Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is urging state lawmakers to return to Harrisburg in order to pass legislation mandating masks in K-12 schools and child-care centers. “For most of the past 18 months, the legislature has asked for my administration to defer to local governments and local organizations when making mitigation decisions,” Wolf wrote in a letter addressed to both legislative chambers. “It is clear that action is needed to ensure children are safe as they return to the classroom.”
Wolf claimed that schools already in session have urged him to implement a mask mandate. According to Penn Live, 474 PA districts have submitted health and safety plans to the Department of Education. Of the 474, just 59 have instituted mask mandates.
In early August, Wolf stated that he would not mandate masks in K-12 schools. “I think the school districts in Pennsylvania have to decide what they want to do. I think the CDC guidelines say ‘strongly recommend’ that schools do that. They’re not mandating it, and neither am I,” said Wolf just weeks ago. Now, at the last minute, with almost all PA school districts set to be in session after Labor Day, the governor is calling for a mask mandate. “With school having already started in many areas of the state, the time to act is now,” Wolf said.
The Wolf administration implemented a school mask mandate with limited exemptions last year. He did this without the legislature, as he was operating with emergency powers granted due to the pandemic. This was ultimately stripped, however, when Pennsylvania voted to remove the governor’s emergency powers last May.
Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Republicans, said that the chamber has no plans to return before they’re scheduled to be back in September. “We’ve been for local decision-making since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Gottesman. He also cited the vote to curtail Wolf’s powers.
The president of the state’s largest teachers union backed Wolf’s call for an emergency session. “In the meantime, we continue to urge school district leaders to follow CDC guidance and adopt universal masking policies as students return to school,” said Rich Askey, a Harrisburg music teacher and president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
On August 20, Wolf re-instated a mask mandate for all state employees.