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Court Strikes Down Pennsylvania’s School Mask Mandate

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: November 11, 2021
The Commonwealth Court has struck down Pennsylvania's mask mandate for kids. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

A Pennsylvania court has ruled against the state’s mask mandate for schools, stating that acting health secretary Alison Beam does not have the authority to insist on such requirements. The court also added that the mandate did not comply with rules that are to be followed while establishing regulations. The mask mandate came into effect in early September.

The Commonwealth Court dismissed the mask mandate requirement in a 4-1 decision, siding with Republicans Jake Corman, Jess Topper, and others who had sued the state for imposing it. The mandate required students, staff, and other individuals at child care facilities and K-12 schools to always wear a protective mask. It did not matter if the individual was vaccinated or not. 

The state’s disease control law does not grant health secretaries “the blanket authority to create new rules and regulations out of whole cloth, provided they are related in some way to the control of disease or can otherwise be characterized as disease control measures … [The judges] express herein no opinion regarding the science or efficacy of mask-wearing or the politics underlying the considerable controversy the subject continues to engender,” Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon wrote in the majority opinion.

The judges also pointed out that Beam’s mandate failed to comply with Pennsylvania’s laws regarding reviewing and approving regulations. The mask mandate was adopted without the governor having declared a disaster emergency.

Republican Topper stated that the real issue wasn’t about masks but that it was about imposing a mandate on “a healthy population of children” without it having to go through the normal legislative process. 

Back in May, Pennsylvanian voters had voted to limit the powers of the Executive Branch. In a joint statement, Corman and Senate Majority Leader Republican Kim Ward pointed out that the court’s ruling prevents the administration from exerting “undue authority” over citizens.

“Today’s ruling validates what we have said all along – mask decisions should be made by parents and school boards, NOT unelected bureaucrats. A blanket mandate does not address the unique needs and circumstances of individual communities, and it takes power away from the people who are in the best position to protect our kids,” said the joint statement

Democrat Governor Tom Wolf’s press secretary disagreed with the court decision, insisting that the authority of secretary of health is “clearly outlined in existing law.” The Wolf administration has filed an appeal on the case.

Just days before the court judgment, the governor had announced lifting the mask mandate requirement on January 17, giving school districts the authority to make decisions on the matter. In a statement, Wolf insisted that the school mask mandate has been “critical” in allowing kids to learn in safety. He also urged parents to consider getting their children vaccinated.

When it comes to vaccinating children against COVID-19, not many parents are supportive of the measure. In a poll conducted last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation, it was found that three in ten parents were adamant about not getting their kids inoculated. Another third said that they will wait to see the effect of such vaccinations.

“Parents’ main concerns when it comes to vaccinating their younger children ages 5-11 have to do with potential unknown long-term effects and serious side effects of the vaccine, including two-thirds who are concerned the vaccine may affect their child’s future fertility,” the report said.