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“No mask ban in Utah,” say state lawmakers after launch of investigation

FILE: Sydnee Dickson, state superintendent of public instruction, speaks during a COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, July 30, 2020. Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — The Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office is investigating Utah’s mask laws and whether they amount to discrimination against K-12 students with disabilities or health conditions. But some state lawmakers say Utah doesn’t have a masking ban, and the federal agency’s investigation is government overreach.

The Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office sent a letter to State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson. In it, they argued that Utah’s mask laws discriminate against students with disabilities or other health conditions. They said a masking ban in schools prevents those students from safely returning to school.

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“It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

“The department (of education) will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely.”

Utah Sen. Evan Vickers, who co-sponsored Utah’s law on masks, said there’s no mask ban in Utah.

“We have not banned masks across the state,” Vickers told KSL Newsradio’s Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson. “We do have a process in place that can implement that,” he argues.

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Utah law bans school districts from requiring masks but allows county and city health departments to issue health orders, like a mask mandate, with approval from elected officials. Those officials are city or county councils, or a county commission that can extend or overturn a health order after 30 days. The state legislature can also step in.

Vickers said the feds haven’t reached out to learn what Utah’s policies are.

“It certainly is federal overreach,” Vickers said. “And federal overreach without clarification.”

Utah Sen.  Todd Weiler told the Dave and Dujanovic show he, too, sees this as overreach. 

“I think that this is a real stretch from the federal government trying to force states to bow to their will,” he said.   

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State Superintended Sydnee Dickson told Jeff Caplan’s Afternoon News, she’s responded to the letter from the Department of Education.

“Just letting them know that they are erroneously indicating that we have a statewide mask ban, which is not correct. Our legislature has passed that on to local health authority and to locally-elected government,” she said.

“They just have a misunderstanding of what our state law is about.”