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Parents, schools react to simplified student mask exemption process

Jan 11, 2022, 8:37 PM | Updated: 8:49 pm

BLUFFDALE, Utah — Tuesday marked the second day that students in Salt Lake County were back in the classroom under a new mask order that includes a simplified process for a mask exemption.

“Jordan School District is following clarification from Salt Lake County which says a doctor’s note is not required for student mask exemptions,” the district said in an email to parents. “The County is concerned that requiring a doctor’s note would place undue burden on our healthcare system, which is already overwhelmed.”

The district provided an updated form for parents to request a face covering exemption. The short form requires a parent’s signature and lists three exemption options:

  • Student cannot put on or remove mask without assistance
  • A medical condition, mental condition or developmental disability
  • IEP [Individualized Education Plan] or Section 504 Accommodation

The district said that students are required to wear masks until the exemption form is in place and that forms that have already been submitted will continue to be honored.

“Our practices are fully aligned with the spirit and intent of the health order which gives parents the opportunity to opt their student out of the mask requirement with one of three options,” the district said in a statement sent to KSL-TV.

After getting clarification from the health department, other districts also worked to change their mask exemption forms.

“We did modify that form over the weekend to simplify that process, and if parents do affirm that their child qualifies for those medical conditions, we’re not requiring any additional verification,” Ben Horsley, spokesperson for the Granite School District, told KSL-TV on Monday.

The mask order went into effect Saturday and was issued by Salt Lake County Health Department Executive Director Angela Dunn.

It requires those living or visiting the county to wear a respirator — or well-fitting mask until a respirator is obtained — while in indoor public spaces — including grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, offices and schools.

The Salt Lake County Health Department released a subsequent statement saying that the mask mandate is potentially the last chance to keep students in in-person learning and that residents must do everything they can to protect lives and livelihoods over the next several weeks.

“Salt Lake County Health Department encourages schools to implement the respirator order in the spirit it was intended: to help prevent transmission of COVID by requiring everyone in the school — except those with an exemption listed in the order — to wear respirators,” the statement said.

Over the weekend, the advocacy group Utah Parents United sent a letter to school superintendents in the county, asking them to better inform parents that a doctor’s signature is no longer required for a mask exemption under the new mandate.

The group said parents know their children best.

“So they are able to use their own judgement to decide if their child qualifies for the exemption because of their mental, emotional, or medical condition,” Corinne Johnson with Utah Parents United told KSL-TV in an interview on Monday. “And this is a wonderful thing for parents to be able to make that choice.”

One parent with a child attending school in the Jordan School District expressed concern that the new mask exemption process could be putting his family’s health at risk.

“The schools should be the number one important place for the kids to be wearing masks, especially if they are not fully vaccinated or fully boosted,” Tim Swindells, a resident of West Jordan, said.

Swindells also said he worries that the mask order won’t be enforced and that the exemption process is too easy.

“I’m really concerned that it would be abused,” he said. “That it would be taken advantage of by the parents.”

Tuesday night, the Salt Lake County Council voted to hold a special meeting to address the mask mandate.

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Parents, schools react to simplified student mask exemption process