Republicans, parents push back on Pa. school mask mandate now in effect

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — The mask mandate for schools in Pennsylvania went into effect on Tuesday, as COVID-19 cases are up and academic years begin this week. However, there is pushback from some state Republican lawmakers and parents.

The mask order, from Pennsylvania’s acting Health Secretary Allison Beam, is for public, parochial, private or charter school, for grades K-12, along with early education and other child care settings.

Beam said the decision to require masks in schools is in response to concerns over a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in the commonwealth, in large part because of the delta variant of the coronavirus.

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Labor Day marks the beginning of the academic year for many school districts around the country. This Labor Day saw 300% more new COVID-19 cases on average than last year.

Just a few months ago, it looked like the nation was slowly emerging from the depths of the pandemic, but experts fear that the holiday weekend may have made matters worse. The rise in cases across the country has translated into overcrowded hospitals and a rise in infections among children.

The CDC recommends universal masking in schools. Beam also cites other health organizations, including Children’s Hospital if Philadelphia, which argue that masking will limit the spread of the coronavirus and limit disruptions to in-person learning.

Data released last week shows one-fifth of new COVID-19 cases are among children, and those who are under the age of 12, not old enough to be vaccinated, are often getting infected from unvaccinated adults.

Since the start of this academic year COVID-19 outbreaks have shut down at least 1,000 schools across 35 states.

Gov. Tom Wolf, just weeks prior, said districts should make their own decisions on masking. However, he said districts were pressured to vote against universal masking based on misinformation and politics.

Wolf asked Republican leaders in the legislature to go back to Harrisburg to discuss a mask mandate but those lawmakers denied his request.

Following the announcement from the governor and health secretary last week, top Republican leaders, including Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, along with parents from several districts, filed a lawsuit in an effort to overturn the mandate. Part of their argument is that Beam did not go through the state’s regulatory review process, and Wolf is trying to get around Pennsylvania's new constitutional amendment that limits the governor's emergency powers.

A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16.

Contention over wearing masks in schools is by no means unique to Pennsylvania. In Tucson, Arizona, a man was arrested last week for trespassing after he stormed into a principal's office, upset that his son was asked to wear a mask and quarantine.

Now the principal says she has been sent threatening emails. For example: "Remember Tucson is a small community and you have a target on your back for enforcing unlawful orders."

Meanwhile in Minnesota, a group of parents is suing the state, demanding the governor issue a mask mandate in all schools in order to keep kids safe.

CBS News correspondent Skylar Henry contributed to this report.