Earlier today, the Commonwealth Court issued an Order that determined, among other things, that "The 'Order of the Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health Directing Face Coverings in School Entities,' issued by the Acting Secretary on August 31, 2021, is declared void.
However, we were informed that the Wolf Administration and Pennsylvania Department of Education immediately appealed the decision. Please remember that the original health and safety plan adopted by the board of education made masks optional to begin the school year. The order issued by the Secretary of Health superseded this plan, and we were required to follow the mandate. The Court has overruled the Secretary of Health's order, however, due to the appeal, the Secretary of Health's order is still in effect until the court proceedings are completed. We received a communication from the Pennsylvania Department of Education at approximately 3:30 p.m. this afternoon with a suggested course of action.
While we consult our solicitor, obtain legal advice and guidance, and are patient while court proceedings continue, we will continue to have students, staff, and visitors wear a face-covering inside all school facilities unless one of the exceptions is met until further notice.
When this order is declared void, changed, or local control is given back to the school district, we will revert to our original Health and Safety Plan board approved on July 20, 2021. We will provide an update once we receive further information. Thank you for your continued cooperation throughout this highly challenging time.
HERE IS THE LETTER FROM PDE:
Earlier today, the Commonwealth Court issued a ruling voiding Acting Secretary Beam's school mask order. The state is filing an appeal today, which will trigger a stay of the Court's ruling and keep the order in effect.
Schools should continue to observe the school masking order throughout the duration of the Court's proceedings.
For additional context and background, the Pennsylvania Department of Education, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Office of the Governor, is providing the following statement to our schools:
The Secretary of Health's authority is clearly outlined in existing law. The Department of Health has directed counsel to file an appeal today. Filing of the appeal will immediately stay the Commonwealth Court's decision. School masking is a necessary public health measure to keep children safe and provide them with as much in-person learning in school as possible. Medical experts agree – hospitals and healthcare professionals across the state support the masking requirement. Requiring masks in schools is helping to keep students in classrooms and the virus out and is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Earlier this week, Governor Tom Wolf announced that on January 17, 2022, it is anticipated that the commonwealth's K-12 school mask requirement will return to local control. Upon the expiration of the statewide mandate, schools may continue requiring mask-wearing based on local policy and CDC guidance.
Noe Ortega, Ph.D. | Secretary of Education
Superintendent of Schools
Athens Area School District