The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled the school masking order issued back in September by Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam as void. Just chalk up another instance in which the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf overstepped its authority in response to the COVID pandemic.
In a 4-1 decision handed down by the court, Beam had no authority to issue the order, in part because Gov. Tom Wolf hadn’t issued a disaster emergency declaration. That was a power voters removed from him in the Primary election.
Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon writes in the court’s majority opinion:
“Because the Acting Secretary did not comply with the requirements of the Commonwealth Documents Law or the Regulatory Review Act in promulgating the Masking Order, the Masking Order is void ab initio.
For this Court to rule otherwise would be tantamount to giving the Acting Secretary unbridled authority to issue orders with the effect of regulations in the absence of either a gubernatorial proclamation of disaster emergency or compliance with the Commonwealth Documents Law and the Regulatory Review Act, as passed by the General Assembly. As this would be contrary to Pennsylvania’s existing law, we decline to do so.”
The Court was responding to lawsuits filed by parents of students and several school districts in Pennsylvania which challenged Beam’s legal authority to issue the mask mandate.
Pennsylvania Court Voids School Mask Mandate
Wednesday’s decision definitely nullifies the mask mandate that covered all schools. And that should definitely be considered a win for the concerned parents who packed local school board meetings, including in Schuylkill County and surrounding areas, to voice displeasure with the Acting Secretary’s order and their board’s willingness to play along without putting up a fight.
In Schuylkill County and surrounding areas, we witnessed or heard third-party accounts of heated debates at Tamaqua Area, Blue Mountain, Williams Valley, and Hamburg Area school districts. While each of those districts eventually decided to comply with the mask mandate, they all provided an easy opt-out for parents who chose to send their children to school unmasked.
Initially, Tamaqua Area School District was the only one in the state to openly defy Beam’s order. That prompted a chastising and threatening letter from Education Sect. Noe Ortega, who attempted to defend the mask mandate that’s been declared illegal.
Despite Wednesday’s decision, it’s likely that some schools will choose to keep a mask mandate in place, especially the few in the state that opted to implement a mask mandate prior to the beginning of the 2021-22 school term.
In Schuylkill County, no schools decided to start the year with a mask mandate in place but chickened out of that decision as soon as they perceived a rise in COVID cases within the district. North Schuylkill and Schuylkill Haven Area school districts chose to put a mask mandate in place prior to Beam’s order on Aug. 31.
Earlier this week, Wolf said the state would reverse the mask mandate on Jan. 17, 2022, as if he had some crystal ball and could predict the future of the virus.
Read the full Commonwealth Court opinion: