During a special session on Wednesday, the Utah Legislature passed a bill that protects students from mask mandates at school for the next school year. 

House Bill 1007, sponsored by Utah Republican Rep. Val Peterson, seeks to prevent schools and universities from requiring its scholars to sport face masks when they return on campus after the end of the 2020-2021 school year. The bill passed the House vote with 50-24; it then went through the Senate panel with 23-5 approval and is now waiting for Gov. Spencer Cox’s (R) signature to be enacted. 

House Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, reviewed that the legislation was introduced to counter an issue from bill SB195 passed this March that allows local schools to independently require masks wearing without an official order.

According to DeseretNews,  this legislation prohibits government restrictions on gatherings that are meant for religious purposes and “requires reasonable accommodations be provided for certain religious practices or rites.”

In other words, mask mandates could still be issued at school but under the approval of county authorities and local health officials. The law is directed at the Covid-19 pandemic and does not target personal reference for mask-wearing in public. 

“At some point this has to end,” Peterson told the Associated Press. “What this bill is really about is making sure we have those assurances to our students that they can go forward next fall and get right into the school year without the thought of masks and what that might mean.”

The AP added some background that masks mandate had been a controversial topic among parents in Utah, and most disapproved. Earlier this month, the antagonism towards mask-wearing among parents escalated to the point that Granite School District board members had to call on the police. 

Deseret reported that Sen. Kathleen Riebe (D-Cottonwood Heights) wanted an adjustment that mask mandates could still be accepted if the school class or other school group has a high potential of vulnerability to Covid-19 infection. 

Utah Democrat Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost believes that excluding mask-wearing when an outbreak is not happening is concerning. 

“For me, a single dead child is a child too many,” she told AP. “The problem with the way this is set up is, absent an actual outbreak, we can’t ask students to wear masks and the whole point of a mask is to prevent an outbreak.”

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