Are Mask Mandates In School Unconstitutional In Pennsylvania?

It might come as a surprise to some of us that people would resist mask mandates. But the general push to keep people healthy has been met with resistance from anti-vaxxers and conservative groups that have made vaccines and mask mandates political. Why should someone be forced to get vaccinated or put a mask on, they ask. The answer of course, is simple, and has plenty of legal precedent: because your rights as an individual don’t trump those of the community as a whole.

Those precedents are at least a century old. And they’re under direct attack from groups looking to assert their own dominance in the political sphere or bring President Biden’s policies to a halt. Lawsuits are cropping up and mask mandates will soon find themselves in the United States Supreme Court. But not before they reach our own state Supreme Court here in Pennsylvania.

Although these legal attacks will always be decided by laws in place, those laws can sometimes be contradictory — which is why one lawyer might rule one way while another rules a second way. And with political beliefs seemingly altering every possible decision, we don’t really know which way Supreme Courts, or even lower courts before them, will rule. Former President Trump managed to fill many vacant federal court seats after all.

U.S. District Court Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr. wrote in reference to a Tennessee complaint, “The record at this stage shows that temporary universal mask mandates adopted by the Williamson County and Franklin school systems have been, and likely would continue to be, effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19.”

This opinion came in response to actions taken by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, who signed an order allowing parents to opt out of mask mandates put into place by school districts. 

Meanwhile, our own Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the mandate was “designed to preserve in-person education and protect students and teachers in the midst of a global pandemic.”

And protecting all the kids from one set of parents is a task the law takes seriously.