SALT LAKE CITY — Lifting Utah's statewide mask mandate on April 10 will be "deeply problematic" for schools, a member of the Utah State Board of Education predicted Thursday.
Molly Hart, who is also a middle school principal in the Canyons School District, said she is concerned how schools will continue to enforce mask requirements after the statewide mandate terminates April 10, as directed under HB294, recently passed by state lawmakers.
The bill is on Utah Gov. Spencer Cox's desk where he can sign it into law, allow it become law without his signature or veto it. However, the governor has said he supports HB294, which was negotiated among lawmakers, the governor's office and the Utah Department of Health.
The bill states that the mask requirement will continue to pertain to gatherings of 50 people and more. It preserves some health restrictions for K-12 schools and it does not restrict businesses from requiring them. County governments may adopt their own mandates.
"As a practitioner, I'm not sure how to advise constituents or my own staff, when students wear a mask in school but go to Target or the movies or whatever and don't have to. I am deeply concerned about the difference between the two. I don't know if we can do anything about that. I just don't even know how I give instructions on the last two months of school. It is that dire," she said.
Hart said she "fully expects that students will abandon their masks. I feel like parents will abandon their masks. And I'm not sure what type of guidance that the state board will give schools or administrators. I cannot express how deeply problematic this is right as we go into standardized testing time, to the point where I don't know if it can be done."
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson, responding to Hart's concerns, said, "I hear you, board member Hart," noting that she expressed concerns to a legislative committee when an early version HB294 was considered.
Dickson said Cox has been "doubling down" to ensure the public is aware that the school mask mandate remains in place through July 1.
Even the most compliant are at the ultimate breaking point with the mask.
–Kristan Norton,Utah State Board of Education
"One of the things I think will help when schools start planning spring events, graduation, other activities, I'm already seeing plans that have been floated around by some of our LEAs (local education agencies) for those events that require a mask. So I think there will be multiple ways to make sure that that message gets out there," she said.
However, "I think the enforcement certainly is a challenge because when you have a state that has, one knows, loosened up on a mask mandate on certain conditions, and it seems that it would follow everywhere, but businesses will still be requiring masks," Dickson said.
Board member Brent Strate, who is also an educator, said he shares Hart's concerns.
"I have so many of my students, for example, that work in restaurants and fast food places and I'm going to tell them they have to wear their masks in school?"
Board member Jennie Earl said transmission of COVID-19 cases in school, particularly elementary schools, has been low and many Utah educators are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
"I think we're going to see increased pressure from families and others pushing back and asking what is this about and why we're doing it," she said.
Earl said students would benefit from being able to see their teachers' faces "and being able to get engaged that way."
Board member Kristan Norton concurred. "Amen, amen and amen. Even the most compliant are at the ultimate breaking point with the mask."