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Fiona Spas rearranges a window display of face masks for sale at iconoCLAD in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 26, 2020. On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert approved requests from Salt Lake County and Summit County to require that masks be worn in public in those two counties.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News, File

2 southern Utah districts allow parents to exempt students from school mask mandate without doctor's note

By Jacob Klopfenstein, KSL.com | Posted - Apr. 23, 2021 at 11:45 a.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — Two southern Utah school districts have decided not to require a doctor's note for students who want to be exempt from mask requirements, instead allowing parents to simply notify them that their child needs an exemption.

Kane County and San Juan County school districts now allow parents to notify the district that their student has a medical condition and should be exempted from wearing a mask. The Kane County district board announced the change on April 13, and San Juan's school board announced on April 15.

Utah school districts have the authority to make that decision under the Utah Department of Health's school mask mandate health order relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order, which will be in place until at least June 15, says schools "may require" students or parents to provide a note for a mask exemption from a medical professional, but it's not required.

"This basically puts the moral compass at the parent level," San Juan School District Superintendent Ron Nielson told KSL.com.

The mask mandate requires that students and anyone else on school property or a school bus wear a mask, with a few exceptions. Children under 3 years old, people who are unconscious or otherwise wouldn't be able to remove a mask unassisted, people with medical or mental health conditions, people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and people with an individualized education program, or IEP, can be exempt from wearing a mask.

A state health department official said the state wanted to give individual school districts some flexibility. So, the order was written to give them the option to require a doctor's note for a student's exemption or not require one.

There was some pressure from the San Juan County community to allow parents to notify the district of their child's mask exemption, Nielson said. If a situation arises where the district isn't satisfied with a parent's explanation for why their student needs an exemption, the school might ask the parent for more information, he added.

Nielson said schools in the district will continue to clean classrooms and monitor directional movement in the building to prevent further spread of the virus.

"We will continue all precautions as we have been," he said.

The district is also continuing to follow the state's "test to play" protocol, which recommends that students be tested for COVID-19 at least once every two weeks in order to participate in extracurricular activities, according to Nielson.

He added that there are some consequences for students not wearing masks in schools that parents and students should consider. Since not wearing a mask makes students more vulnerable to being infected with COVID-19, students could find themselves quarantined and unable to participate in extracurricular activities.

One school district parent said the action has the potential to put vulnerable populations in the district at risk and might make families feel that sending their kids to school isn't safe.

"So many families have already been affected, and this action now places our children at risk again," said the parent, who asked to remain anonymous.

As of April 16, Nielson said there hadn't been reports from parents who thought their kids weren't safe.

Kane County School District Superintendent Ben Dalton also said there haven't been any reports from parents in the district that they feel their children aren't safe in their school due to that district's decision.

Dalton didn't comment further on the action but cited an April 13 news release posted to the Kane County School District's website.

"The District has concluded that it is appropriate to grant student exemptions on the basis of conditions preventing students from wearing masks based on documentation of those conditions provided by the student's parent," the release says.

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