Despite new court ruling, Wolf's office says school mask mandate remains in place

Candy Woodall
Pennsylvania State Capital Bureau

Pennsylvania Republicans were quick to cheer a new Commonwealth Court ruling Tuesday that would end the Wolf administration's school mask mandate on Dec. 4. 

But Gov. Tom Wolf's office said late Wednesday that "nothing changes." 

His office has appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has a Democratic majority and has largely sided with the Democratic governor throughout the pandemic. 

"We will seek to ensure that the masking mandate remains in place through the duration of the appeal process in our ongoing effort to protect the health and safety of students, teachers and staff," said Elizabeth Rementer, press secretary for the governor. 

Oral arguments are scheduled for Dec. 8 in Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Wolf announced weeks ago the school mask mandate would be lifted on Jan. 17, and it would then be up to districts to decide whether to continue to require masks in schools. 

Gov. Tom Wolf's office on Wednesday responded to a recent court ruling that lifts the stay on his school mask mandate as the legal challenge heads to the state Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the legal case by those seeking to lift the mask mandate sooner continues. The Commonwealth Court on Tuesday afternoon said it would lift the stay Dec. 4 and end the mask mandate.

Wolf’s administration could then implement a new requirement, according to Commonwealth Court.

The mask requirement was first struck down last week by the Commonwealth Court, when it ruled in favor of Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, and other parents who said acting Pennsylvania Health Secretary Alison Beam overstepped her authority in issuing the order that began Sept. 7.

The Wolf administration immediately appealed to the Supreme Court, which put a stay on the order and kept the mask mandate in place.

Corman and the other plaintiffs challenged that stay. Commonwealth Court Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon on Tuesday lifted the stay starting Dec. 4, saying Corman's side was likely to win on appeal. 

"It is encouraging the Commonwealth Court took another proactive step to bring Governor Wolf’s blanket mask mandate to an end," Corman said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. 

"Ample guidance is available from qualified health experts, and more Pennsylvanians are getting vaccinated every day," he said. "It is far past time for state government to give Pennsylvanians the power to make health and safety decisions for ourselves and our children."

Local and state fights have continued in Pennsylvania as voters, school board officials, Wolf, lawmakers and others clash over the role and reach of government authority. Pennsylvania lawmakers, and those in nearly every other state, have moved this year to curtail executive power. 

"The governor has a clear choice," Corman said. "He can trust and empower parents and school boards to protect our kids, or he can continue to ignore the will of the people. We encourage Governor Wolf to acknowledge the fact that these decisions should be made locally based on the unique, individual needs of Pennsylvania communities." 

Wolf supporters say the governor has already done that, and the legal fight is potentially moot since he will lift the order in mid-January anyway, but opponents want it lifted sooner.

Previous decision:Masks in Pa. schools: Court tosses Wolf administration mandate, but state vows appeal

Power struggle:U.S. governors in both parties struggle to fight Delta variant with less executive power

Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capital Bureau. She can be reached at 717-480-1783 or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

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