Two women in Chester County have filed court petitions seeking the removal of ten school board members in two districts arguing that the members abused their positions by enforcing mask mandates even after the Pennsylvania supreme court struck down a statewide mandate, and after the Covid-19 emergency in the commonwealth had expired.
Beth Ann Rosica filed the complaint against five members of the West Chester Area School and Shannon Grady filed hers against members of the Downingtown Area School District.
“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated that [Department of Health Acting Secretary] Allison Beam’s order for masks for kids in school was illegal. So, there’s absolutely no authority for these school board members to mask our children,” Rosica said.
“Because we’ve continued to ask them, plead with them, beg with them, emailing them, calling them, speaking at school board meetings, it all falls on deaf ears and they continue to have masking mandates for our kids that we feel that the only recourse that we have is to have the judge remove those school board members for voting to mask our kids.”
Rosica told Broad + Liberty she is bringing the action on her own behalf, and not in conjunction with Back to School PA, a political action committee she works for, which last year promoted school board candidates committed to maintaining as much in-person schooling as possible.
‘… We feel that the only recourse that we have is to have the judge remove those school board members for voting to mask our kids.’
Both women grounded their claims in Section 318 of the Pennsylvania School Code, which provides the court with authority to order the removal of certain board members, and both petitions cite the Act’s “neglect of duty” clauses.
A spokesperson for the West Chester Area School District said the district did not want to comment on a legal matter pending before a court. Request for comment to Downingtown Area School District was not returned.
Both districts have nine-member boards, so if the petitions were successful, they would remove a majority of the members in each district.
In early December, the Democratic-majority Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously struck down a school mask mandate by then-Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam and Governor Wolf’s administration.
That ruling hinged in large part on the outcome of constitutional amendments approved at the ballot box in 2021 that stripped Gov. Wolf of some of his executive powers to renew emergency declarations.
But the court also chafed at other issues, for example when, Beam and her lawyers argued that measures providing for modified quarantine in the Disease Prevention and Control Law provided the health department with wide latitude to direct the conduct not only for those infected, but across the general population.
“Given the prolific nature of this virus, the manner in which it is transmitted by asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals, and the large number of infected individuals in society, the possibility of exposure to an infected person at any given time is high…We are, therefore, all ‘contacts’ as defined by the regulation,” Beam argued in the department’s brief.
The court rebuffed that idea.
“Taken to its logical conclusion, the Department’s bald assertion that we are all ‘contacts’ would transform emergency disease control measures into enduring, government-mandated fixtures of daily life. With respect to endemic disease, such an approach is susceptible of no limiting principle.”
One of the attorneys who brought the suit against the administration “said he anticipated some districts that keep masking requirements intact would face legal challenges over whether Pennsylvania law ‘delegates to school districts’ the right to do so,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The petitions, therefore, would appear to need to answer two questions: first, whether school districts have the legal authority to impose mask mandates, and if not, whether the board members were then negligent in their duties by not repealing them.
The health and safety plan for WCASD was approved in August, before the Wolf administration issued its statewide school mask mandate and the subsequent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling. Rosica said she believes the original mandate by the district was illegal, but that the legal developments ought to have forced a course correction.
“Our hope is that the judge will recognize that and realize that this isn’t an argument about science. This isn’t about what works or what doesn’t work. This is a legal issue: either they have the authority to do it, or they don’t. And we believe that they do not have the authority. And we’re hoping that the judge agrees with us,” Rosica said.
Rosica also said she’s been in touch with parent groups in other nearby districts who may be ready to file their own petitions soon.
Using Section 318 of the Pennsylvania School Code to oust a sitting member of a school board is rare, but not without precedent.
In 2016, residents in Manheim Township in Lancaster County sought to remove a board member after leaked audio sparked questions as to whether the board member had intentionally violated the state’s Sunshine Law.
That individual survived the challenge, but later did not run for re-election.
As the winter wave of the Delta variant of Covid-19 appears to have peaked, several states have announced they intend to roll back or abandon their student mask mandates. Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky responded by saying “now is not the moment” to ditch mask wearing in schools.
“Right now our CDC guidance has not changed … We continue to endorse universal masking in schools,” she said to Reuters last week.
Disclosure: Beth Ann Rosica has previously authored opinion pieces at Broad + Liberty in the capacity of a Chester County Parent.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at email@example.com, or use his encrypted email at firstname.lastname@example.org. @shepherdreports