Court Strikes Down Pennsylvania School Mask Mandate

Wednesday's ruling by a Pennsylvania court that the state's Health Secretary did not have the authority for a school mask mandate was the latest twist in the nationwide debate about whether schools should require masks.

Students enter Perry Elementary School in Shoemakersville on August 27, 2020. MediaNews Group via Getty Images

The Key Facts

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court immediately revoked the state's school-mask mandate. Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon had written that it was not in compliance with Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Documents Law and Regulatory Review Act. Gov. Forbes was informed by Tom Wolf's office that it would appeal. This will stop the court from granting an order and keep the mask requirement in effect until the court makes a decision. Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam directed all students, teachers, and staff to wear masks in schools. In September, a group of parents including Jake Corman (Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore) sued Alison Beam, claiming that the mandate to wear masks in schools was illegally imposed. Cannon stated that the court's decision was solely focused on Beam's authority for imposing the mask order and does not express any opinion on the "science of mask-wearing". Wolf's press secretary Elizabeth Rementer, who was responding to Forbes via email Wednesday, said that the authority of the Secretary of Health is clearly defined in the existing law.

Chief Critic

The ruling was rescinded by Michael H. Wojcik, Commonwealth Court Judge. In his dissident opinion, Wojcik stated that the Secretary acted in accordance with the regulatory and statute authority she was given to protect vulnerable students... using the most effective and practical means available to do so while the deadly Covid-19 pandemic continues infecting and killing Commonwealth residents.


This decision came just as Pennsylvania's school-mask order was to be withdrawn due to falling Covid-19 cases. Wolf stated Monday that he would lift the state's mask mandate by January 17, and allow local officials to decide whether school mask requirements should be lifted. He said it was time to "prepare for a return to a more normal setting."

Important Background

This school year, school mask mandates were a big source of contention. Pennsylvania is among at least 10 states to have imposed school mask requirements, while 10 states have severely restricted or banned school districts from imposing them. California's judge denied a request to injunct an emergency that would have stopped the state from imposing its September mask mandate. Several courts have blocked state policies banning mask mandates. However, multiple Florida judges have allowed the state's ban to continue in force.

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Pennsylvania appeals court accepts school mask challenge (Associated Press).

A number of parents, including a prominent Pa. Republican, have sued over the school's mandate to wear masks. The following information is available about the cases. (Philadelphia Inquirer).

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