Pennsylvania Supreme Court says state can’t force students to mask up

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court effectively voided a statewide school mask mandate from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration on Friday.

In August, Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam imposed the mandate, only to be taken to court by a coalition that opposed it, including state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, a Republican.

Earlier this year, a lower court agreed that the state health secretary does not have “the blanket authority to create new rules and regulations out of whole cloth, provided they are related in some way to the control of disease or can otherwise be characterized as disease control measures,” according to WGAL.

Friday’s state Supreme Court ruling upheld the Commonwealth Court’s decision.

“Beam lacked authority to require that students wear face masks while in school in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, the two state courts concluded,” PennLive reported in summing up the two courts’ decisions.

A written opinion explaining the justices’ decision was still pending as of Saturday.

Now, it is up to schools and school districts to decide whether or not to require masks, according to WGAL.

In a statement, Corman celebrated the ruling.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for parents and communities whose opinions have been ignored by the Wolf Administration for far too long,” he said. “I have said all along that parents and school boards are in the best position to respond to COVID-19 and keep our kids safe. I am grateful the Supreme Court agreed with this position and rejected Governor Wolf’s effort to take power away from the people.”

He said the decision was about more than just masks in schools.

“The ruling today is about much more than masks in schools; it is about preventing government overreach in general. The law clearly does not give any governor or any state agency the power to create orders out of thin air in the absence of an emergency declaration and outside the regulatory review process,” Corman said.

“This ruling means we will not have to deal with even more extreme, unilateral measures from the Wolf Administration that devastated our economy last year, including business closures and restrictions,” he added.

State House Speaker Bryan Cutler and House Majority Leader Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, both Republicans, expressed similar sentiments in a joint statement.

“As we have strongly advocated for months, mitigations, strategies and decisions are best made at the local level,” the lawmakers said. “Today, local leaders are empowered to once again make the decisions that best fit the needs of their own communities as the challenges we face with regards to COVID-19 continue to evolve.”