Some parents, teachers ‘frustrated’ SLC schools can no longer require masks

Jan 23, 2022, 10:33 PM | Updated: 10:49 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — As students and educators in Salt Lake City head back to in-person school Monday, they’ll do so without the mask requirement the district’s had in place throughout the pandemic.

The Utah Legislature overturned the mandate Friday, meaning the district can no longer require masks or enforce mask-wearing.

It’s a first for Salt Lake City schools in nearly two years, and comes after the district spent the prior week holding class virtually.

Salt Lake City schools, like many others around the valley, went remote last week, following the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, because of a surge in COVID-19 case counts that sent many schools over the threshold.

That means case counts reset to zero Monday, as everyone starts fresh.

“I can’t imagine what it’s going to look like,” said Ginny Goldberg, the parent of a high schooler and fourth grader.

While Goldberg’s fourth grade son attends a private school with a mask rule still in place, her high school son will show up to class without any requirements for his teachers or classmates.

“I was angry,” she said of the legislature’s decision. “I feel like my children are in harm’s way now. They’re completely unprotected, and I feel like the staff and the teachers and everybody, all the adults in building, are just as equally unprotected.”

High schools have struggled to stay below the COVID-19 case count threshold.

Goldberg’s worried it’ll only get worse.

Parent Elizabeth Payne — whose three children are in ninth, sixth, and third grade — expressed the same sentiment.

“The past three weeks have been chaotic, with so many students and teachers out sick, that we all returned to online school last week. (And this was with everyone masked.) It seems counterintuitive to remove the masks now,” she said.

Many educators are also concerned.

“Rescinding the mask mandate really was kind of just a slap in the face for educators,” said James Tobler, president of the Salt Lake Education Association. “There’s a lot of very frustrated, overwhelmed, anxious teachers out there in the Salt Lake District right now.”

Tobler, who is a high school social studies teacher and parent of a high schooler, explained that the frustration he’s hearing from other educators focuses on more than just the mandate overturn.

“Teachers just aren’t feeling support from our state legislature,” he said. “I mean, they get rid of the Test-to-Stay. They just kind of keep lowering the bar, right? Making it more difficult and dangerous for teachers to be at school.”

He described how teachers may still ask students to keep masks on during class. It’s what the Salt Lake City School District as a whole is recommending, even if they can’t enforce it.

“That’s one of the tools that we have to keep our school community safe, and we certainly encourage everyone to continue doing that,” said Yándary Chatwin, spokesperson for the Salt Lake City School District.

Chatwin also said they strongly encourage people to keep up-to-date on vaccinations and boosters.

In addition to being a parent, Goldberg also works at a Salt Lake City middle school as a paraprofessional.

“A lot of parents are calling into the school where I work who are really concerned about the safety of their students, their children, in our school,” Goldberg shared. “And we don’t know what to tell them.”

While there is not an official mandate in place any longer, parents like Payne will keep their own rules for their children to abide by.

I don’t understand how what should be a public health issue has turned into a political issue. My three children will keep wearing their masks,” she said.

Goldberg said she and her high school son will also continue to wear their KN95s.

She’s anxious about how the next few weeks will go.

“I hope the masks that people do choose to wear will be helpful,” she said. “And I hope that this omicron variant blows through quickly.”

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Some parents, teachers ‘frustrated’ SLC schools can no longer require masks