Pennsylvania Supreme Court says school mask mandate can stay for now

Kindergarteners wear face masks while sitting in a classroom

Kindergarten students wear face masks and are seated at proper physical distancing spacing during a math lesson. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania says a statewide school mask mandate can stay for a little longer, until the court makes a final decision.

In August, the Pennsylvania Department of Health required anyone in a school, early learning program, or child care facility to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status, with some exceptions like people with medical conditions, children under 2 years old, or people who are eating or exercising in a well ventilated area. The department said people in schools need to wear masks to prevent the spread of the more contagious delta variant, because the number of COVID-19 cases in Pennsylvania was going up. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend universal masking indoors for schools.

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In September, a few days after the health department announced the order, Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania sued. Senate President Jake Corman filed the lawsuit, along with two private Christian schools and parents in three public school districts. They said the health secretary did not have the authority to impose it, because existing regulations do not specify masking as a public health tool.

Earlier this month, a state court agreed, and the mandate was set to expire on Dec. 4.

But the health department appealed, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said on Nov. 30 it will make a decision after oral arguments for the case start next week, and the school mask order can stay for now.

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Corman said through a spokesperson that he appreciates the court scheduling oral arguments quickly, and that he and the plaintiffs “look forward to making our case that parents should be empowered to do what is best for their children.”

A spokesperson for the state Department of Health said it is pleased with the court order granting its request to keep the mask mandate in place while the lawsuit works its way through the courts.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf also said earlier in November that school districts will get to end or modify the mask mandates for students next January, and the mask mandate will stay in place for early learning programs and child care facilities.

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