicron variant of the virus that has emerged since.

“In Pennsylvania and around the country, the vaccine is still our strategy, so get your shot,” Wolf said, according to the news wire. “Get your vaccine. That’s our strategy, and it seems to be working.”

The most-recent data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health shows 6,802 new confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19 in the state. In total, Pennsylvania reports 1,436,981 cases throughout the pandemic, resulting in 33,521 deaths.

This article was originally posted on School mask mandate remains until Pennsylvania Supreme Court renders decision

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