Pennsylvania teachers union: Schools should require masks

Julian Aldridge wears a face mask while sitting at a desk behind a see-through partition

A student wearing a mask does school work behind see-though partitions. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Pennsylvania’s largest teachers union on Wednesday urged K-12 schools to require masks in school buildings, a measure that state officials are encouraging but not mandating.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association cited the threat of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, which is spiking infections and hospitalizations across the state and nationally, including among children.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masks in schools for students, staff and teachers.

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“Masking up at school is essential in the face of the surging delta variant that affects young people more aggressively than the original strain of the virus. This is a particular concern when you consider that roughly two-thirds of students have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Masking up is essential to keeping in-person learning going all year,” said Rich Askey, PSEA president.

“We are at a crossroads, and what our schools decide now will set the stage for what this school year looks like. If we’re going to be able to keep our schools open for in-person instruction all year, we need to make the right decisions now,” he said.

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Masking has become a highly contentious and politicized issue, with heated discussions taking place at the local level as school boards decide what their policy will be as schools reopen for the fall. Some Pennsylvania districts said they will require masks, while others have decided to make them optional.

The state Health Department is urging school districts to follow federal guidance and require masks for all students, teachers and staff, regardless of vaccination status, but Alison Beam, the acting health secretary, said this week that a statewide mandate is not under discussion.

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