HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Big changes are coming for the school mask mandate. Governor Tom Wolf announced on Monday, Nov. 8, his intentions to return the K-12 school mask requirement to local leaders. The statewide mandate’s expiration and handover to local school officials is set for January 17, 2022.

Gov. Wolf added that his administration will continue to reevaluate the status of the mandate.

“Now, we are in a different place than we were in September, and it is time to prepare for a transition back to a more normal setting. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus is now a part of our daily lives, but with the knowledge, we’ve gained over the past 20 months and critical tools like the vaccine at our disposal, we must take the next step forward in our recovery,” Gov. Wolf said.

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Masks, of course, have been a hot-button topic across the Commonwealth, where there have been heated school board meetings and an influx of candidates for school board races in recent elections.

“School leaders have always made decisions about how to maintain order in schools and ensure that all students have quality learning opportunities. We look forward to working with our schools as they continue to navigate the pandemic and are available to provide them assistance, resources, and best practices,” Noe Ortega, secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said.

It is possible the Governor is easing the mandate because school-age children between ages five and 11 can now be vaccinated.

“With more than 70% of adults vaccinated in Pennsylvania and the recently expanded vaccine eligibility, I strongly encourage parents to take safety measures to protect your children and your family – like getting vaccinated,” Gov. Wolf added.

The Wolf administration says they will continue to watch pediatric hospital capacity and case counts leading up to the mandate’s expiration date.

“We want to give local leaders plenty of time to prepare for the anticipated expiration of the order. We strongly encourage schools to follow CDC guidance and make decisions with the health of their educators and students in mind,” Alison Beam, Department of Health acting secretary, said.

Jason Gottesman, Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus spokesperson, released a statement following Wolf’s announcement.

“Back in May, Gov. Wolf told us when Pennsylvania reached a 70 percent vaccination rate, statewide mask mandates would be over. He failed to live up to his promise in September with his administration’s school mask mandate. Waiting to lift that edict until January—what seems like an arbitrary time in the future—further delays fulfilling that promise,” Gottesman said.  

State House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R) added “The outbreaks have been significantly different. Broad-based, large government mandates across the board aren’t necessarily the answer for everybody and I trust those individuals elected on a local level to make good decisions to protect their children, students, and staff.”

This is a developing story, check back for updates as more details are confirmed. Stay up to date on the latest from abc27 News on-air and on the go with the free abc27 Mobile app.