Pa. Senate GOP argues parents, not schools, should make mask decision

Pennsylvania Politics

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Kids are heading back to class and many will return to mask mandates. Are they legal? Should parents be able to override their local school boards? Those are just two of the questions being asked at the state capitol.

It is emotional and heated as school districts whether to require masks.

“I come down on the parental choice side,” Senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) said. Sen. Martin also insists that school boards don’t have the power to require masks.

He cites the disease prevention and control act of 1955 and says only health officials, like Secretary Alison Beam, can mandate masks. “I feel like it’s turned into a political hot potato where those who could issue orders and legally should if they believe it’s an issue they have punted into local school districts,” Sen. Martin said.

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Governor Wolf’s spokeswoman called Martin’s interpretation, “Patently false, legally incorrect, and not helpful.”

“I think this has become a political issue rather than a health and safety issue,” Senator Lindsey Williams (D) said. Sen. Williams chairs the education committee and is a lawyer. She says Pa.’s school code lets school boards make “reasonable regulations.” “And that includes masking for students and faculty,” Sen. Williams said.

Some argue masks are harmful to kids. “The research isn’t there to back up either way you know so we’re kind of in this limbo,” Senator Judy Ward (R) said. Senator Ward’s bill gives parents the power to send kids to school maskless regardless of district mandates. She said the response has been positive. “a lot of people want that personal choice of freedom,” Sen. Ward said.

But Williams wonders where parental choice ends. “Can they opt-out of school dress codes? Can they opt-out of rules about bullying?” Sen. Williams said.

Kids return to class in the coming weeks, the fight over masks will rage much longer. “Somewhere on this state, someone’s going to litigate this,” Sen. Martin said.

School boards will decide whether to mask or not to mask and whichever they choose there will be lots of people upset about it.

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