In what will likely be the final chapter of the roller coaster school mask mandate saga in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s November 10, 2021, order voiding Acting Secretary of Health’s masking requirement throughout Pennsylvania’s schools. The decision is effective immediately.
School Law Bullet
Recently, U.S. District Judge, Gene Pratter, explained free speech safeguards apply to individuals speaking at public board meetings and entered an order against Pennsbury School District stating the school board’s policies concerning public comments were vague and overbroad.
The ever-evolving saga of the school mask mandate in Pennsylvania took another twist as the litigation over the masking requirement continues.
In J.S. v. Manheim Township School District, the Court developed this new true threat standard by reasoning that in order for schools to censor a student’s First Amendment right, it shall determine whether the student intended the communication to be a serious expression of an intent to inflict harm.
As of December 4, 2021, schools must decide on their own whether to enforce mask wearing moving forward.
On November 11, 2021, Judge Mariani, U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied a request for a preliminary injunction to block the implementation of a policy adopted by the Delaware Valley School Board that allowed for medical exemption from the Department of Health’s mandatory masking Order of September 7th without medical documentation.
Earlier today, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of petitioners seeking an injunction to prevent Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam from enforcing a Masking Order for anyone in the public school environment. The Governor has vowed an immediate appeal of the court ruling.
These cases, and undoubtedly others to come, only reinforce what has been the responsible legal advice – that the Department of Health order is lawful and enforceable and that school districts are obligated to make good faith efforts to implement the order.
Whether it be with school closures, virtual learning, or mask mandates, few districts have experienced the level of daily public outcry as has accompanied this pandemic.
According to a national survey, more than half of the country’s school districts are reporting either a “severe” or “desperate” driver shortage.