SALT LAKE CITY — A group of parents suing over a law that severely restricts local health departments from imposing school mask mandates is renewing their request for a restraining order.
In a new court filing, the Concerned Coalition of Utah and the parents ask 3rd District Court Judge Vernice Trease to issue an order blocking a state law that limits emergency health orders. The law allows a local health department to issue a K-12 mask mandate, but it can be overriden by a county council or commission.
That played out in Salt Lake County, where the health department issued a mask mandate for K-6 — students who can't be vaccinated against COVID-19 — only to see the county council override it. The parents sued, alleging that the law passed by the legislature violates their childrens' right to an education under the Utah Constitution.
"Allowing the Health Department to do its job and removing Salt Lake County Council’s authority to veto mask requirements is the best alternative for protecting Plaintiffs, who are at significantly higher risk of suffering severe medical complications from COVID-19 if masks are not required," the parents' attorneys, Greg Skordas and Gabriela Mena, wrote.
Lawyers for Salt Lake County and Governor Spencer Cox have asked a judge to reject the restraining order request and dismiss the lawsuit. In their response, the parents pushed back at claims that they were asking the judge to answer a "political question" and suggestions that the COVID-19 vaccine would soon be available to children.
In the filing, they express hope for getting their children vaccinated — but added they are not hopeful that others will do the same, citing the level of anti-vaccine rhetoric in Utah.
"Moreover, the controversy over mask mandates would almost certainly pale in comparison to the outrage that would follow any attempt to mandate a vaccine in schools. Indeed, the fact that masks are significantly less invasive than a similar mandate for vaccines is a potent rationale for adopting mask mandates in lieu of vaccines, which must be deemed as substantially more onerous even to those who oppose masking requirements," the filing stated.
Judge Trease has yet to schedule a hearing on the restraining order request. So far, Grand County has issued a K-6 mask mandate. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued one for the capital city's schools, citing emergency powers. Summit County institutes one when the threshold of COVID-19 cases in a school rises above 2%.
"Plaintiffs are not asking this Court to order school boards or districts to impose mask mandates. Rather, Plaintiffs are asking the Court to remove the legal mechanisms that allowed elected officials with no medical or scientific expertise to negate the public health orders of county health authorities," Skordas and Mena wrote.
Utah's law restricting mask mandates has led to the state facing an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education.