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​December 1, 2021

Sending on behalf of the PA Department of Health

We are emailing today at the request of school leaders to provide additional clarification regarding what to expect and guidance to follow when the Order of the Secretary of Health setting forth the school mask mandate (mask order) ends.

On November 30, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the mask order will remain in place pending further consideration of the Court. The Supreme Court will not hear argument on the matter until December 8, 2021, so the mask order will remain in place until at least that date.

Governor Wolf announced that the commonwealth's K-12 school mask requirement is anticipated to end on January 17, 2022.

If the Supreme Court ultimately does not act to rescind the mask order, the Department anticipates that the statewide mask mandate will expire on January 17, 2022. On that date, decisions regarding school masking and other COVID-19 mitigation efforts in K-12 schools return to local school officials, with these exceptions:

  • The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires all passengers and drivers to wear a mask on school buses, including buses operated by public and private school systems. This federal order remains in effect until the CDC indicates otherwise and does not change when the state mask requirement ends.
  • The statewide mask requirement will remain in effect for children, teachers, staff, and visitors working, attending, and visiting preschool, early intervention, prekindergarten, and childcare settings, until further notice. If a pre-school or childcare center is in a K-12 school building, those children and individuals who interact with those children must be masked. This includes children enrolled in PreK Counts, Early Intervention, and Head Start Programs.

K-12 school entities are encouraged to continue to require mask-wearing in schools as recommended by the CDC and possess the authority to require masks in their facilities. Masking in school settings is an effective way of minimizing the spread of COVID-19, particularly in settings where individuals and students are not vaccinated. Without a universal masking policy, there is a risk of increased disease spread and outbreaks within school settings that may necessitate temporary school closures and disrupt in-person learning.

Health and Safety Plans

The federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act requires each local education agency (LEA) receiving ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding to have a Health and Safety Plan addressing how the LEA will maintain the health and safety of students, educators and other staff, and which will serve as local guidelines for all instructional and non-instructional school activities during the grant period. LEAs must review their plans at least every six months and must review and update their plans whenever there are significant changes to the CDC recommendations for K-12 schools.

The ARP Act and United States Department of Education rules require that an LEA's Health and Safety Plan address, among other topics, how the LEA will maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff and the extent to which it has adopted policies on various safety recommendations established by the CDC, including universal and correct wearing of masks.

Each LEA should review its Health and Safety Plan to determine whether changes are needed in light of the expiration of the statewide masking order and the LEA's masking policy as of January 18, 2022. All revisions must be informed by community input and reviewed and approved by the governing body prior to posting online. Health and Safety Plan requirements are posted on the PDE website.

Cases, Outbreaks, and Close Contacts

Ending the K-12 school mask requirement does not change how schools respond to COVID-19 cases in schools, address outbreaks, or report data to the PA Department of Health (DOH). Schools should continue to refer to the following resources:

Sporting Events

Per the statewide mask mandate, children and youth are not required to wear face coverings when participating in sports practices or events. When the state mask requirement ends, individuals attending sporting events in K-12 schools should follow the school's local masking policy.

Vaccination

Vaccination continues to be the best tool to keep students safe from COVID-19, maintain in-person learning, and prevent school closures. Information on pediatric COVID-19 vaccines.

There have been many questions from educators concerning President Biden's vaccination requirement as part of his Path Out of the Pandemic: COVID-19 Action Plan. Earlier this month, the United States Department of Labor announced the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). The ETS and requirements under the ETS do not apply to public K-12 schools.

The ETS covers private employers with 100 or more employees and requires covered employers to take certain actions related to COVID-19 vaccines, testing, and masking. The United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit stayed Implementation of the ETS on November 12, 2021. The United States Department of Labor is the appropriate source for additional information about ETS.

Test-to-Stay (TTS) in Schools

Given the importance of preserving in-person learning, later this week DOH, in partnership with PDE, will issue preliminary guidance for school leaders who wish to adopt a policy of Test-to-Stay in their schools. Test-to-Stay is a practice comprised of regular testing and contact tracing to allow certain close contacts to remain in the classroom, while maintaining other layered prevention strategies, such as universal masking, to reduce the spread of COVID-19.