DANVILLE — If Pennsylvania school districts don’t follow the state Department of Health mandate requiring everyone in schools to wear masks, they could face serious legal consequences, a school board attorney said Tuesday night.
Danville Area School Board solicitor Jennifer Dambeck said most school districts made mask wearing voluntary before the state mandate went into effect on Sept. 7.
“Because the Department of Health is a subsidiary of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the mask mandate has the weight of law,” Dambeck said.
She said the health department order supercedes the district’s health and safety plan that included optional mask-wearing. There are a few exceptions, such as if the face covering would either cause or exacerbate a medical condition, mental health condition or a disability.
She said court challenges already have been raised, but they still are pending.
“Until a court says otherwise, we will continue to follow the mandate,” Dambeck said.
Board President Chris Huron held up a letter the state Department of Education sent to districts that stated one school district, whose identity was redacted on the paper, did not intend to comply with the mask mandate. The letter states that failure to comply with the order will subject that or any district’s school officials to penalty provisions of the Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955. The letter continues that failure to follow the mandate also exposes school officials to personal liability, lawsuits from those who may be affected by the noncompliance with the order, including children who may become ill as a result of the district’s violation or disabled children who are unable to attend school because of the district’s failure to follow the order.
Some districts’ liability insurers also have explored canceling coverage as a result of districts’ purposeful violation of the law, and those violations could affect workers’ compensation claims coverage and premium calculations, the letter states. In addition, it continues, districts that do not comply could be referred to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for investigation.
Following that presentation, parent Richard Brown said he discovered a 15-minute test for COVID-19 and presented information to the board.
Another parent, Peter Gorney said, though, he was gathering signatures on a petition under a law called RSA 197:2 to call for a special board meeting to make masks optional. He claimed COVID tests had a 97 percent failure rate.
“It’s all a scam,” Gorney claimed.
Dambeck said after the meeting she did not have personal knowledge of the law.
“I saw it floated around by other anti-masking groups,” she said.
A check online of RSA 197:2 showed it listed under New Hampshire statutes.
As for not following the mask mandate, Dambeck said, “School districts should do what they’re required to do.”
She admitted that was not easy because of polarization and freedom of choice supporters.
“This wasn’t something created by the school district,” she said.