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Butler Area School Board Says They Don't Have The Power To Mandate Masks

BUTLER, Pa. (KDKA) - The debate is raging at school boards across the region. Should returning students wear masks? And should the wearing of masks be mandatory?

The Butler Area School Board was about to take up the debate over mandatory masking, but its solicitor told them it's out of their hands. He says school boards don't have the power to mandate mask-wearing.

Like parents in districts across the region, the subject of mandatory masks for school students in Butler tends to raise the temperature already elevated in the summer heat.

"I think it should be a parent's decision and the advice of their children's doctor," said mother Caitlin Robbins.

"I think schools should have a say on what they want to do as far as masks are concerned," said Nicole McCarty.

But Butler Area School District Solicitor Tom King says they don't.

"There is absolutely no reference in the Public School Code of 1949 to the wearing of masks and there's nothing close to the wearing of masks in the provisions of the school code," said King.

Taking that advice, the district sent a letter to parents saying it'll be up to them whether their child wears one this school year. Attorney King says the state codes governing school districts do not specifically authorize mandatory masking.

"So it's not that it doesn't say you can't do it, it has to say you can do it. And so a lack of something that says you can do it prevents us from doing it," said King.

Nora DiNuzzo, who led a successful fight for a mandatory mask order in the North Allegheny School District, believes the districts and their boards do have that power.

"Why would anyone run for a school board other than to protect the health, well-being and education of the children who reside in that district? If not that, why are people running or serving on a school board?" DiNuzzo said.

Andy Sheehan: "So Pittsburgh, Fox Chapel and Shaler school districts have mandated masks. Are they violating the law?"

Tom King: "I'm not going to reach that conclusion. I'm sure that they've consulted with their own solicitors and I'm sure their solicitors have opined that they could do that. I happen to have a different opinion."

So far, individual districts are making their own decisions, but eventually, the issue of mandatory masking may wend its way into the courts.

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