Pennsylvania Issues School Mask Mandate After Parents Sue School District Without One

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf was set to issue a mask mandate for K-12 schools and day care centers after parents of special needs children last week sued a suburban Philadelphia school board that refused to require masks.

Less than a month ago, Wolf rejected a statewide mask mandate for schools, although they had been required last year. The governor has now changed course as the highly contagious Delta variant threatens students and teachers alike, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending masks for students, staff and teachers.

The issue of masks in classrooms has been highly contended, with parents at school board meetings arguing in favor and against them. Pennsylvania's two statewide teachers unions urged K-12 schools to require masks.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Governor Tom Wolf
Governor Tom Wolf is expected to issue a statewide mask mandate for Pennsylvania schools after parents of special needs children sued a school board without one last week. Above, Wolf addresses supporters during a campaign rally for statewide Democratic candidates on September 21, 2018 in Philadelphia. Mark Makela/Getty Images

Wolf is reversing course amid a statewide COVID-19 resurgence that is filling hospital beds just as students return to class.

The Department of Health order will take effect September 7—the day after Labor Day—and will require students, teachers and staff to wear masks when inside, according to two people briefed on the plan. The people were not authorized to release details ahead of an official announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The order will not apply to student athletes while they're playing, the people said. One of the people said the masking order will apply to private as well as public schools and will also apply to child care facilities.

Wolf and administration officials were scheduled to hold a news conference on COVID-19 and the schools at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Wolf declined comment when a reporter asked him about the mask mandate outside his Capitol offices Tuesday morning.

The Democratic governor took action after the Republican leaders of the House and Senate rejected his request to pass legislation requiring masks in classrooms. GOP lawmakers acknowledged that coronavirus cases are again surging across the state but insisted that local leaders were best positioned to respond to the pandemic.

Pennsylvania is now averaging more than 3,200 new, confirmed infections daily—20 times the number of cases it was reporting on a typical day in early July. More than 1,700 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, up sevenfold since last month. Deaths have doubled in two weeks to about 20 per day.

Some schools have reimposed mask mandates on their own after starting out the year without them.

The North Schuylkill School District began requiring masks indoors after it was forced to quarantine 60 students. It said only 11 students would have needed to quarantine if masking had been in place.

Pennsylvania Schools
Governor Tom Wolf is set to issue a mask mandate for all K-12 Pennsylvania schools on August 31. Above, a class of students walks through the hallway during the first day of school at Mars Area Elementary School, August 25 in Mars, Pennsylvania. Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP