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Pa. Senate Education Committee to hold hearing on school COVID-19 policies and procedures

Senator Scott Martin, chair of the committee, says schools should be in-person with masks optional this school year.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The state Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing with the Departments of Health and Education to discuss COVID-19 policies and guidance for schools on Aug. 6.

This will essentially be a status hearing for lawmakers to learn more about what decisions schools are making for the upcoming school year, and where their authority is coming from to make those decisions. 

For example, Senate Education Chair Sen. Scott Martin, (R-Lancaster County) says, because there is no emergency disaster declaration in place in Pennsylvania, schools do not have the legal authority to mandate masks or change learning models. 

He also said he believes every Pennsylvania public school should be masks-optional and have in-person learning. 

Currently, the CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. They say children should return to full-time, in-person learning this fall with layered prevention strategies in place. However, Sen. Martin says, he doesn't believe school boards have the authority to make those recommendations. 

"Schools are given certain responsibilities and framework within the law to operate. So, these questions may seem like this isn't very caring to have these conversations," Sen. Martin said. "You have to make sure you have the authorities rooted in something, otherwise it's a scary thought thinking that under any circumstance next flu season, they can close down schools or make people wear masks."

Another issue lawmakers hope to address is masking on school buses. Right now, CDC orders masks be worn on public transportation. However, Sen. Martin argues, school buses are not public transportation and therefore masks should not be mandated.

The hearing begins at 10 a.m. 

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