The Lead

Pa.’s K-12 mask mandate to remain in effect amid Supreme Court appeal

By: - November 30, 2021 1:13 pm
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After being tossed by a Commonwealth Court panel earlier this month, the Wolf administration’s K-12 mask mandate will remain in effect as an appeal goes before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In an order issued Tuesday afternoon, the state’s highest court reinstated the mandate, enacted in September by acting state Health Secretary Alison Beam, for everyone in Pennsylvania public schools and child care facilities regardless of their COVID-19 vaccination status.

Oral arguments in the case, brought by Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, state Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, and a group of parents, are scheduled for Dec. 8.

Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy opposed the decision, and Justice Thomas Saylor, who is retiring, did not participate in the consideration or decision.

Using powers issued under the 1929 law establishing the Health Department and a 1955 law on infectious disease control, Beam first issued the order in August as schools reopened for in-person learning amid rising COVID-19 cases. 

Earlier this month, Wolf announced that Pennsylvania public schools, but not early childhood education facilities, could alter or terminate the mask mandate, beginning Jan. 17, 2022. The administration’s decision came one week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 and older.

Pandemic response — statewide shutdowns, stay-at-home orders, and mask mandates — have been the subject of an ongoing debate in Harrisburg since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Republicans, who hold the majority in the Legislature, have challenged the executive branch’s mitigation efforts, even advocating for a constitutional change that curtailed the governor’s emergency response powers in the May primary election.

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