PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - With some school officials questioning the state's mandatory school mask mandate taking effect next Tuesday, KDKA asked Jon Delano, who is also an attorney, to examine the mandate and what could happen if a school district ignores it.
Many school solicitors agree that the state's Disease Prevention and Control Act gives the health secretary authority to issue a mask mandate to control the spread of a communicable disease. While there are some issues, ignoring the mask mandate is not one of them.
"Those school districts that have disregarded an order from the Department of Health open themselves to significant liability," says Matt Mangino, a school solicitor and former Lawrence County District Attorney.
If a child, for example, dies of COVID because a school ignored the mandate, school officials and even district taxpayers could be on the hook for lots of money.
"Often communicable diseases and especially COVID-19 have been exempt from insurance coverage," says Mangino.
But Mangino says the mask mandate order is confusing.
For example, there's an exception requiring a school to "provide reasonable accommodations for individuals who state they have a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that makes it unreasonable for the person to maintain a face covering."
"That order does not say you need to have medical documentation of a medical condition or some disability. It says that an individual states," notes Mangino.
Another problem: the order requires schools to enforce the mandate without explaining how to do so.
In fact, one section specifically says, "A School Entity should not . . . restrain, use force, or physically remove teachers, children/students, staff, or visitors who refuse to comply with this Order."
"A student comes to school without a mask and says, 'I'm here to learn and I'm going to my classroom,' and goes down and sits in the algebra class, an administrator, a teacher, a school resource office cannot go in there and physically remove that student from the classroom," says Mangino.
Mangino says that could make it tough to enforce the order.
"I think the secretary of health is trying to prevent any physical confrontation in terms of this order, but at the same time they're muddying the waters in terms of the interpretation of how you enforce this," he says.
KDKA reached out to the Health Department for a clarification, but no one was available to talk. They simply repeated that failure to comply could subject school officials to both personal liability and penalties.
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