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Utah County commissioners on opposite sides of facemask mandate

UTAH COUNTY – Two Utah County commissioners appear to be at odds over a request to loosen the state’s facemask mandate for school kids.  One commissioner wants to ask Governor Gary Herbert to allow for exemptions, while the other says the mandate already has enough flexibility.

Commissioner Brian Lee sent an email to county residents saying, “Because I trust parents and teachers, I am requesting that Governor Herbert grant Utah County a compassionate exemption to the statewide mask-wearing mandate for all K-12 schools.”  He plans to bring the matter up for a vote during Wednesday’s commission meeting.

When fellow Commissioner Tanner Ainge got word of this email, he admits he was extremely worried.  He says his email inbox was flooded with messages from people concerned about Lee’s proposal and about a supposed rally Lee was going to hold before the meeting.  Ainge says as COVID-19 cases continue to climb, fellow commissioners shouldn’t be encouraging large unmasked gatherings.

(Commissioner Tanner Ainge’s response upon hearing about Commissioner Bill Lee’s proposal. Credit: Tanner Ainge)

“I think most people who are advocating for the mandate just want to know that leaders of communities are supporting and trying to get the message out that we need to wear masks,” Ainge tells KSL.

Ainge says he has been getting push-back from both sides of this argument, adding that a lot of people are telling him they don’t want their kids to be forced to wear a mask, citing families should have the freedom to decide when their children will wear one.  Ainge believes the governor’s mandate already gives educators plenty of wiggle room to make exceptions when they have to.

“They do allow for some adaptations, flexibility and exceptions where appropriate,” he says.

However, Lee says many people got the wrong idea about what he would actually request.  Lee says he’s in favor of kids wearing masks, and he isn’t going to ask for a total exemption.  He believes the facemask mandate is too strict and doesn’t allow teachers the ability to talk with parents about the needs of each individual child.

“That’s what I’m asking for, that we have an opportunity to have those conversations,” Lee says.

For instance, what happens if a child is having an emotional breakdown and needs to take the mask off?  What happens during lunch?  What are the rules when it comes to band or choir practice?  He says these are questions that commissioners haven’t been able to ask, yet.

Lee says, “I know that school districts, the administration, the teachers… they are having those conversations.  We need to trust those conversations will produce good results.”

Also, Lee says he isn’t holding any kind of rally.  He say a group of people will be meeting outside right before Wednesday’s meeting and he plans to tell them what their rules are and how they can respectfully engage with the commission.