Pennsylvania court throws out Gov. Wolf’s school mask mandate

Written by on November 10, 2021

Pennsylvania court throws out Gov. Wolf’s school mask mandate

By The Associated Press
November 10, 2021

Earlier this week Gov. Tom Wolf announced he’ll return authority over masking decisions to local school districts in January. (AP file photo)

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A state court is throwing out an order by Pennsylvania’s acting health secretary that requires masks inside public schools, but the Wolf administration put it on hold with an immediate appeal.

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Commonwealth Court ruled that said the mask mandate didn’t comply with rules for setting regulations and was adopted without an existing disaster emergency declared by the governor.

Commonwealth Court sided 4-1 with the ranking Republican in the state Senate and others who sued to challenge the masking order that took effect in early September.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday announced he’ll return authority over masking decisions to local school districts in January.

The Wolf administration imposed the mandate amid a surge in infections and hospitalizations from the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. Beam required that students, staff and visitors at K-12 schools and child care facilities wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

Republican state lawmakers pushed through a pair of constitutional amendments that voters approved in May, limiting the length of gubernatorial disaster declarations.

State Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, who sued along with Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, parents and school entities, said the issue for him was not the masks themselves. He said the Beam order was “an end-around the constitutional amendment passed by the people, limiting the executive branch’s authority during a state of emergency.”

Voters agreed to end a governor’s emergency disaster declaration after 21 days and gave lawmakers the sole authority to extend it or end it at any time with a simple majority vote.

Before they were passed, the state constitution required a two-thirds majority vote by lawmakers to end a governor’s disaster declaration and, legally, the governor could issue an emergency declaration for up to 90 days and extend it without limit.

“It wasn’t the masks at all,” Topper said Wednesday. “It was about the idea of imposing a mandate like this on a healthy population of children outside any of the regulatory process that would normally have to go through or any of the legislative process you would normally have to go through.”

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