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Politics & Government

Utah Schools Barred From Issuing Masks Mandates For Upcoming Academic Year

Photo of students in masks taking a test.
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Utah lawmakers ban mask mandates in K-12 schools and in higher education after 2021 spring semester ends.

The Utah Legislature passed a bill on Wednesday, that will ban schools' from being able to issue their own face mask requirement next school year.

It comes after Gov. Spencer Cox’s order to end school mask mandates for the final week of the academic year.

Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, said the legislation is meant to signal a return to normalcy for students. He said the bill was an extension of Cox’s order last week.

“We're just trying to make sure that we have the best possible circumstances for our young people to go back to school, so that they can excel academically,” Peterson said.

He said vaccination efforts have gone up, and with children 12 years old and up now eligible for vaccines — the risk for contracting COVID-19 has gone down.

“People are getting vaccinated and they are protected at this point, the vaccination has shown to be 94% effective,” he said. “And so the reason we're saying this is because we are getting into conditions where we feel like we can do this safely.”

Some lawmakers argued against the bill, saying it’s too early to ban future mandates and doing so could hinder schools’ ability to control potential outbreaks. Peterson pointed to previous legislation and said schools would be able to work with local health departments if outbreaks were to occur.

Still, many Republicans took issue with the state setting standards for local school districts.

Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-Davis, who uses an oxygen tank now due to COVID-19, said the bill goes against party standards.

“To me there's no difference between the governor telling everybody to wear masks or us telling people not to wear masks,” Ballard said, “I believe in local control, where it should be held. And for me this issue is a local issue.”

She also criticized Peterson’s lack of input from educational leaders on the legislation.

David Woolstenhulme, commissioner of the state’s Board of Higher Education, said while they weren’t consulted on the bill, it’s a good move.

“I think even though it probably is concerning to some, I do believe that we can work with our legislature if [an outbreak] happens to come up,” Woolstenhulme said.

The legislation still needs approval from the governor.

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