Students will be required to wear masks even after the state mandate expires
State health order runs through the end of the school year
April 12 will mean business as usual in Summit County’s schools, with masks required just as they have been all school year even though the state mask mandate is set to expire two days earlier.
The change won’t extend inside Utah’s schools, which fall under a statewide public health order that mandates mask wearing for students and teachers until June 15. That’s after the scheduled last day of school day for the Park City, North Summit and South Summit school districts.
South Summit spokesperson Jodi Jones said the expiration of the state mandate April 10 likely won’t change the conditions inside schools or make it harder to enforce the requirement.
“I don’t know that we’ll see that much of a difference,” Jones said. “There will still be the same group of students who don’t like to wear them and the same group who are just used to it and won’t have any issues continuing through the end of the year.”
Park City Superintendent Jill Gildea agreed, adding that students are already used to different rules in school than outside of it.
But North Summit Superintendent Jerre Holmes said he was concerned about enforcing a mask mandate for students and staff that no longer applies to members of the general public.
“I am not opposed to everyone wearing masks, but I’m worried about the backlash we will receive as we try to enforce a mandate that exists nowhere else except in schools,” Holmes said. “This will be a huge challenge for us.”
The mandate derives from a January Utah Department of Health order, which is unchanged by the new state law that ends the statewide mandate. That law allows orders from state and local health departments pertaining to schools to remain in place, though they must be terminated no later than July 1.
State officials decided to offer vaccines to educators early in the vaccination campaign in addition to at-risk groups and first responders, part of a statewide push to ensure in-person learning could continue.
Some teachers have balked at in-person instruction in situations they said did not allow for social distancing. Local officials have touted safety guidelines, including mask-wearing, as key to maintaining a safe school environment and avoiding a return to remote learning.
Now, Summit County’s COVID cases are at their lowest point since early September. Data published Thursday by the Park City School District shows five active cases districtwide. Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said recently that case numbers have dwindled, but that new cases in the county are being driven by spread among children. He has said in the past that schools have not been a site of significant spread.
Gildea said schools have been operating under distinct rules and regulations during the pandemic, indicating the district would continue to enforce the mask mandate for the remainder of the school year.
“As we’ve all learned over the past year in navigating a global pandemic, we must be ready to adjust and adapt as we learn more about the virus,” Gildea said. “We’ve appreciated our educator’s and community’s commitment and focus in keeping students safely in school for the duration of the 20/21 school year as we’re all navigating unchartered waters together.”
May 28 is the last scheduled day of school in North Summit and South Summit, while it is June 3 in Park City.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments from the North Summit School District.
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Jenn Armstrong-Solomon provides the services of her trauma-sensitive yoga nonprofit, Tall Mountain Wellness, free of charge to groups like the Summit County Drug Court and the county jail.