SLC mayor ‘prepared’ to issue mask mandate for K-6 students pending board support

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Erin Mendenhall

FILE – In this Wednesday, April 8, 2020, file photo, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall wears a face mask as she attends the daily COVID-19 media briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City. A police department vowed Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020, to cooperate with multiple investigations of the shooting of a 13-year-old autistic boy by officers in the Salt Lake City area. Mendenhall said in a statement late Sunday, Sept. 6 that the shooting was a tragedy and called for a swift and transparent investigation. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, Pool, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has announced she will seek a mask mandate for students under the age of 12 in Salt Lake City schools.

While a school mask mandate hasn’t been implemented yet, and will require support from the city school board, Mendenhall stated that she is in favor of a mandate and will green-light the process as quickly as possible.

“My biggest concern right now is with the health of our unvaccinated school kids who are about to start classes in the Salt Lake City School District a week from today, without anything in place to protect them from the pandemic. This is a part of our population that really doesn’t have any choice but to remain unvaccinated, especially K through 6,” Mendenhall said while beginning her thoughts on the matter during a Salt Lake City Council meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The mayor continued to note that elementary school children are especially at risk because they have to remain indoors in close quarters with each other throughout the school day.

“It makes them more vulnerable to contracting the virus and the more contagious Delta variant and spreading to other people and their families and the community at large.”

Citing explosive numbers around the country, especially in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, Mendenhall expressed a desire to get ahead of the pending crisis before it reaches emergency status in Utah.

Before the mandate can be issued, it must first be supported by the Salt Lake City School Board.

“It’s really important to me that our elected leaders in our local school boards play a part in decisions that I may make related to orders in their district,” Mendenhall added before explaining that the next school board meeting is scheduled to take place after the start of classes, which may have resulted in a disastrous start to the year.

Mendenhall continued by stating that a legal analysis by her team found that she was empowered by her mayoral status to declare a local emergency and issue the appropriate orders, in this case, a mask mandate, to protect public health. Although the “Endgame Bill“, which ended the emergency powers enacted by Gov. Spencer Cox still handcuffs certain statewide abilities to impose a mandate, those limitations do not extend to city mayors, according to Mendenhall.

However, a mask order was not issued Tuesday.

James Rogers, who served as the interim school board representative at the city council meeting, moved to hold an emergency school board meeting ahead of the start of school. Mendenhall added that she would be in support of such a measure, calling it “best for everyone.”

The Salt Lake City School District Board of Education released the following statement regarding Mendenhall’s announcement,

The Salt Lake City School District and Board of Education share Mayor Mendenhall’s concern about the health of our students. We’ve seen the effectiveness of mask-wearing in helping slow the spread of COVID-19. Consistent and proper mask-wearing played an important role in preventing any schools in Salt Lake City School District from closing last year.   

The health and safety of our students continues to be our top priority. While we share Mayor Mendenhall’s concern, various state statutes currently appear to limit our ability to enforce a mask mandate. Therefore, we are seeking a legal opinion on what actions a local school board can take regarding masking in schools within the scope of state law.

Classes are slated to begin in the Salt Lake City School District on August 24.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, along with Executive Director of the Salt Lake County Health Department Dr. Angela Dunn attempted to issue a similar mandate for children under the age of 12 in Salt Lake County schools.

That order was ultimately overturned by the Salt Lake County Council by a vote of 6-3.

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