SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 ) – Mask-wearing in Utah schools has been a controversial topic since mask mandates were implemented. With school starting back up soon, national organizations are making their recommendations on wearing masks in the classroom.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all students mask up at school regardless of vaccination status. This advice differs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who recently announced fully vaccinated individuals don’t have to mask up in the classroom.
Not all K-12 students are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and the inability to track students’ vaccination status is why the APP said all children should be masking up this fall.
The Utah Education Association said they support children masking up if they’re not vaccinated.
Vice president Renee Pinkney said as a member and a high school teacher, she sees the health benefits to mask-wearing.
“My preference for me, going back to school will be to wear a mask until we have a really good understanding of the situation on the ground so that I am making sure I am keeping myself safe; We know that there are breakthrough cases, and making sure my family and my students are safe,” she said.
In a special legislative session, the Utah legislature passed a bill putting a stop to mask mandates in schools.
As parents send their students back to school, many have differing views.
For parent Jordan Hunter, he said he’s listening to the experts, who he believes know what’s best. Because of that, he will have his eight-year-old daughter mask up in class.
“Those kids are in such tight, close quarters and they’re recommending that they get vaccinated and wear masks to try and stop the spread,” Hunter said.
He continued to say he plans to get his daughter vaccinated when she’s eligible.
“I still plan on her getting the vaccine when it’s made available to her age group, but I will probably still have her wear a mask, based on what the pediatricians are saying,” Hunter said.
For Milana Boss, she said her daughter has struggled to wear a mask this last year.
“To see my three-year-old daughter who’s actually being raised bilingual and who’s learning to play and learning to read lips, and learning to interact with people socially, struggle due to the masks,” she said.
Boss is both a parent and a fifth-grade teacher.
“As a teacher, we have seen that really not many students were affected last year with COVID,” she said. “With the options of the vaccine right now and most of us teachers and staff vaccinated, I don’t see why we should see mask mandates continue.”
Boss continued to share examples of student’s not properly wearing their masks at school.
“There were students who would put holes in their masks and eat their Cheetos,” she said. “Students wear masks in class, but the second they leave the classroom, they take the mask off.”
Data collected by the Utah Department of Health and University of Utah shows between Nov. 30 to March 20, Utah K-12 schools tested 165,078 students, and 59,552 of them tested on more than one occasion. Of all the tests, the study shows 1,886 students tested positive for COVID-19.
But counting students, teachers, and other/unknown, UDOH data reports nearly 40,000 COVID-19 cases were reported in the 2020-2021 school year.
As students go back to the classroom in the coming week, Pinkney said no matter where people stand on this topic, to remember not “one size fits all.”
“This divisiveness just indicates that we have differences in different communities,” she said. “We have different situations, and we need to go community by community, in terms of making these decisions about mask-wearing.”
Both Hunter and Boss agree everyone has the right to their own perspective.
“I think everybody’s gotta make up their own minds about what they’re going to do. And I think the science and evidence points to mask-wearing and vaccines being safe and effective,” Hunter said.
“I think it’s fine for parents who choose to have their kids wear masks and to have that choice,” Boss said.
While masks cannot be required in schools, they’re an option for students and teachers.