Editorial | Pennsylvania schools are right to mandate masks

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Reactions by parents to school mask mandates have been harsh in the Pittsburgh area in the past few weeks. A man raised a Nazi salute before the Fox Chapel school board and the Bethel Park school board recieved harsh criticism from parents after changing their stance on an optional mask policy, mandating them for all students and staff.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that Pennsylvania will mandate masks in all schools, regardless of the opinions of parents and individual school districts. Many schools were mask optional, and those that did have mask mandates received criticism. 

Wolf made the right decision to mandate masks. Many students are not old enough to be administered a COVID-19 vaccine, which makes a vaccine mandate not yet feasible for schools. While waiting for a vaccine that can be administered to children younger than 12, there is not much else one can do to protect their child other than to have them wear a mask. 

The debate over mask mandates in Pittsburgh-area schools comes at the worst time. School starts for most districts within the next few weeks and Delta variant cases are higher than ever. Additionally, the number of children hospitalized from COVID-19 just hit a new record number in the United States which means the Delta variant is especially dangerous for kids and young adults.

Regardless of the opinions of parents, schools should follow CDC guidance that all individuals, vaccinated or not should proceed to wear a mask indoors at all times, and outdoors in crowded spaces, such as the recess courts. These rules shouldn’t just be followed for liability reasons, but also just out of care for their student and staff body, which can transmit the disease to others and cause cases to rise.

If nothing else, mask mandates will help to prevent another online school year, in which many children struggled to keep up in their classes, and parents struggled to find childcare for their students attending Zoom classes. Mask mandates will allow students to have a somewhat normal school year, so they can get back to being children again.

Of the 43 school districts in Allegheny County, 70% mandated masks before the Aug. 31 announcement, while the other 13 school districts are mask optional. In those school districts, hundreds of students and staff would have been put at risk. Pittsburgh Public Schools begin their school year on Sept. 3, and had intended to have a mask mandate in place at all schools to protect both students and teachers alike. 

The decision to mandate masks will work toward an in-person school year and puts teachers, children and their families in a much safer position. Pennsylvania schools will not weigh the wishes of anti-mask parents over the lives of the people within their districts.