Could school districts get mask mandate court rulings overturned?

A Villanova expert said there may be a basis for a Montgomery County district to appeal

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Earlier this week, a federal judge in Philadelphia overruled a Montgomery County school district’s decision to allow masks to be optional in schools.

Listen to a Villanova law professor discuss the complications of the Perkiomen Valley mask mandate case in the podcast, below:

Podcast Episode
KYW Newsradio In Depth
Could school districts get mask mandate court rulings overturned?
Listen Now
Now Playing
Now Playing

Back in December, the state Supreme Court left masking decisions to each school district. However, some families have made legal claims that district decisions to make masks optional violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"What the plaintiffs have done is gone to federal court in different parts of Pennsylvania, bringing these Disability Act claims," said Villanova law professor Michael Moreland.

That includes the Perkiomen Valley School District. Federal judge Wendy Beetlestone ruled the district’s move to lift universal masking was an ADA violation.

Her ruling essentially said children with asthma have no other alternative for education other than everyone wearing masks to protect them, and alternatives like virtual classes or moving vulnerable students to a different part of the room were unacceptable.

"The question under the [Americans with] Disabilities Act is 'Is that a reasonable accommodation to require masking by everyone else, or is it a kind of overly aggressive way of framing what the disability laws require?'" Moreland asked.

Beetlestone ruled it is reasonable to require all other students to wear masks.

Moreland said that if the ruling is appealed, he expects PVSD lawyers to argue that the district tried to offer alternatives.

“I think on that ground, the district's arguments were fairly persuasive," said Moreland.

"They've been persuasive in other kinds of cases. But in this case, they didn't prevail.”

He said another argument would be the contested question of whether there's undue harm or burden on all other students required to mask.

Moreland said the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will have to sort through it, as rulings have varied across the state. Unlike the Perkiomen Valley case, a judge in Western Pennsylvania said a district could lift their mandate.

“The inconsistency between those different opinions and outcomes is what I think is going to need to be resolved by the Third Circuit," said Moreland.

“Judge Beetlestone’s opinion is a pretty aggressive and robust reading, I would say, of the Disability law, and we'll have to see whether the Court of Appeals agrees that it's a reasonable one.”

He said throughout the pandemic, courts have generally deferred to elected decision-makers when restrictions or mitigation efforts have been challenged.

Podcast Episode
KYW Newsradio In Depth
Why a conservative Supreme Court overturned one vaccine mandate but upheld a second
Listen Now
Now Playing
Now Playing
Featured Image Photo Credit: Jay Sorgi/KYW Newsradio