Education Law Update: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ends Wolf Administration’s School Mask Mandate

On Friday, December 10, 2021, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court effectively ended the school mask mandate implemented by the Acting Secretary of Health of the Wolf Administration. Local school leaders now have the authority to determine the appropriate COVID-19 mitigation measures to implement, and whether, or how, to implement a mask mandate in their schools.

The Supreme Court affirmed the November 16, 2021 decision of the Commonwealth Court which determined that the order by the Acting Secretary of Health requiring masks to be worn in schools was void ab initio (“to be treated as invalid from the outset”) because there was no statutory authority for such order. The Commonwealth Court decision had also determined that the mask mandate would expire on December 4, 2021.

The Supreme Court previously issued an order allowing the Wolf Administration’s mask mandate to remain in effect past the December 4, 2021 deadline imposed by the Commonwealth Court as the parties prepared and argued the merits of the matter before the Supreme Court. Today’s decision vacates this prior order of the Supreme Court and ends the mask mandate.

The Wolf Administration previously announced it anticipated returning mask decision-making to local school leaders on January 17, 2022; however, the Supreme Court decision today effectively gives school leaders decision-making authority regarding masks starting today.

The Supreme Court has yet to publish the full opinion, but it is clear that the Supreme Court has affirmed the decision of the Commonwealth Court that the Acting Secretary of Health did not have the authority to implement such order and has vacated its previous order allowing the mask mandate to run past the December 4, 2021 deadline imposed by the Commonwealth Court.

For more information about this Supreme Court decision or for assistance with determining and implementing COVID-19 mitigation efforts, please contact Patricia A. Hennessy or your Pennsylvania Barton Gilman education lawyer, Kathy NagleChris Barrett or Adam Attia.

About Barton Gilman

Barton Gilman provides the full scope of legal services to education clients – including traditional and non-traditional public schools, charter schools, charter management organizations, private schools, education advocacy organizations and other education-related organizations – throughout Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland. For more information, please click here.