Chester County judge reinstates 5 previously axed West Chester school board members in mask case — for now

Despite the reinstatement, the mask case will proceed and the board members will still be required to answer the initial filing by Monday, April 4.

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File photo: Parents and students from the Downingtown and West Chester, Pa., School Districts held a roadside protest to demand administrators allow in-person learning for families that want it. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A Chester County judge has vacated his previous decision Friday removing four Democrats and one Republican from the West Chester Area School District board in a dispute over masks, meaning the axed board directors are reinstated and can return to their posts — for now.

While the board members’ motion for reconsideration was granted by Judge William Mahon, the case will continue to proceed as the board members will still be required to answer the initial filing by April 4.

On March 29, Mahon initially ordered the members removed after parent Beth Ann Rosica argued in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas that the members’ vote to make masks mandatory in the district back in August 2021 was grounds for dismissal.

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Because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that the state imposed mask mandate was unconstitutional in December, Rosica contended that the board acted illegally by requiring all students to wear masks.

While the judge initially ruled in her favor by sacking the five board members who voted in favor of the mandate, he wrote in his order that his decision came after there was “no response” to Rosica’s petition from the school district or its legal team.

The school board’s counsel immediately filed a motion to reconsider, disputing the shot clock for a formal response and asserting that their true deadline for response was actually April 4.

With the legal formalities out of the way, the case will now be evaluated on the strength of Rosica’s argument.

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“I would rather win this petition on its merits rather than on a technicality,” Rosica said.

Rosica is the executive director of Back to School PA, a PAC funded by a Bucks County venture capitalist that engaged in a coordinated spending campaign in 2021 to elect mostly conservatives to Pennsylvania’s school boards.

She added that she doesn’t know if Mahon is sympathetic to the underlying details of her case, but she “felt very well-supported in that courtroom.”

Kenneth Roos, an attorney at Wisler Pearlstine LLP, which is representing the previously ousted board members, declined to offer any comment.

WHYY news reached out to the district for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

But, in a letter released to parents in the district on Friday afternoon, Superintendent Robert Sokolowski thanked the West Chester community for its patience.

“As I mentioned in the April District Newsletter, even in the midst of uncertainty we have so much to be grateful for and I look forward to better and brighter things to come,” Sokolowski wrote.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the board members were four Democrats and one Republican, not five Democrats.

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