Pennsylvania Education Law Update: Commonwealth Court Determines Mask Mandate in Pennsylvania Schools Will Expire December 4, 2021

On November 16, 2021, the Commonwealth Court ordered the school mask mandate to expire on December 4, 2021. Although the current mask mandate is to expire on December 4, 2021, the opinion by the Commonwealth Court leaves open the possibility of the Wolf Administration implementing another mask mandate in a legal manner. 

This decision follows the decision last week by the Commonwealth Court determining that the Acting Secretary of Health’s order was void ab initio (“to be treated as invalid from the outset”) because there was no statutory authority for such order. The Acting Secretary of Health immediately appealed the decision last week and, pursuant to the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure, the decision was stayed leaving the mask mandate in place during the appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In the Commonwealth Court’s most recent opinion by Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon, the Court reversed the earlier stay based on the likelihood that plaintiffs will be successful on appeal and based on alternative measures the Wolf Administration can take to legally implement a mask mandate. 

The Wolf Administration previously announced its intention to lift the mask mandate for schools on January 17, 2022, so this new opinion by the Commonwealth Court accelerates the timeline for when authority to implement COVID-19 mitigation measures potentially returns to local school leaders. 

Due to the ongoing appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the possibility the Wolf Administration may legally implement a mask mandate, it is recommended that schools stay in contact with their local health officials as events unfold and continue their current COVID-19 mitigation measures until this situation is clarified through a Supreme Court decision or the Wolf Administration officially instructs local school leaders to make such decisions. 

For more information about this decision, please contact Patricia A. Hennessy or your Pennsylvania Barton Gilman education lawyer, Kathy Nagle, Chris Barrett or Adam Attia.

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