JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Greater Johnstown School District did not need to make significant policy changes when Pennsylvania’s mask mandate went into effect for schools across the commonwealth on Tuesday.
The district had already implemented its own masking requirement in August to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
“It allowed us to start our school year and not change the way we started our school year, as many districts had to do that did not require a mask mandate for the opening day of school,” Superintendent Amy Arcurio said during a school board meeting on Tuesday.
Arcurio thinks the masking policy has “gone really well” in the GJSD schools that serve more than 3,000 students.
“Our students left us at the end of the school year wearing masks, so I think to transition back to this school year in masks really didn’t require them to do anything much different than they were used to,” Arcurio said during a post-meeting interview.
Pennsylvania Department of Health’s rules require all students, faculty and staff in K-12 schools and day cares to wear masks when inside, regardless of vaccination status. “Wearing a mask in school is necessary to keep our children in the classroom and to keep COVID out of that classroom,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, said during a recent press conference.
State Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre; Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford; two Christian schools, and parents of 10 school children have filed a legal action in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, arguing the mandate illegally requires healthy non-infected people to wear masks.
They also contend that Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam did not follow the law when issuing the mandate because it did not go through the regulatory review process. The plaintiffs accused Wolf of attempting to circumvent new voter-approved laws limiting a governor’s emergency powers.
“We are arguing before the Court that Acting Secretary Beam does not have the authority to issue such a mandate under the Disease Prevention and Control Act,” according to a statement issued by the Amistad Project, which filed the lawsuit. “Since there is no authority under Pennsylvania law to keep students out of school, Secretary Beam is trampling on the rights of school children and their parents as she denies them the right to attend school in person. This type of regulatory overreach cannot stand in a free country.
A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16.
“I believe (the mask mandate) is going to be upheld,” GJSD Solicitor Ron Repak said during an interview. “I think, at the end of the day, the judge – I could see – saying it cannot be forever and forever, meaning there has to be some sort of timeline placed on it. ...”
“But, at the end of the day, we’ve seen cases filed last school year in the same kind of stance and they were upheld. So I assume it’s probably going to be upheld.”