COVID-19 ‘doesn’t follow my child, my choice’: Grand Co. superintendent speaks about masks in schools

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FILE – In this Sept. 2, 2021, file photo, children sit in a classroom at school in Strasbourg, eastern France. Children across Europe are going back to school, with hopes of a return to normality after 18 months of pandemic disruption and fears of a new surge in infections from the highly infectious delta variant of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Jean-François Badias, File)

MOAB, Utah (ABC4) – Grand County School Superintendent Taryn Kay says officials are going to rely on science when it comes to masking – or not – in schools. In a letter to the school community, Kay explains whether or not students should wear masks in the classroom has been “one of the most divisive issues.”

In mid-August, the Grand County School District mandated masks for all K-6 students while indoors. District officials pointed at the lack of a vaccine for those under the age of 12 as the reasoning behind the mask mandate.

In early September, Grand County High School was forced to cancel classes due to a COVID-19 outbreak among students and staff members. Amid the outbreak, officials enacted a mask mandate for all schools in the district starting on Sept. 8.

Parents in Grand County had mixed reactions to the announcement.

“I think a mask is much easier than a ventilator,” one told ABC4 News. “We have all these variants and breakthrough cases we still are not on top of COVID, so anything we can do to get it under control I am all for it.”

“I think when it comes to masks, it needs to be a personal decision,” said another. “We are supposed to live in America. We are supposed to be free and we are supposed to be able to do what we want and if I don’t want to wear a mask and if my kid does not want to wear a mask and cries about it because it makes him uncomfortable I am not going to make him do that.”

In her letter, released Thursday, Kay says one of the statements she hears most often from parents is “My child, my choice.” To which she explains – “Covid doesn’t follow that sentiment.”

“If a child in a classroom is unmasked, and carrying the Covid virus, he/she can cause other students in the class to contract Covid. In that situation, a parent is making the choice for another parent’s child to contract Covid,” she continues.

According to Kay, the school district is working with local health partners and elected officials to review local COVID-19 data. If the data reaches certain benchmarks, a 30-day mask mandate will be enacted.

“The commitment of the four agencies above is that every 30 days current Covid data will be examined and based on that data, the mask mandate will either be renewed or allowed to expire.”

The current mask mandate is set to end on Oct. 8. It is unclear whether that will end or be renewed.

“The goal of GCSD is not to have zero Covid cases. We know that isn’t a possibility. Instead, our goal is to keep students and staff as safe as we can, minimize the number of positive Covid cases, and keep students continuously in school,” the letter continues. “GCSD supports the mask mandate because we know that when students wear masks they are more protected than when they do not. There are fewer absences when a mask mandate is in place. Fewer students have to quarantine. There are significantly fewer cases of Covid and less spread of Covid at school when a mask mandate is in place. The ‘test to stay’ practice that has occurred in many schools and districts in Utah this fall has actually led to increased student absences, increased positive Covid cases among students and staff, and more work for teachers as they are required to provide instruction for their students who are in person as well as those who are quarantined. Recent research from the CDC and ASU has shown that when local metrics dictate that Covid cases are high, schools with mask mandates are better able to provide ongoing in-person instruction for their students. That is the goal of GCSD staff, and why, as long as local metrics indicate the need, we will continue to support a PreK-12 mask mandate.”

To read the full letter, click here.

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