After leaving it up to local school districts to decide what’s best for their student and staff populations, Gov. Tom Wolf backtracked this week, issuing a new order that requires masks to be worn inside K-12 school buildings, early learning programs and child care providers, beginning Tuesday, Sept. 7.
“My office has received an outpouring of messages from parents asking the administration to protect all children by requiring masks in schools,” said Wolf. “The science is clear. The Delta variant is highly transmissible and dangerous to the unvaccinated, many of whom are children too young to receive the vaccine. Requiring masks in schools will keep our students safer and in the classroom, where we all want them to be.
“I preferred for local school boards to make this decision. Unfortunately, an aggressive nationwide campaign is spreading misinformation about mask-wearing and pressuring and intimidating school districts to reject mask policies that will keep kids safe and in school. As we see cases among children increase in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, this is especially dangerous and challenging as we seek to keep kids in school and maintain a safe and healthy learning environment.”
Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam signed the order under her authority provided by the Disease Prevention and Control Law. The order applies to everyone indoors at K-12 public schools, including brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers, and intermediate units. The order also applies to early learning programs and child care providers for children ages 2 and older.
The order does not apply to school sports or outdoor activities.
Failure to implement or follow the order may subject a person to penalties under the Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955 and exposure to personal liability.
Last week, the governor sent a letter asking Republican legislative leaders to collaborate with him to pass legislation requiring mask wearing in schools and at child care facilities. Beam signed the order when the Republican leaders declined.
“After months of telling Pennsylvanians that mitigation orders are a thing of the past, the Wolf Administration once again went back on its word and issued another ill-advised statewide mandate that deprives Pennsylvania communities of local control and community self-determination in public health decisions,” said Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin).
“Data clearly shows that this virus affects different areas of Pennsylvania in dissimilar ways, which is why local control that reflects on-the-ground realities is imperative. History shows that a one-size fits-all approach to public health causes more anxiety and frustration than decisions made at the local level with local input.
“House Republicans … are already in the process of taking a serious look at potential legislative changes that address this administration’s misuse of current law.”
The Bucks County House Republican Caucus, comprised of Reps. Frank Farry (R-Langhorne), Wendi Thomas (R-Richboro), Meghan Schroeder (R-Warminster), Todd Polinchock (R-Warrington), Shelby Labs (R-Doylestown), KC Tomlinson (R-Bensalem) and Craig Staats (R-Quakertown), issued the following statement:
“For months now, our local school districts, working with parents and medical authorities, crafted mitigation policies for our teachers and school children. These policies, including whether to require universal masks, were tailored for each district. These were the policies supported by the governor, who told Pennsylvanians broad, universal mitigation orders were inefficient and less effective than local decision-making.
“Disappointingly, the governor reversed himself from supporting local decision making to once again using a one-size fits-all approach.
“While both the science and the guidance surrounding COVID-19 continues to change rapidly, we hold to our position that those making decisions at the local level have the ability to react more quickly and effectively than their counterparts at the state level.”
State Rep. Perry Warren (D-Bucks), supported Wolf’s actions.
“This measure will help keep schools and daycares open, our children safely in schools and their parents at work,” Warren said. “It is consistent with CDC recommendations that indoor masking protects children, students, teachers and staff, and it provides a pathway to keep everyone safe and healthy.”
The new order was also supported by state Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks).
“The goal we all share is for students and faculty to have a productive and safe in-person school year. Requiring masks at this time will help achieve that goal,” he said. “With no vaccines currently approved for children under 12 years of age, our students remain vulnerable to COVID-19. With a return to in-person instruction, mitigation efforts such as masking will limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep our students, teachers and support staff healthy.
“I applaud Gov. Wolf and Secretary Beam’s action to keep students, teachers and staff in schools, and to keep Delta out.”