HAMBURG, Pa. — Masks were optional in the Hamburg Area School District on Tuesday, despite the Pennsylvania health secretary's new order requiring students and staff in K-12 schools and day care centers to mask up.
Richard Mextorf, the district's superintendent, released this message on YouTube last week:
"So, this is my commission, which, when you get sworn in by a judge to behold the laws of the commonwealth, including the mandates, and we've got plenty of mandates that we have to follow. On the other hand, I work for a school board that has hired me to articulate their vision for the district, so I'm between a rock and a hard place and, quite frankly, I don't know what to do."
Hamburg's school board is set to hold a meeting with the superintendent Tuesday night, with masking being the only item on the agenda.
The Wolf administration is citing concerns about COVID-19 case counts and that a majority of school districts voted not to require masks as reasons for the order. This comes after the governor said in early August that he would leave the decision up to each district.
"Ordinarily, you would assume that the state has more power than a school board in determining policy that would affect education," said attorney Joel Ready of the Cornerstone Law Firm, "but this is an unusual situation for a number of reasons."
Ready said one of those reasons is the amendment Pennsylvanians voted in favor of to limit the governor's emergency declaration powers to 21 days.
He said courts may question the Department of Health's order on whether Wolf is invoking his own authority.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that everyone mask up in schools and day care centers, regardless of vaccination status.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to the president, weighed in on the issue Tuesday morning.
"Even though there are, you know, some government leaders locally who are trying to push back on that, we have to get the school system masked," Fauci said.
Public comments will not be heard at Tuesday evening's meeting in Hamburg. Anyone from the public will be able to comment at the next board meeting on Sept. 13.