Should School Boards Decide If Masks are Necessary? – Legislative post by UEA Policy Ambassador Tony Zani

Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Tony Zani, literacy coach at Rose Park Elementary School in Salt Lake City School District

On February 18, I spoke to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee about Senate Bill 187. In this bill, a school district or charter school would only need to consult with the local health department before deciding whether or not to enforce mask mandates.

During the discussion, two parents spoke in favor of the bill. They want parents, and by extension their locally elected school board, to decide if masks should be required in schools. Speaking against the bill was a doctor and a representative of the state health department. They prefer that health professionals make decisions about mask mandates.

Chase Clyde, a member of the UEA Legislative Team, appreciated changes in the bill that required LEAs to consult with their local health department, but had not had time to research the changes introduced merely minutes before he spoke.

As a teacher, I spoke against the bill. I expressed that the health department is best suited to make decisions about public health. We don’t let local school boards decide if teachers can smoke in school building. We don’t let local school boards waive requirements for cafeteria staff to wash their hands before serving food. We shouldn’t let local school boards waive mask requirements in schools during a public health crisis.

During the discussion, the senators clarified that the health department should only be viewed as a resource. The senators were clear that they want each locally elected school board to decide if mask mandates should be enforced and school boards should only have to consult with the health department.

I disagree and I think many Utahns do, too. Health departments should make decisions about public health. Local health departments should consult with school districts and charter schools about mask mandates. However, the local health department should make the decision. Let health care professionals make decisions about health care.

If you feel as I do, then please let your legislators know. I am asking my legislators to reject SB187. They should re-write it to give LEA’s a voice in mask mandates but leave the final decision to the medical professionals at the local health department.