Gov. Wolf requires masks in schools, state lawmakers react

Local News

(WTAJ) — In a statement, Governor Tom Wolf announced that all Pennsylvania public and private schools, as well as child care facilities, will need to require masks.

The Department of Health order will take effect Tuesday, Sept. 7 — the day after Labor Day — and will require students, teachers and staff to wear masks when inside regardless of vaccination status.

Prior to issuing the mandate, Wolf called state lawmakers to Harrisburg to discuss masking in schools, which brought major pushback from the GOP.

“Earlier this month, the governor asked the Legislature to come back to Harrisburg early to vote on mask mandates and when we declined because we believe such decisions should be made by the individual districts, the governor found another avenue to get his way,” State Rep. Rich Irvin (R-Huntingdon/Centre/Mifflin) said.

Now, GOP lawmakers are vocalizing their opinions again after the recent move to mandate by Wolf.

“The Wolf administration’s latest mask mandate is a breathtaking example of government overreach. The General Assembly and the citizens of Pennsylvania have spoken through the passage of a constitutional amendment restricting the power of the executive branch and sent the loud and clear message that decisions of this kind should be made at the local level,” Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford/Franklin/Fulton) said.

During the May primary elections, the commonwealth voted in favor of ending the disaster emergency declaration that Wolf first issued at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The end of the declaration meant that lawmakers now have broad power in terms of overextending and ending disaster emergency declarations.

Senator Judy Ward (R-30) and Senator Doug Mastriano (R-33) plan to introduce a bill to the Senate that would require school districts to develop and promote a plan for parents or legal guardians to opt out their child from wearing a face-covering or mask in school.

“The Wolf Administration does not have the legal authority to do this. In May, we voted to end the Governor’s Emergency Declaration after the voters of Pennsylvania made their voices loud and clear. I will be supporting a legal challenge to this misguided mandate,” Ward said.

Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, said Tuesday that the 10 school districts he represents have worked up their own plans to mitigate COVID-19. He said the coming statewide mandate makes him “beyond furious.”

Additionally, democratic offcials chimed in, in favor of Wolf’s decision to mandate masks in schools.

Pennsylvania’s two statewide teachers unions had urged K-12 schools to require masks in school buildings, citing delta’s threat. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masks in schools for students, staff and teachers.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) welcomed the masking requirement in schools for grades K-12.

“Months ago, PSEA said a full, safe return to in-person instruction should be our top priority for the 2021-22 school year. Masking up in our schools is a simple, proven way to help make that a reality,” PSEA President Rich Askey said.

“Universal masking in schools will reduce serious health risks for students, staff, and their families, help keep students in the classroom, and significantly reduce unnecessary interruptions to in-person learning,” Askey continued.

In Cambria County, Rep. Frank Burns (D-Cambria) reacted to the new mandate, in a tweet, saying that school boards should make the decision on masking requirements since they know their community best.

I believe local school boards should make the decision on mask mandates because they know what’s best for their community. Regardless, the most important issue is that our kids remain in the classroom and do not lose another year of in-person schooling.

Frank Burns, Twitter

The order will not apply to student athletes while they’re playing. 

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