WCSD Attorney Files Notice of Proposed Settlement; Special Board Meeting Set for Monday

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ERIE – The Warren County School District attorney has filed a notice of proposed settlement in federal court that would end a lawsuit brought against the district over its stance on mask exemptions and discipline.

The WCSD has set a special meeting for Monday, Nov. 22, to vote on the proposed settlement. The special meeting will take place following the conclusion of the regularly scheduled committee meetings Monday night.

Committee meetings begin at 6 p.m. and both the committee meetings and the special meeting will be held virtually.

As a result of the settlement notice, judge Susan Paradise Baxter granted the third continuance for the evidentiary and preliminary injunction hearing. The hearing had been rescheduled for Monday and has been rescheduled for Dec. 20 at 10 a.m. in Erie.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Erie on Oct. 4. The defendants named in the suit are the Warren County School District, the WCSD School Board as an entity, and each member of the school board as an individual.

The plaintiffs include nine minors, eight of whom are WCSD students, and their parents. One or more of the students either have disabilities and/or are under the age of 12 and unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The suit arose due to the action taken at the Sept. 13 school board meeting. That night, the board voted to adopt a measure that would allow parents to claim an exemption from the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s indoor mask order without substantiation from a medical professional.

That measure, along with another that called for an “only warnings” policy for those who violated the mask requirement on district transportation, was rescinded during a special meeting on Oct. 8.

The settlement comes on the heels of a Commonwealth Court Panel ruling the state order was invalid because interim State Secretary of Health Allison Beam overstepped her authority when she issued the order. Commonwealth Court Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon added that the court was lifting the stay on the order, which went into effect when the state appealed the decision, on Dec. 4.

The state could issue a new emergency regulation to keep the mask order in place while the appeal process plays out in court. Oral arguments in front of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are scheduled for Dec. 8.

Gov. Tom Wolf had previously announced the state “anticipated” the order would be lifted Jan. 17, 2022 and school mask decisions would revert back to each individual school district.