Legislators in Utah passed a measure during a special session on Wednesday that prohibits public schools and universities from enforcing mask mandates in the coming school year.
According to The Associated Press, Republican Representative Val Peterson sponsored the bill. Peterson “said county officials would still be able to invoke mask orders in consultation with local health officials in schools that have coronavirus outbreaks. The legislation only applies to COVID-19 and would not prevent people from wearing face coverings,” per the AP.
“At some point this has to end,” Peterson said. “What this bill is really about is making sure we have those assurances to our students that they can go forward next fall and get right into the school year without the thought of masks and what that might mean.”
The language of the bill explains that it:
…prohibits an institution of higher education from requiring a face covering to participate in or attend instruction, activities, or in any other place on the campus of the institution after the end of the spring semester in 2021;
prohibits the Utah Board of Higher Education from requiring a face covering to participate in or attend instruction, activities, or in any other place on the campus of the institution after the end of the spring semester in 2021; and
prohibits a face covering requirement to participate in or attend instruction, activities, or in any other place on the school campus or facilities in the system of public education after the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
The bill also said that an institution of higher education “may not require proof of vaccination as a condition for enrollment or attendance” unless the institution allows for certain exemptions.
Democratic Representative Jennifer Dailey-Provost made the case that not requiring mask-wearing until a coronavirus outbreak could still risk kids’ lives.
“For me, a single dead child is a child too many,” she said. “The problem with the way this is set up is, absent an actual outbreak, we can’t ask students to wear masks and the whole point of a mask is to prevent an outbreak.”
Republican Governor of Utah Spencer Cox said last week that the state would no longer enforce mask-wearing in K-12 schools for the final week of the academic school year. The bill banning mask requirements now heads to Cox’s desk for a signature or veto.
Mask-wearing in schools has been a controversial issue in Utah and other states. Earlier this week, a 10-year-old boy gave a passionate speech to a Florida school board asking them to put an end to the district’s in-school mask mandate.
As reported by The Daily Wire:
The fourth-grader told the Martin County School District in southeastern Florida that teachers often defy the mask mandate. He recalls one teacher who yells at students if they lower their masks to take a sip of water outdoors. The boy claims that he saw his teacher off school property and recognized her because she takes “mask breaks” at her desk, though she did not recognize him as the same privilege is not given to students.