Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Health Issues Order Requiring Face Coverings to be Worn in Schools

On August 31, 2021, Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Health issued an Order requiring face coverings to be worn in all school entities—including school districts, brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, private and parochial schools, career and technical centers, intermediate units and other child care settings—effective September 7, 2021.

The Order requires each teacher, child/student, staff or visitor working, attending, or visiting a school entity to wear a face covering indoors, regardless of vaccination status, except for certain exceptions.

The exceptions are as follows:

  • If wearing a face covering while working would create an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
  • If wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition, or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition or a disability.
  • When necessary to confirm the individual’s identity.
  • When working alone and isolated from interaction with other people with little or no expectation of in-person interaction.
  • If an individual is communicating or seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing-impaired or has another disability, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • When the individual is under two (2) years of age.
  • When an individual is:
    • Engaged in an activity that cannot be performed while wearing a mask, such as eating and drinking, or playing an instrument that would be obstructed by the face covering; or
    • Participating in high intensity aerobic or anerobic activities, including during a physical education class in a well-ventilated location and able to maintain a physical distance of six feet from all other individuals.
  • When a child/student is participating in a sports practice activity or event, whether indoors or outdoors.

The Order states that school entities have the following obligations:

  • Require and enforce the requirement that all teachers, children/students, staff, and visitors (excluding the exceptions listed above) wear a face covering indoors, regardless of whether the Order is reflected in the school entity’s Health and Safety Plan.
  • Post prominent signs in conspicuous locations for teachers, children/students, staff and visitors stating that face coverings are required by the Order of the Secretary of Health.
  • Provide reasonable accommodations for individuals who state they have a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that makes it unreasonable for the person to maintain a face covering.

It is important to note that the Order states that school entities should not enforce face covering requirements when there is an exception or it would be otherwise unsafe to do so and school entities should not restrain, use force, or physically remove, teachers, children/students, staff, or visitors who refuse to comply with the Order when it would not otherwise be legal to do so.

For more information about a school’s obligations under the August 31, 2021 Order of the Acting Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health please contact Patricia A. Hennessy or your Pennsylvania Barton Gilman education lawyer, Kathy Nagle, Chris Barrett or Adam Attia.

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