Will Salt Lake City School District Enforce Mayor’s K-12 Mask Mandate? Yes. Kind of. It is complicated.


With the students returning for the first day of classes on Tuesday, the Salt Lake City School District has asked its administrators to apply the K-12 mask warrant issued by the mayor – for now – as questions persist about to know if it will hold.

Superintendent Timothy Gadson said the district intends to comply with the requirement. But, he admitted, it’s been put in a complicated position: caught between a Democratic mayor wielding emergency authority she deems necessary to protect children from COVID-19 and a Republican-dominated legislature who don’t think she has the power and wants the choice left up to the parents.

“We see how it goes,” Gadson said behind his own face mask as he visited East High and wished the students back.

The district is essentially in political quicksand and could be sued by parents on either side of the issue. Gadson said the district has yet to seek advice from the courts, but could help build a solid foundation in the future.

“We are exploring our options,” he added.

District spokesperson Jason Olsen also noted, “We know the legislature is reviewing this ordinance, like others, and we are monitoring those reviews. “

For now, principals have sent emails advising parents of the order for masks from Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall. And the district has provided guidance to administrators – instead of leaving it to each school – that encourages them to place signs around schools about the requirement and offer masks to students who don’t wear them.

At East High, a flyer on the front door with the school’s leopard mascot reads, “Face covering required. Underneath is a basket of additional medical masks to take away.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sign indicating required face coverings as well as masks is displayed at the gates as East High School welcomes students for the first day of school on Tuesday, August 24, 2021.

The policy stops, however, in forcing anyone to wear one. It’s the same approach the district took last year, when the state mandated masks in all public schools.

In the internal letter sent across the neighborhood, provided to The Salt Lake Tribune, he suggests: “If they refuse, inform them of the mayor’s interim order, inform them of the benefits of wearing the mask, inform them -The only masks are available. if they change their mind. He emphasizes that no one should be humiliated, humiliated or upset for not having a face mask.

And there must be no discipline. East High Principal Pam Pedersen also confirmed that there will be no punishment for students who do not wear masks. No student will be sent home.

Pedersen acknowledged that the app is loose, but said principals are trying to do what they can in a difficult situation. And the district was already between two fires last year for having been the only one in the state to start the year entirely online.

“We’re not going to make a fuss,” she said. “You know the legislature is going to cancel it. It will change and change again.

At East High Tuesday, almost all of the students wore a mask. And most said they liked having the requirement.

“Because it’s mandatory, I think it helped more kids wear them,” said senior Alejandra Aguilar.

“Yes, it keeps us coming back for our senior year,” added her friend, Ana Jaime, as they sat in the dining room.

As seniors, most of their high school experience has been affected by the coronavirus. When they were in second grade, schools first closed in March 2020. In their first year, most events were canceled and much of their education was conducted online in the district.

Now they are back in class and happy to be there. Signs throughout the school highlighted the return of high school features, such as homecoming and football games.

“I think it’s a good choice,” added junior Pamela Hernandez, who wore a gray stretch mask.

All three students are vaccinated. Hernandez said she got used to not wearing a mask after being immunized, but now with the spread of the contagious delta variant, she’s returned to covering her face, even when it’s a little uncomfortable.

“If we take them out then there is a higher chance of catching COVID,” she said.

The variant was also the source of Mendenhall’s decision to create the mask warrant. And the mayor tweeted Tuesday morning about sending his own child to the city school with a mask.

“To all the parents at the Salt Lake City school who took the same trip as me today, I hope you did so with the confidence that the health and well-being of your children is taken care of. in charge, ”she wrote. Some parents responded with appreciation.

Mendenhall issued his order last week. She said she believed she had the legal power to require students to wear masks in schools within city limits – especially since those under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine and that more children were sick with the virus this fall than last year. year.

Under these conditions, she declared that it was a health crisis and an emergency, giving her the power to act.

However, the district has avoided offering any formal support for its mandate. And some lawmakers have suggested that she doesn’t have authority, as the head of the city, over public schools – although there isn’t much they can do now. They say they might try to curb the power of city mayors in the future, and that kind of potential return on investment worries city council members.

Earlier this year, the legislature banned school districts from enacting their own mask mandates. Instead, any face covering requirements in schools must be a recommendation from a county health department, with the local county governing body having the power to repeal them.

The only district that has successfully gone through the defined process is the Grand County School District in southeast Utah. Summit County has said it will issue a mask warrant for students if transmission rates exceed 2%.

The Salt Lake County Department of Health had previously attempted to impose a mask requirement for schools in the county. But the order, issued by its director of health, Dr Angela Dunn, was rejected earlier this month by county council on the basis of parties, with Republicans opposing it and many parents complaining of them.

The requirement would have covered five public school districts – Salt Lake City, Jordan, Canyons, Granite and Murray – as well as all charter schools in the county. Mendenhall had previously expressed support for the measure.

Now, Mendenhall’s mandate applies only to the Salt Lake City School District and all charters within the capital city limits.

District school board member Mohamed Baayd said he was happy the mayor intervened. He has three children in the district, including two daughters at East High.

“I am so proud of the mayor for being open and taking bold action in the name of security,” he said Tuesday. “Our more than 20,000 students know the mandate of the district. And we will obey the law where we can.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) East High School students crowd the halls for the first day of school, Tuesday, August 24, 2021.

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