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Special session update: No masks in Utah schools this fall

Utah's State Capitol (photo: Dan Bammes)

SALT LAKE CITY — Both chambers of the Utah Legislature, meeting in special session Wednesday, voted to prohibit any requirement that students wear masks in schools this fall. The measure, H.B. 1007, passed the Utah Senate in a 23-5 vote with one lawmaker abstaining. 

The item was just one of 22 issues to be addressed in the special session. Budgetary matters, including whether to accept federal pandemic relief funds and how to spend it, topped the agenda. 

No masks in Utah schools this fall

The measure bans both schools and the Utah Board of Education from requiring masks, but a district could still choose to require them if it worked with a local health board or county government. 

Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, sponsored House Bill 1007. He said he hopes it offers kids a sense of normalcy. 

“As we look at this bill, it’s really about the mental health of our students,” he told his fellow lawmakers before it passed. 

Supporters of the bill said if someone is not a direct threat to public health, they shouldn’t have mandates thrust upon them. But critics, like Rep. Melissa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, called the bill hypocritical and incomplete. 

“The sponsor did mention there was no input given at all from any education leaders,” Ballard pointed out. 

Lawmakers voted 50 to 24 to approve the measure in the House, and 23 to 5 to approve it in the Senate. 

School districts still deciding on masks this year

Tuesday, the Salt Lake City School District announced its schools will require masks through the end of the school year. A number of other districts opted to lift requirements for masks after Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said they could choose to do so last week. 

Lawmakers also passed a resolution banning critical race theory from being taught in Utah’s public schools, with 56 “yeas” and 19 lawmakers abstaining from the vote. House Democrats, making up 17 votes, walked out during the roll call in protest of the resolution.