Should masks be mandated in schools? The debate continues in Utah County

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UTAH COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – The debate over whether masks should be mandated in schools dominated the Utah County Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday.  

The board said it is up to parents to decide how they want to protect their families in the coming school year.  

“What we want is the individual adult and parent discretion on what they do with masks and vaccines,” Utah County Commission Vice Chair Tom Sakievich said.  

The board claims its three commissioners are on the same page as the county’s health department director and the superintendents at Alpine, Provo, and Nebo School Districts.  

“In some other counties, there’s friction amongst the leaders at different levels. Our county doesn’t have that friction,” Utah County Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner said.  

However, healthcare workers, parents, teachers, and Utah County residents lined up to make sure their voices were heard during the public comment portion of the meeting.  

Some speakers were crying, others were holding signs, and even young children took to the podium to give their view on the controversial topic.  

While the board is choosing to take an educational approach, some people believe it should be doing more.

“By allowing each parent to decide whether or not their child wears a mask in school, they’re discounting proven public health mitigation measures right when we need them the very most,” one ER nurse in the valley said.  

“The government I think needs to take responsibility, for people who don’t have access to those three unalienable rights…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness equally. And that’s where temporary and reasonable recommendations and even mandates should be instituted,” a local physician said.  

“It is time for us to be the adults in the room and listen to the evidence that has been handed to us, to give our students a chance at school,” one parent said.  

Other speakers argue that it should be a personal choice that best fits each family’s needs.  

“I beg and plea with you…don’t strip or revoke my adult children from their obligatory duty of their children’s health,” one grandfather said.  

“As a 17 year old kid, my parents should be able to decide for me. I should not have to obey the mask mandate,” one Pleasant Grove High School student said.  

“If we mandate that students wear masks to attend school, we are infringing on our citizen’s rights to make our own decisions and their own life choices. I believe parents should be permitted to make their own informed decisions,” one parent said.  

As COVID-19 cases surge and vaccination rates among teens and young adults remain low, some said it’s clear schools won’t be safe without a mask mandate.  

“I’m just so worried that we’re going to go to school, the virus is going to spread like crazy, and then we’re going to have to shut down again,” one elementary school employee said.  

However, others claim wearing a mask will only make learning more challenging for students.  

“I would always tell them ‘take that mask off, I cannot hear you or understand you’ and that is not education, that is torture,” one Provo school teacher said.  

The Utah County Health Department supports the recommended layered prevention strategies consistent with the Utah COVID-19 Disease Plan and CDC school guidelines, specifically:     

  • Encouraging everyone 12 years and older to get vaccinated for COVID-19      
  • Recommend wearing a mask when indoors    
  • Isolating at home if you test positive for COVID-19    
  • Quarantine and other protective measures after a school exposure    
  • Testing for COVID-19    
  • Staying home when you’re sick    
  • Physical distancing and cohorting     
  • Improving or increasing indoor ventilation    
  • Hygiene practices     
  • Cleaning and disinfection    

COVID testing in K-12 schools was on the agenda for Wednesday’s board meeting.  

However, the board decided to hold that item until the commissioners get more information. 

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