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Pennsylvania Teachers Union Calls On K-12 Schools To Require Masks

Chris Carlson

Pennsylvania’s largest teachers union has asked the state’s school districts to mandate masks in schools this fall. In a statement released Wednesday, the Pennsylvania State Education Association called for both students and staff to wear masks.

“Masking up is essential to keeping in-person learning going all year,” PSEA president Rich Askey said in a statement. “If we’re going to be able to keep our schools open for in-person instruction all year, we need to make the right decisions now.”

The union, which represents about 178,000 active and retired educators, school staff and health care workers, strongly favors in-person learning over remote instruction. Many have criticized the difficulties of online-only classes.

Most Pennsylvania schools are planning for in-person classes as the school year begins in the coming weeks.

“We know that safe in-person instruction is the best setting for students to learn. For that reason, PSEA wants to see every school in the state start the school year in person, continue in person, and finish in person,” Askey said. “That will be impossible if schools have to close their doors because of a rapid spread of this virus.”

The discussion about mask mandates in schools has become a volatile subject in recent weeks. As COVID-19 cases increase nationwide due to the delta variant, more young people are getting sick.

Askey noted the highly-contagious nature of the delta variant as one reason the union wants to see students and staff masked. PSEA joins local pediatricians also calling for the measure after a nationwide uptick in COVID-19 cases among young children.

“Masking up at school is essential in the face of the surging delta variant that affects young people more aggressively than the original strain of the virus,” he noted.

Children under 12 are not yet approved to receive any of the available vaccines.

State and county officials have left the decision about mask policies up to each district across Pennsylvania. Some, including Pittsburgh Public Schools, have already implemented mask requirements.

Fox Chapel Area Schools also approved a mask requirement for students and staff. The move was met with aggressive response from some parents, one of whom flashed a Nazi salute toward the board, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

While not mandating masks countywide, the Allegheny County Health Department has strongly recommended them for local schools.

"I don't think I can be any clearer," Health Department Dr. Debra Bogen said at a press conference Wednesday. "I strongly recommend that all of our schools follow the CDC recommendations to follow universal masking in K through 12 schools and child care programs."

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald applauded local schools that have already implemented a masking requirement. "We strongly urge following the CDC guidelines for the school districts."

According to Fitzgerald the following districts have mandated masks for staff and students so far: Allegheny Valley, Avonworth, Arlington, Clairton, East Allegheny, Fox Chapel, Gateway, Hampton, Keystone Oaks, Montour, Moon Area, Mount Lebanon, North Allegheny, North Hills, Northgate, Pine Richland, Pittsburgh, Riverview, Shaler, South Fayette, West Mifflin, Wilkinsburg, Woodland Hills and schools part of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said this week it would extend the federal mask mandate for airline travel, buses and trains until mid-January.

This story was updated at 5:15 to include comments from the Allegheny County Health Department.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
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