NEWS

Greencastle-Antrim School District makes face coverings optional after high court decision

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the Wolf administration's COVID-19 school mask mandate Friday, Dec. 10, and three days later, Greencastle-Antrim schools returned to the mask-optional policy outlined in the district's health and safety plan.

The high court ruled in favor of a commonwealth court’s November decision that invalidated the state Department of Health's masking order for public schools, Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, explained in a letter Sunday to families.

Masks are not required but are highly recommended under the health and safety plan adopted in July.

Heath and safety plan: 'Moving Forward!' Masks aren't mandatory this year in Greencastle-Antrim schools

Mask mandate: Mask requirement starts Sept. 7 in Pennsylvania schools

"All decision-makers should be mindful that as long as there are cases of COVID-19 in the community, there are no strategies that can completely eliminate transmission risk within a school population," the plan says. "Our goal is to maintain in-person learning ... keeping our buildings open and students in attendance safely!"

Students must continue to wear face coverings on school buses until Jan. 18 under a federal CDC policy. 

Blue, the Greencastle-Antrim School District mascot, wore a mask during a meal distribution for children early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Face coverings are again optional in G-A schools after a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling on Dec. 10.

In addition, anyone with close contact to someone with COVID-19 will have to wear a mask for 14 days when in school buildings. Masks also would be required if there is an outbreak within a particular class, grade or group, according to Hanks.

The district will continue to be vigilant about sanitation, and students are encouraged to wash their hands often and maintain social distance as much as possible.

Hanks suggested mask wearing continue until the upcoming break so children aren't sick for the holidays.

Her letter also said: "Faculty, staff or students who wish to wear face coverings may continue to do so" and encouraged understanding for whatever people opt to do.

"This is a great opportunity to talk with your child(ren) about recognizing the diverse perspectives and circumstances within our community," she wrote. "Diversity of thought is a strength in our district, and we ask that all students and staff respect the decisions of each individual. We want to be considerate of personal beliefs and spacing between each other.

Dr. Lura Hanks

"When we look back on this time, we want to be proud of how our community responded to the changing dynamics of the pandemic," she wrote. "We hope to say that we celebrate individual rights while also coming together to protect our community from illness."

Background

The state Supreme Court ruled that the school masking mandate was invalid because it was imposed by Gov. Tom Wolf's acting health secretary without legal authorization.

The justices upheld a lower-court ruling that Acting Secretary Alison Beam lacked authority to require masks, did not follow state laws about enacting regulations and acted without a required existing disaster emergency, declared by the governor, in place.

That decision came two days after the high court heard oral arguments in the challenge filed by the Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, who is a Republican candidate for governor, and others.

Wolf had imposed a mask mandate to start the school year, but last month said it would expire Jan. 17 — before the court challenges.

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam.

Wolf on Monday morning said Beam will resign her position with the state Department of Health at the end of the year. It was not immediately clear why she was leaving the position or where she was going next.

The governor said he will name Department of Health Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter to replace Beam.

Shawn Hardy is a reporter with Gannett's Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania — the Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro and the Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has more than 35 years of journalism experience. Reach her at shardy@gannett.com

Candy Woodall is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania Capital Bureau contributed to this story.