Gov Wolf’s School Mask Mandate Overturned In PA Court

Neshaminy School District students wearing masks in the classroom. Photo via NSD.

A Pennsylvania judge has ruled the statewide school mask mandate is unenforceable.

Commonwealth Court Judge Christine Cannon’s decision ruled in favor of a lawsuit from parents spearheaded by State Senator Jake Corman (R-Bellefonte).

Cannon said Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam lacked authority to issue the school mask mandate. Beam issued the mandate just days before the beginning of this school year, upending decisions made by local school boards after weeks of intense debate during meetings.

Governor Tom Wolf announced Monday his administration was looking to end the statewide school mask mandate by January 17, 2022. This would again put the decision back into the hands of local school boards.

“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,” said Wolf.  “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus is now a part of our daily lives, but with the knowledge we’ve gained over the past 20 months and critical tools like the vaccine at our disposal, we must take the next step forward in our recovery.”

But Cannon’s ruling takes the power away from Wolf and Beam. The school mask mandate is immediately void. Masking is again a decision in the hands of local school boards.

It’s unclear whether PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro will appeal the decision to the PA Supreme Court. Shapiro, a Democrat, recently announced a bid for governor in 2022.

Marc Levy, a reporter for the Associated Press, told WESA in Pittsburgh the timing of Wolf’s announcement may not be coincidence. Levy noted the court leans Republican and Wolf might be looking to avoid a ruling against the mandate.

A previous statewide mask mandate under former PA Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine derived its authority from an emergency disaster declaration. However, the state legislature terminated the declaration earlier this year.

Pennsylvanians voted in the spring primary to approve constitutional amendments limiting the governor’s power to issue emergency disaster declarations. State Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford) says he joined the lawsuit against masks because Beam’s order circumvented that vote.

““It wasn’t the masks at all. 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.”

The news comes at almost the same time Corman’s office says he has contracted COVID-19 and will work from home. Corman is fully vaccinated.