Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday announced that he will rescind the mask mandate in schools for the last week students are in class, allowing local districts to decide whether to continue to require face coverings as the school year comes to an end.
The mandate would lift starting the first day of the final week of school, which differs among districts. That would be Monday, May 28, for the North Summit and South Summit school districts and Tuesday, June 1, in Park City.
Park City Superintendent Jill Gildea indicated the district will not require masks for the last few days of school, but that the district continues to strongly encourage their use.
She provided The Park Record with a prepared statement attributed to the Park City Board of Education.
“Even though the governor is lifting the mask mandate on June 1 we would like to ask our families to please consider having their children to continue to wear masks for the last three days of school to help ensure a safe ending to our school year,” the statement said.
Jodi Jones, a spokesperson for the South Summit School District, said in an email Thursday that district had come to a similar conclusion.
“At this point we don’t plan to mandate masks the last week of school, but Superintendent (Steve Hirase) will seek input from the Board of Ed at tonight’s School Board meeting to ensure their thoughts are in alignment,” Jones said.
North Summit Superintendent Jerre Holmes did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The North Summit Board of Education met Wednesday, the day before Cox’s announcement during a weekly COVID-19 briefing.
Early Thursday afternoon, Gildea said that she had just heard about the decision.
“We do have active cases currently, so we will work with the best information we have at the time,” Gildea said. Data published by the school district showed seven COVID cases in the district as of Wednesday and a dozen COVID-related absences.
“We appreciate moving toward recovery and normalcy, but also hold staff and student health and safety as of key importance in successfully closing out the year,” Gildea said.
Holmes in early April worried that the North Summit School District would receive backlash for trying to force students to wear masks in accordance with the state policy when the requirement for the general public expired April 10. A few weeks later, after the public mandate had lapsed, Holmes said that the situation was much better than he had feared.
State legislators ended many pandemic-related restrictions last month, but the so-called “pandemic endgame” bill kept the school-based mask mandate in schools in place until June 15.
Cox said ending the mandate earlier was something he’d been considering for weeks.
“There are a lot of people, and rightly so, who want their kids to be able have some time with their teachers. I think about kids in elementary school that haven’t been able to see their teacher’s face and their friends’ faces. That stuff matters. It’s really important,” Cox said.
Cox said he was contacted by a group of superintendents who wanted the state to remove the mask mandate and said that some districts had not had any COVID cases.
Gildea said she was not part of the group that requested the change and Jones said she did not believe Hirase was, either.
Cox said removing the mandate was the right thing to do. He indicated that he had chosen to stop requiring masks the last week of school, rather than immediately, to allow students to opt out who may not want to be in school without masks.
“We also know there are some families and some kids who may be at higher risk, where this will be an unpopular decision with them and their families,” he said. “Again, we have better masks and we still encourage kids to wear masks. But if there are families who feel like that is a situation where they don’t want their kids to be, the last week of school is an opportunity. There’s less going on, most of the testing is done, most of the rigorous academics is done that last week, and so we felt like this was a really solid compromise.”