Pennsylvania officials outline efforts to keep kids in school despite COVID-19 delta variant

"The goal is... not just to start the year with kids in school, it's to keep the kids in school," said Gov. Wolf.
NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Pennsylvania officials gathered at a Montgomery County elementary school on Wednesday to outline steps being taken to keep kids in school.

"The goal is... not just to start the year with kids in school, it's to keep the kids in school throughout this year," said Governor Tom Wolf.

With masks on, government and education officials in the auditorium of Hancock Elementary School in Norristown touted the commonwealth's mask requirement as a key component of keeping children and staff safe.

This is a school district that was virtual for a large chunk of last year.

Now they're back five days in person.

"We know that vaccinations work. Get a vaccination. We know that masks save lives," said Becky Pringle, President of the National Education Association.

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As millions of students head back to school, health officials say the United States is facing its most concerning surge yet.

In addition to a mask requirement for Pa. schools and childcare facilities, Wolf said free testing will be offered to schools K-12, along with vaccine clinics for schools that request them, and $4.9 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan will be available to districts.

But in Quakertown, parents protested the mask mandate Wednesday morning, announced last week by Pennsylvania's acting secretary of health.

Several Republican lawmakers and schools have filed a lawsuit in commonwealth court fighting the order, and Republican lawmakers plan to return to session early this month to respond with legislation.

In New Jersey, several districts - including Toms River Regional and Lacey Township - have made masks optional this week in school spaces without air conditioning due to excessive heat.

Heat is one of the exceptions laid out in Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order requiring masks in New Jersey schools, announced about a month ago.

"As I've noted before, masking is not a forever thing. But it's what we need to do to rely upon now as the delta variant continues to impact communities and many of our students," said Murphy during Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing.

When asked how schools should handle students who refuse to wear a mask, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Noe Ortega said schools have been encouraged to use the same policies and disciplinary action used for other pre-existing rules in school.

RELATED: Schools across Delaware Valley are scrambling due to bus driver shortage
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BUS DRIVER SHORTAGE: School districts across the Philadelphia region are dealing with a bus driver shortage. Some employers are offering sign-on bonuses and other benefits to find help.

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