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Pennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down K-12 mask mandate

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a statewide mask mandate for Pennsylvania schoolchildren on Friday, in a defeat for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration.

The justices announced their decision to uphold a lower court order vacating the mandate, but have not yet issued a written opinion explaining the reasoning of the court.

The Commonwealth Court previously ruled that Wolf's K-12 mask order was illegitimate because it was imposed by the state's acting health secretary without legal authorization. The court found that acting Health Secretary Alison Beam lacked the authority to require masks, did not follow statutory requirements for issuing regulations, and acted without an existing disaster emergency in place, which the governor must officially declare for an emergency order to be issued.

Specifically, the lower court found that Pennsylvania's disease control law does not give Beam "the blanket authority to create new rules and regulations out of whole cloth, provided they are related in some way to the control of disease or can otherwise be characterized as disease control measures."

Pennsylvania schools will now each be free to make their own masking policies, the Associated Press reported.

“The decision will be left to the 500 school districts in Pennsylvania, with respect to what to do with the implications of this order,” Thomas W. King III, an attorney representing Republican lawmakers, school districts, schools, and parents who challenged the masking requirements, said.

King said school boards will need to consult with their own lawyers over masking policies.

“This is a great day in Pennsylvania for the rule of law,” King said. “The Supreme Court has proved that no one is above the law, and that includes the secretary of health or the governor.”

Wolf's office did not immediately offer a comment to the AP.

The court's decision follows oral arguments in the case which were held two days ago.

The lawsuit against the Wolf administration was filed by Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman (R); state Rep. Jesse Topper (R); two religious schools; three public school districts; and several parents of schoolchildren

The litigants argued that Beam's actions locked the public out of debate, prohibited the General Assembly from reviewing the policy's legality, and violated state law.

After the lower court ruled against the K-12 mask mandate, Wolf said he would turn authority over mask policies to local school districts in January.

The Wolf administration's mask mandate required that students, staff, and visitors at K-12 schools and child care facilities wear masks while indoors, regardless of whether or not they've been vaccinated.

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