Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon ruled the acting secretary of Pennsylvania’s health department, lacked the authority to implement the school face mask mandate, deciding that it was “improperly issued” in September. But the governor’s office disagreed and immediately filed an appeal of the ruling, which means masks are staying — for now.
“The Secretary of Health’s authority is clearly outlined in existing law,” Wolf’s office said in a statement to CNN.
The legal debate comes against the backdrop of state and local officials sparring over mask mandates in schools nationwide, including Texas and Florida. The spread of the coronavirus Delta variant as summer ended and schools began reopening their doors transformed the already contentious topic of masks into an even more polarizing discussion as some local school districts implemented the mandate — despite the wishes of governors and parents.
In Pennsylvania, Fizzano Cannon referred to a previous court decision, concluding that Beam’s mask mandate order was required to undergo the state’s regulatory review process because there wasn’t a statewide emergency when the order was implemented. The state’s Covid-19 emergency declaration ended in June after the legislature voted to do so.
On Monday, Wolf said local school officials may implement their own Covid-19 mitigation measures beginning January 17, 2022 — at which point the statewide school mask mandate will expire.
“The school mask order has been critical in ensuring Pennsylvania’s children could safely learn and grow in an in-person classroom setting at the beginning of the school year,” Wolf said in a statement.
“Now, we are in a different place than we were in September, and it is time to prepare for a transition back to a more normal setting.”
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said Wednesday that it would continue to advocate for masks in schools.
“Today’s commonwealth court ruling in no way changes guidance from the CDC,” said Chris Lilienthal, a spokesperson for the union. “PSEA will encourage students and staff to follow guidance in order to keep families safe at school.”
Health guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that all students aged 2 and older as well as staff and visitors should wear masks regardless of their Covid-19 vaccination status. Vaccinations for young children began last week after Pfizer was granted emergency use authorization for their Covid-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11.