LANCASTER, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court ruled Wednesday the Department of Health’s school mask mandate issued in September didn’t comply with state law and was therefore void.
The court sided with top state Senate Republican Jake Corman (R-Centre County) and other parents who challenged the validity of the mask mandate.
Republican lawmakers applauded the ruling. Corman and Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland County) said in a statement:
"Today’s ruling validates what we have said all along: mask decisions should be made by parents and school boards, not unelected bureaucrats. A blanket mandate does not address the unique needs and circumstances of individual communities, and it takes power away from the people who are in the best position to protect our kids.”
The Department of Health and Acting Secretary Alison Beam immediately filed an appeal, which effectively keeps the mandate in place.
“We’re hopeful as we go through the appeal process that the masking will certainly continue for our students and parents and folks in the community because it’s really important,” David Volkman, special assistant at the Pa. Department of Education said.
At least one school district—Warwick School District—announced masks will now be optional in their schools, regardless of the appeal.
The court’s ruling follows a planned loosening of mask mandates announced earlier this week. Gov. Tom Wolf said the decision to require masks at school would return to local school districts on Jan. 17, 2022.
Officials had said they planned to lift the school mask mandate when children could be vaccinated.
The Pfizer vaccine was approved for children ages 5 to 11 on Nov. 2. Since then, nearly 19,000 doses have been given in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia not included, according to the Department of Education.
Hundreds more vaccines were given Wednesday at a vaccine clinic at Fulton Elementary School in Lancaster.
“We are very excited," Sankat Tamang, father of two children in the school district said. "We’re saving our child."
Vaccine clinic organizers said they were pleased with the day’s high turnout.
“I just think there’s been a lot of parents that have been waiting to get their younger children vaccinated that maybe have already done their adolescents and they’ve gotten their own vaccine," Dr. Jennifer Brubaker, a pediatrician with Union Community Care said. "This is the last piece for them so their whole family can be protected."
For Swainn Tamang, 5, and Salina Tamang, 16, a shot was a small price to pay for peace of mind.
“It just pinched a little bit, but that’s fine,” Salina said.