HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Masking will be required in Pennsylvania schools starting next week. The Governor’s team issued the mandate on Tuesday.
This comes after months of saying they would not put any statewide mask requirements back in place. Now the health secretary says COVID cases are surging among children so the situation has changed.
She issued the mask mandate under the Disease Prevention and Control Act. There are some exceptions like for medical reasons or while children are involved in physical activities.
However, for the most part, kids will have to mask up starting on September 7.
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“Wearing a mask in school is necessary to keep our children in a classroom and to keep COVID out of that classroom,” Governor Wolf said.
His administration is taking the choice away from local districts that have become a flashpoint for heated debates. Like in Mechanicsburg, where the school board recently made masking optional.
Parent Jesse White is excited that now all kids in the district will be masking.
“As the cases started to mount it became pretty obvious from a public health standpoint this was the right thing to do,” White said.
Mechanicsburg mom Christina Fleisher is not happy about the mandate.
“When parents have the right to choose to make medical decisions for their kids, that was always the best outcome. But now having that choice stripped away from us feels like a big defeat,” Fleisher said.
She took her kids out of the Mechanicsburg School District and put them in private school this year to try to avoid changing COVID rules and masking. Now she’s worried they’ll have to wear them anyways.
“The right to breathe is a pretty fundamental right. When we’ve tried to put masks on our kids they yank them off instantaneously and they say ‘Mom I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe through my nose.’ And I just can’t imagine them doing that for 6 or 7 hours a day,” Fleisher said.
Republican lawmakers are also railing against the new rule. Senator Ryan Aument is frustrated by Governor Wolf’s reversal on masking.
“Many families believe their school board got it right and believe that those decisions are best made at the local school district level, as you know the Governor has been saying for the last month,” Aument said.
However, the Governor argued that when lawmakers didn’t agree with his request to mandate masks in schools, he was left with no choice.
“I’m the one left holding the bag and I’m the one making the decision,” Wolf said.
Many parents are thankful he did.
“This is responsible governance that’s supposed to protect our children and by extension people like me, families and other people around as we work our way through this crisis and hopefully cut through this misinformation,” White said.
Others are scrambling to find ways to keep their kids unmasked.
“It would be a complete detriment to their learning, their social health, their emotional health. And that’s just not a risk we’re willing to take. So it’s virtual learning or an alternative school,” Fleisher said.
The Governor’s team says it’s up to districts to enforce the mandate.
Meanwhile, a group of Republican lawmakers sent out a statement saying districts should ignore the mandate and follow whatever masking decisions they already made.
“School directors should follow the decisions they made and were elected to do after careful and thoughtful considerations in their local districts and ignore empty words from a lame-duck governor and mandates from an unelected, unconfirmed bureaucrat,” they said.