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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Two Utah School Districts Have Dropped Doctor’s Note Requirement For Student Mask Exemptions

A man stands under a tent talking to people who are wearing yellow shirts.
Courtesy of Utah Parents United
A group of parents and children protested the ongoing mask requirement in public schools in the Jordan School District on April 10.

Utah’s public school students are required to wear masks in schools, unless they have certain medical conditions. Most schools require a doctor’s note documenting the condition, but at least two school districts in the state are now granting exemptions for students without any proof.

State law says schools “may” require a doctor’s note in order to grant a mask exemption. But that doesn’t mean they have to, according to Tracy Henderson.

Henderson, who lives in Midvale and has a teenage daughter, is providing legal counsel to a group called Utah Parents United.

“It says right there, ‘Schools may require a doctor’s note,’” she said. “So we lawyers looked at it and said, ‘Well, that means they don’t have to. That means parents can sign the exemptions.’”

The state health department agrees with Henderson’s interpretation of the law, but it has clarified the requests must be based on real medical conditions.

“Our hope is that parents will be truthful about whether their child has a medical condition that warrants them being exempt from wearing a mask in school,” said Charla Haley, a spokesperson for the state health department.

Henderson said Utah Parents United was formed almost a year ago in Davis County to push for “parental choice” in public schools across the state. She added the group now has around 10,000 members who support unmasking kids at school.

“If you heard the stories it would just break your heart,” Henderson said. “I was talking to a woman and she started to cry. She said her little baby boy cries every night over the mask… it’s emotional and physical for these kids and these parents.”

Members of the group organized “See My Smile” rallies in schools around Utah on April 10, in which parents brought their children to school without masks. It was a protest against the current state law.

Henderson said parents across the state have been pushing their schools to drop the requirement, including in Kane and San Juan counties.

Last week, both school districts changed their medical mask exemption policies to not require a doctor’s note as proof of a condition.

“The board had received parental requests [that we stop requiring masks] for a number of months,” said Ben Dalton, superintendent of the Kane County School District.

Dalton added the vaccination rate among teachers and the transmission rate in the county also played into the change.

So far, he said around 3% of the district’s 1,411 students, or around 42 students, have received a medical exemption. He declined to say how many students had received an exemption before the change.

Schools in Kane County now require parents to fill out a form to request a medical mask exemption for their child. Meanwhile, San Juan County school district officials are not requiring them to fill out a form or provide any details about their child’s medical condition when making an exemption request.

Superintendent Ron Nielson said the school board voted to change the rule in mid-April, and that “really opened up a wide door” for exemptions. He said medical mask exemptions shot up in schools in Blanding right after the change.

Numbers provided by the San Juan School District show 12 students in Monticello and Blanding schools had received an exemption prior to the change on April 14. Since then, the number has risen to 331. The district said there are currently three active student COVID-19 cases in the northern schools, and there have been 81 total cases among students this year.

The change in policy doesn’t apply to schools in Bluff and on the Navajo Nation in San Juan County, where school is still almost entirely virtual.

Corrected: April 22, 2021 at 9:27 AM MDT
This story has been corrected to reflect the location where the photo was taken.
Updated: April 22, 2021 at 9:27 AM MDT
This story has been updated with data provided by the San Juan and Kane school districts regarding mask exemptions.
Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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