What’s next for masks in Pennsylvania schools? What you need to know
As Pennsylvania students returned to school Monday morning, schools faced the question of whether to keep requiring masks on buses and classrooms like they have been throughout the academic year.
Though a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling late Friday overturned the Wolf administration’s school mask mandate, some districts administrators are keeping orders in place amid substantial spread of the coronavirus.
“Our goal is for students and staff to return to normal as soon as possible. However, with the rise in COVID cases in Bucks County, and specifically in Pennsbury, the health and safety plan approved by the School Board remains in place,” Pennsbury Superintendent Thomas A. Smith said in a letter to parents Sunday.
That safety plan requires students and staff to wear masks in school.
“This plan has served us well, and we have avoided the outbreaks and school closures that some surrounding school districts have faced,” Smith said in the letter. “As listed in our plan, we will move toward a mask optional approach as cases decrease.”
Others, including some in Bucks County, are making masks optional.
Infections and hospitalizations have been increasing in children as the delta variant remains the most prominent culprit, and medical providers are concerned about the impending impact of the omicron variant.
State data shows there have been 103,485 cases of COVID-19 in children 5 to 18 years old during this school year, including 9,214 cases during the first week of December. In children 4 years old and younger, there have been 18,858 cases, including 2,159 during the first week of December.
Doctors are urging vaccines, boosters, masks, social distancing and household-only gatherings for the holidays, as COVID-19 infections have increased more than 30% in recent weeks. Another surge is expected after Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations.
“Cumberland County is currently still in high spread as defined by (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) using the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Early Warning Dashboard. Because of this, masks will continue to be required in Cumberland Valley Schools at this time,” Cumberland Valley School District Superintendent David Christopher said Friday in a letter to parents. Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account
Blackhawk School District in Beaver County is continuing to wear masks for similar reasons.
“Due to the county transmission level and the percent positivity in Beaver County at this time, masking continues to be required in district buildings,” the district said in a memo to families.
Millcreek Township School District in Erie County is also continuing its policy to wear masks in schools.
“We are all looking forward to the day when we can totally relax the restrictions and mitigation policies and practices that are in place to ensure our health and safety during the time of COVID-19,” Superintendent Ian Roberts said in a letter to families. “Until such time, I am humbly seeking your continued partnership and cooperation as we adhere to the current legal and health and safety guidance.”
Stroudsburg Area School District in Monroe County is continuing its mask policy due to high transmission of COVID-19 in the local community.
“We know that masking is an issue that has caused controversy across the state, and we are sensitive to all concerns,” Stroudsburg Superintendent Cosmas Curry said. “We appreciate your patience while we do our best to work through this matter.”
Court decision:Pennsylvania high court throws out mask mandate for schools
Some districts move to optional masking
Pennsylvania has 500 school districts. While most of the largest are continuing with masks, several districts are moving to optional masking.
That includes Dallastown and York Suburban school districts in York County.
“We continue to encourage our community, students, and families to respect individual choices regarding face coverings,” the district said in a memo to families.
Norwin, West York and Canon-Mac school districts also moved to optional masking.
However, all Pennsylvania students are required to continue wearing masks on school buses and other district transportation until Jan. 18 due to a federal CDC policy.
Masks in classrooms are now left up to districts after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Friday ruled that a school masking mandate was not valid because it was imposed by Gov. Tom Wolf’s acting health secretary without legal authorization.
The justices upheld a lower-court ruling that Acting Secretary Alison Beam lacked authority to require masks, did not follow state laws about enacting regulations and acted without a required existing disaster emergency declared by the governor in place.
That decision t came two days after the high court heard oral arguments in the challenge filed by the Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, who is a Republican candidate for governor, and others.
Wolf had imposed a mask mandate to start the school year, but last month said it would expire Jan. 17 — before the court challenges.
Wolf on Monday morning said Beam will resign her position with the state Department of Health at the end of the year. It was not immediately clear why she was leaving the position or where she was going next.
The governor said he will name Department of Health Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter to replace Beam.