Utah Law Prevents Schools from Requiring Masks During Second School Year of COVID-19
Masks will not be required in schools when classes begin later this month as Utah schools and the state board of education are banned from requiring them for in-person learning or gathering on school campuses under state law passed in May.
Local schools still plan to contact trace and test to stay, if necessary.
North Summit School District Superintendent Jerre Holmes said the district’s priority is to keep children in school and keep everyone safe. He said last year there was a different mentality about masking.
"Our folks were so appreciative that we had chosen to do in-person [learning] and at that point, they were willing to do whatever it took, which meant masking up, but as the year progressed, and as the line that has divided us as a country grew wider, more debate took place, and everyone believes their side of it,” Holmes said. “I just don't think there will be as much appreciation, this year as much as the demand to be able to be in school, with or without masks."
Park City School District Chief Operations Officer Mike Tanner said that the district will encourage face masks for everyone returning to school regardless of vaccination status. However, under state law, masks can't be required by the school district. He said increased air circulation, additional sanitizing, handwashing breaks, and voluntary COVID screening would be in place when schools open on Aug. 19. All protocols used last year will remain except for the masking mandate.
"All of our schools are under 1,500, and at the 1,500-student level, it takes 30 students (testing positive) within 14 given days to close the school,” he said. “So, we'll obviously be collecting those numbers and watching those statistics, and if that happens, we have the option to close the school or keep it open with a test to stay.”
Park City High School Student Council President Kelly Loverso said her classmates are happy with the announcement that mask-wearing is optional.
“I think the safety of the students is the most important thing, and then otherwise, if it isn't a matter of safety, I think it's just a personal opinion and personal choice, and I think every student should definitely have, like, the choice if they do want to wear the mask or not, but I can't assume that most students because most students are vaccinated will not,” Loverso said.
Park City Education Association President Jake Jobe said teachers are most concerned about student safety, especially among younger children, because there is still so much unknown about long-term effects.
"Teachers' primary concerns are always our students, and I think that's the part we're most worried about is just our ability to keep our kids safe and continue to educate them and do both of those things at the same time,” Jobe said. “I think we did a decent job here last year. And it kind of took all the stakeholders to do so. I think the masks were an important part of that. Obviously, the vaccine is a new tool that is really helpful. But I think the Delta variant adds complexity to that, that we didn't necessarily anticipate in May. So, we're now kind of dealing with it again."
Utah State Board of Education Member Carol Lear represents the Park City School District and is disappointed with the mask ban. She said the state board of education has always supported local control, recognizing every community has different needs.
“(The law) made it impossible for a school district or a school to mandate the wearing of masks. I can't even see that the High School Activities Association could mandate that for high school activities,” she said. “It's unfortunate, in my opinion, it gives great lip service to local control, but then the legislature does something like this that makes it impossible for a local governmental entity to make rules for itself."
Lear said the Legislature did not consult the board of education for input on H.B. 1007, the bill that became law.
Summit County Deputy Health Director Phil Bondurant said the law gives local health officers authority to issue mask mandates with the support of the county council. It applies to school districts, but a mask order would be limited to 30 days or longer if approved by the Legislature.