PA’s mask mandate for schools — what does it really mean?

CHAMBERSBURG — With the order for mask mandates in Pennsylvania schools coming down from the State Department of Health, a lot of question still abound.

The order, which says everyone in school buildings K-12 as well as nursery schools and preschools must wear masks, will go into effect on September 7. If it’s such a priority, why wait?

How can this happen after the citizens in the commonwealth stripped the governor of his ability to make emergency declarations at the ballot box this past May?

Well, this didn’t come from the governor himself. It came from the Secretary of Health.

State Senator Judy Ward announced yesterday her desire to see a new constitutional amendment that would limit the powers of the Secretary of Health.

One big issue with all of this is the order itself does not include any penalties if the mandates aren’t followed.

However, Governor Wolf made an announcement in conjunction with the Secretary of Health’s order where he clearly says that failure to follow it may subject people to penalties. He cited the 1955 Disease Prevention and Control Law.

It may subject them to civil penalties and exposure to liabilities.

What that means is anybody’s guess.

Attorney Clint Barkdoll, Pat Ryan and Michele Jansen discussed the mask mandate Thursday morning during the Big Talk on First News.

Barkdoll said, “I talked to some school board people around this area the other night when this came out and I think the guidance they’re getting from their solicitors is they think there’s still too much risk. Even though the order doesn’t prescribe penalties, what does the governor mean when it says it may expose you to liability? Could your funding be effected if you’re a public school? Could there be a fine?”

The 1955 Disease Prevention and Control Law does prescribe summary offenses, which are similar to a traffic violation. They are very minor, but they can be charged per diem so each day there could be a fine of several hundred dollars.

Barkdoll said, “I think the bottom line is most districts aren’t going to take the risk of not following this, even though the order doesn’t prescribe any penalties.”

“I don’t get it,” Jansen said. “How can you hold the school district accountable when you don’t give them the ability to enforce it? It’s not their fault then when a kid is not wearing a mask if they can’t do anything about it. You could hold I guess the kid and their family liable, but how do you hold the school district liable if you give them no way to actually enforce that?”

“I think it’s a valid question,” Barkdoll said.

The order also says signage must be posted in and around the buildings about the requirement and the districts should engage in a diligence to make sure that this is being followed.

The order doesn’t prescribe a remedy if someone doesn’t follow the order.

Jansen sent an email to a local superintendent and they said they’re really just trying to figure out what this means.

“You know what really bothers me about this?” Jansen said. “It’s adding just a lot of uncertainty. Could we get hit with a lot of fines? Well, we could. Are you really going to go monitor all of these schools? Or is it going to be if somebody gets sick, and then we’re going to come down on you and find out, did you make sure people were wearing masks? This is what they’re doing all over the place in government right now. Uncertainty. We have no clear path. We have no clear, consistent rules to follow. It’s just the threat that something might happen to you if you don’t do everything the way we do it. Whether there’s a law or not, there’s this threat. Somehow your livelihood or your economy, your money is threatened. Your position is threatened. That’s really dangerous. This is not the way to govern. This is not the way to lead.”

“Threats and punishment,” Ryan said. “Where have we heard that one before?”