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Students will wear face masks

July 8, 2020 Digital Media Exclusive

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When school resumes at the end of summer, students must — with limited exceptions — wear face coverings, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) said Monday. In a statement on the department's website, the PDE said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine's universal masking order applies to adults and children, age 2 and older, in both public and private schools. Beyond public and private schools, the PDE said, the order applies to career and technical centers, intermediate units, boarding schools and detention centers.

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“For the safety of students, staff and families, and to avoid community spread of COVID-19, students and staff are considered to be members of the public who are congregating in indoor locations,” the department's website states. “As such, they are required to adhere to this order.”

As with Levine's order, the PDE interpretation leaves some exceptions. Schools can let students take off masks when they're eating or drinking at least 6 feet apart, seated at desks at least 6 feet apart, or engaged in any activity in which they're 6 feet apart.

Additionally, students with disabilities are not required to wear face coverings, and it is permissible to not wear one when communicating with an individual who is hearing impaired.

Because the department is requiring schools to submit health and safety plans with respect to returning to school during the pandemic, the PDE said they must include mask-wearing in their plans.

Some county districts have discussed mask-wearing for students at return-to-school planning meetings, but many have not reached a decision.

Seneca Valley School District, for example, has discussed masks during at least four return-to-school Steering Committee meetings, but hadn't yet come up with a decision. South Butler County School District will require students and staff to wear masks on the bus and on school grounds, with noncomplying students sent home from school.

Parochial schools

As the PDE has made masks mandatory for all schools, private and religious schools too grapple with how to return during a pandemic.

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh outlined on Tuesday the steps it will take to ensure a “healthy learning environment” for students. The steps include daily temperature screenings for students, teachers and staff as well as mask-wearing, the limiting of visitors and adherence to social-distancing rules.

Michelle Peduto, director of Catholic schools, said the diocese will follow federal and state guidelines and requirements.

“As a faith community committed to our mission, we will respond to the fluid nature of this public health emergency with recommendations that reflect science, consultation with experts and consistency with Catholic social teaching,” Peduto said in a Tuesday statement.

The diocese covers eight schools in Butler County, including North Catholic High School in Cranberry Township and Butler Catholic School in Butler.

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Alex J. Weidenhof

Alex J. Weidenhof