More than a dozen Midstate school districts make masks optional after Commonwealth Court ruling

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — While a legal battle over the statewide mask mandate plays out, some school districts have already made them optional.

Commonwealth court threw the mandate out on Wednesday but the state is appealing, so that means it’s still in effect.

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The court’s majority said the acting health secretary didn’t have the authority to issue the order. Now some parents are upset their districts are making masks optional.

Letters from over a dozen school districts went out to parents almost immediately on Wednesday, notifying them that masks were optional because of the commonwealth court ruling against the acting health secretary. One of those districts is Mifflin County.

“They have not retracted anything. I’ve heard from multiple parents, kids, teachers, took masks off in school yesterday. There was announcements made. They removed their masks, cheered,” said Danica Laub, a parent in the Mifflin County School District.

Laub’s daughter is 11, still wearing her mask, and planning to get the vaccine.

“Nobody wants to wear masks forever, but we at least want to have these 5 to 11-year-old children to have the opportunity to become fully vaccinated before they lift the masks,” Laub said.

In the Lampeter-Strasburg School District, masks are now optional too. Starr Schickel’s 9-year-old daughter wants to wear one.

“You don’t know what that little kid next to you might have, an autoimmune disease or something you don’t know but that mask could be helping to save that little kid,” Schickel said.

UPMC Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. John Goldman thinks we’re seeing the last wave of the highly contagious delta variant but says masks are still extremely important.

“They not only protect the children. They protect their teachers. They protect their parents when they come home,” Goldman said.

Goldman acknowledges kids don’t often end up in the hospital because of COVID but says kids are drivers of any kind of respiratory pandemic or epidemic.

“If we get to the point where most kids in school are vaccinated then I think masks are unlikely to be needed because that’ll provide sufficient protection,” Goldman said. “The problem as I see it is I don’t think most kids are going to get vaccinated.”

He hopes that changes and parents can overcome their vaccine hesitancy.

“Even if you go to a low-risk group like children, almost every side effect of vaccine happens five to 10 times more often with natural infection,” Goldman said.

Despite the state court’s rulings, a federal mask mandate for public transportation remains in effect, which means kids still have to wear masks on school buses.

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