(HARRISBURG) – As school districts work to finalize plans for opening for the 2021-22 school year, Senator Scott Martin (R-13) today questioned Wolf Administration officials during a Senate Education Committee hearing about the COVID-19 policies being implemented in schools.
“The focus of today’s hearing is the subject of intense, emotional public debate,” said Senator Martin, who is chairman of the committee. “Policymakers, families, the medical community and others continue to battle striking the right balance between trying to protect public health, while also protecting critical freedoms and the power of personal choice. As legislators, we have an obligation to ask questions, advocate on behalf of our constituents and hold the executive branch accountable as a co-equal branch of government.”
Both the Department of Health and the Department of Education emphasized that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations should be followed, including those calling for universal masking of students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
However, the administration has no plans to institute a statewide mask mandate.
“We are pointing to the CDC as reason behind the policy but where is the constitutional or statutory authority for local authorities to require masks?” Senator Martin said. “If it doesn’t exist, then how is it enforceable and what kind of precedent does that set? Until there is constitutional or statutory clarity, I don’t see how what is being imposed by locals is enforceable without school districts opening themselves up to potential litigation saying that they don’t have that authority to do this. It’s an important question when you are dealing with people’s rights and their kids.”
Senator Martin questioned both Beam and Education Secretary Noe Ortega about the health and safety plans for the schools receiving federal funding, COVID-19 testing, student and parental rights as well as cleaning and closure protocols. He also inquired about school buses being considered public transportation requiring masks per the CDC.
“I think there’s a real gap here statutorily and constitutionally that I don’t know if people have truly analyzed from a legal perspective for school boards and making these decisions,” Senator Martin said. “When you talk about liability, there were employers and others who were worried about not following the guidance that they would be held liable somehow. There are dots here that are missing.”
CONTACT: Terry Trego