On Nov. 8, Gov. Tom Wolf announced his intention to return the decision to mask in school districts back to local leaders, effective Jan. 17, 2022, ending a months-long mandate requiring masks in schools.
However, following a recent ruling by a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, some districts temporarily found themselves in a state of uncertainty.
The Commonwealth Court ruled on Nov. 10 that Pennsylvania’s Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam did not have the authority to issue the school masking mandate, but that decision was immediately appealed by the state Health Department and the Wolf administration, which meant that the immediate implementation of that ruling was blocked.
However, on Nov. 16, the Commonwealth Court lifted the automatic stay on the order and declared that the mask mandate would lift for school districts on Dec. 4. Cornwall-Lebanon School District superintendent Philip L. Domencic recently emailed a copy of that ruling out to parents.
In light of this, some school districts, including Cornwall-Lebanon, opted to lift their own district mask mandates.
In response to that Nov. 16 ruling, Domencic sent a letter to parents, informing them of the district’s intentions at that time.
“This most recent decision means that CLSD will continue adhering to the face covering mandate through the week after Thanksgiving (Nov. 30-Dec. 3),” he wrote. “As of Monday, Dec. 6, the wearing of face coverings will be optional. The District’s Health and Safety Plan allows the wearing of face coverings, but does not mandate them.”
However, the latest ruling by the state Supreme Court put a halt to those plans.
On Nov. 30, the state Supreme Court overturned the earlier ruling by the Commonwealth Court, and issued an order that the masking mandate should remain in place until the state Supreme Court hears oral arguments on masking. The Pa. Supreme Court is expected to hear those arguments beginning on Wednesday, Dec. 8.
“Based on this recent court decision, students and staff should continue following the face covering protocols next week, as we have been doing, unless they have an approved exemption,” Domencic wrote in a follow-up email to parents.
Prior to this week’s Pa. Supreme Court decision, Palmyra Area School District superintendent Bernie Kepler told LebTown that for his district, there had been no changes yet, and that the district was awaiting instruction from the state Supreme Court.
“At this time, nothing with the PASD Health and Safety Plan has changed,” Kepler said. “We await further rulings from the PA Supreme Court as to whether they will maintain the stay order and then ultimately their final ruling on the mask order.”
Lebanon School District superintendent Arthur Abrom’s approach was similar.
“We are waiting the results of the Governor’s appeal to the PA Supreme Court, which will determine whether they will maintain the stay order for the mask mandate beyond Dec. 4,” said Abrom, prior to the state Supreme Court decision on Nov. 30.
Now, Lebanon School District will keep their mask mandate in effect as well, following the continued stay order, at least until the final ruling by the Pa. Supreme Court.
“ACSD has been adhering to our Health and Safety Plan which outlined that we would comply with any mandate that is in place,” said Krista Antonis, superintendent of Annville-Cleona School District. “If the mandate were to lift, we would default back to our masks optional position that the Board of School Directors voted on in August.”
As school boards and superintendents of local districts wait for the state Supreme Court’s final decision, they continue to hope for the community’s cooperation and patience.
“The Cornwall-Lebanon District Health and Safety Plan states that we will follow all legal, valid, and binding Orders,” Domencic wrote. “While we realize there are strong opinions on both sides of the face covering Order issue, the one common goal all parents share is having quality educational opportunities for their children. CLSD will continue to offer as many of these opportunities as possible and keep students in school.
“We continue to ask for everyone’s cooperation as we follow the Order, continue wearing masks/face coverings, and not allow this to become a divisive issue in our school community.”
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