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Salt Lake City begins classes with school mask mandate in effect

West High School on the first day of school, August 24 2021. The electronic sign reads "Masks are strongly recommended." Photo: Paul Nelson, KSL NewsRadio

SALT LAKE CITY — Classes start today in the Salt Lake City School District, and district officials say a mask mandate is in full effect. 

How strictly will the mandate be enforced inside the schools?  Educators say they don’t want to be heavy-handed in sending students home.

Mask mandate in play on first day of school in Salt Lake

Officials with the Salt Lake City School District say this year’s mandate may be more confusing than last year’s. Spokesman Jason Olsen says schools all across Utah required masks last year; this year, only two districts have a mandate. (The other mandate covers Grand County schools.)

Olsen says it could be especially confusing since Salt Lake City has a school mask mandate but Salt Lake County doesn’t.

“We have spent a lot of effort getting the message out to our parents,” Olsen said.  “We just want to make sure our students are able to get an education in a way that’s safe and healthy for them.”

What happens to those who don’t comply?

He acknowledges not every Salt Lake student will want to comply with the mask requirement at school. 

“Both sides of this issue have strong opinions, with some saying, ‘We won’t comply,’ and some saying, ‘This is the best thing, ever, to happen,’” Olsen acknowledged. 

However, he says they don’t plan to be confrontational when a student doesn’t comply.  Masks will be made available for students who forget them, and he doesn’t want to speculate what would need to happen for a student to be sent home.

“Our goal is not to see somebody not wearing a mask and sending them home,” according to Olsen.  “If the student is not wearing a mask in school, we will kindly ask them to put on a mask.  We’ll explain that the mandate from the mayor is in place.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall has received sharp criticism for issuing a mask mandate in schools within city limits.  House Majority Whip Mike Schultz issued a statement saying Mendenhall has no authority over education policy.  The statement reads, in part: 

There is no public safety threat, no disaster, and no threat of a disaster to justify her order mandating masks in schools. She hasn’t been granted blanket authority to do whatever she wants. Her order is NOT enforceable.