HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Top Republican lawmakers on Thursday rejected Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s call for legislation mandating masks in schools, saying it should remain a local decision.
The majority of districts do not have mask mandates in place as students return to school.
“At this late date, in many of our communities, local leaders have already made important decisions they believe are in the best interest of their residents and are prepared to adjust those decisions as challenges evolve,” Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, and House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, wrote in a letter to Wolf.
“We believe that the current approach — allowing local officials to manage and respond as needed — makes the most sense and should be continued,” their letter said.
The Republican response, which was expected, came one day after Wolf asked the GOP leaders to summon lawmakers to Harrisburg to pass legislation requiring schools and child care facilities to require masks in classrooms.
The tussle over masking in schools comes as Pennsylvania experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Wolf’s administration last year mandated that masks be worn by students most of the time they are in school, but had, until this week, maintained that school boards should make the decision this academic year.
Wolf has not said whether he would seek to mandate masks on his own if lawmakers did not go along with his request.
At the end of July, just 59 of 474 school district plans submitted to the Education Department mandated masks for the 2021-22 school year, according to the Wolf administration. Pennsylvania has 500 school districts total.
Sign up for the WTAJ Newsletter for the latest local news, weather and community events that matter to you.