Federal Court Rules Pennsylvania’s School Mask Mandate Constitutional, Rejecting Challenge

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In another setback to those seeking to challenge the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s mask mandate in schools, a federal court has found the order is constitutional.

The court noted in Oberheim v. Bason, No. 4:21-CV-01566 (M.D.Pa.), that “[n]o one except perhaps a bank robber likes to wear a mask—and even then with reluctance, but as a concession to professional attire. But the Constitution does not shield us from all things we dislike.” The court then went on to consider and reject the various constitutional arguments made by parents opposed to the mask order.

First, parents argued that the mask order violates the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit. While acknowledging that parents do in fact have such a right under the Constitution, the court noted that it is not an unlimited right. The court further noted various times that courts have held that the right of the parent to raise their children must give way to a school’s need to control curriculum and the school setting. In the context of masks, the court found that the parents’ rights in this regard should give way to the need of the school district to keep the school setting safe.

Second, the court rejected the parents’ argument that the mask mandate is depriving their children of the right to attend school given that nothing the district has done is prohibiting the students from attending. Rather, the court noted, there is a requirement to wear a mask, which is no different than other reasonable requirements in the school setting (like immunization requirements).

Third, the court rejected the parents’ due process claims, finding that because the state issued the order, the local school district was not required to provide due process through a hearing or school board meeting before enforcing it. In addition, the court found that in order to be entitled to due process there must be a constitutionally protected right being infringed upon. For the reasons outlined above, there is no constitutionally protected right implicated so due process was not required.

Next, the court addressed the parents’ argument that the mask mandate violates the student’s right to association. Calling the argument a bit of “a head scratcher,” the court found that the mask mandate in no way limits or prevents students from gathering or associating with one another and thus does not violate any such right.

Notably, the federal court refused to address the legality of the order under Pennsylvania law and presumed that it was legal.

Finally, the court found that the parents in question failed to present any evidence of what harm, if any, the students suffer when required to wear a mask.

While the court’s decision does not provide a lot of practical guidance to school entities, it is notable in that it rejects as a matter of law many of the arguments being proffered by those opposed to mask mandates and joins a growing body of cases affirming a school district’s ability to enforce the mandate.

[View source.]

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