SLC Mayor Mendenhall Issues Mask Order For K-12 Schools

Aug 20, 2021, 11:18 AM | Updated: 9:12 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she has issued an emergency order requiring masks in the city’s K-12 schools.

Mendenhall released a statement on the issue Friday, saying a majority of the city’s school board has privately told her they want her to issue the order.

“As mayor it is my responsibility to do everything I can to keep our city and our school district from going down the tragic and dangerous path many others are already on. With the health of our children, our community and our health care workers in mind, I am issuing this order,” Mendenhall said. “Kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated but are required to be indoors in school all day. In our county, only 50% of kids between 12 and 17 are vaccinated. That’s just not enough to protect these kids, their families and the community at large.” 

Salt Lake City students return to the classroom on Tuesday.

The order requires all staff, visitors, members of the public, teachers and students attending kindergarten through grade 12 at a public, charter or private school in Salt Lake City to wear a face mask when in any indoor area of the premises, on school-provided transportation or attending an indoor school-sponsored activity, or outdoors on school premises when social distancing is not possible.

Exceptions include:

  • While outdoors if the individual is maintaining at least 6 feet of physical distance from any other individual from a separate household;
  • While actively eating or drinking, provided that the individual remains in place while eating or drinking;
  • While alone or only with other members of the same household in a room, cubicle, school-provided transportation, or similar enclosure;
  • When communicating with an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing if:
    • Communication cannot be achieved through other means; and
    • The speaker wears a face shield or uses alternative protection such as a plexiglass barrier;
  • While obtaining or providing a service that requires the temporary removal of the face mask, such as speech therapy services;
  • While actively performing as an athlete at a school organized or school-sponsored athletic event;
  • While exercising or engaging in athletic training while:
    • Outdoors; or
    • Indoors and maintaining at least 6 feet of physical distance from any other individual from a separate household;
  • While swimming or on duty as a lifeguard; or
  • While rehearsing for or giving an educational, artistic, cultural, musical or theatrical presentation or performance for an audience at a school.

Mendenhall’s office said the city attorney’s office determined it is within her legal capacity to declare this local emergency and issue orders related to it to protect public health and safety.

“Our school board is a locally elected governing body charged with making educational and safety decisions for our district’s children,” Mendenhall said. “Unfortunately, and despite all the evidence that masks protect children and the adults who care for them, this issue has become politicized to the point that elected bodies across the country, and in the state of Utah, worry about retribution if they take a public stand as an organization. … While acting without an official position of the board is not my preferred path, hanging in the balance of this decision is the health of our children, our community and our health care workers.

The Salt Lake City School District issued a statement supporting Mendenhall’s concern for students, saying “the district firmly believes that wearing masks decreases the spread” of COVID-19.

District officials said they are “convinced that our mask-wearing guidelines implemented during the last school year were critical to allowing our schools to remain open. We will continue our current practice of strongly encouraging all students, employees and visitors to wear masks in our schools and buildings.”

The district said it cannot issue a mask mandate under HB1007, also known as Utah’s “endgame” COVID bill, “which clearly states that local education agencies and schools ‘may not require an individual to wear a face-covering to attend or participate in in-person instruction.'”

“Additionally, the Legislature outlined a path for implementing a mask mandate in public schools, starting with a public health official’s recommendation and then approval through the county commission,” district officials said. “The county health director Dr. Angela Dunn recommended a mask mandate for our county, and we support the legislative process and Dr. Dunn’s guidance. We are committed to ensuring a healthy and safe environment for our students again by strongly encouraging everyone to wear masks in our schools and buildings. We must all take collective responsibility for our most vulnerable children.”

The order is valid for 30 days unless an extension is authorized by the Salt Lake City Council by resolution or it is otherwise terminated.

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SLC Mayor Mendenhall Issues Mask Order For K-12 Schools