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Schools prepare for back to school; teacher's union raises concerns

Posted at 4:37 PM, Aug 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 14:25:30-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Students will be heading back to school in just a few short weeks, and things will look different than last school year; most notably, masks will not be required. The mandate ended near the close of last school year and as of now, there are no plans for mask requirements in Utah schools.

WATCH: UDOH recommends all K-12 students, staff wear masks indoors

The Utah Department of Health (UDOH) released COVID-19 guidance Monday for school districts. The Granite School District will be following UDOH’s recommendations, spokesperson Ben Horsley said.

“We are going to be highly encouraging mask wearing and vaccinations,” he said.

PPE and masks will be offered for free to teachers, staff and students, Horsley said. There will be additional cleaning, however not as vigorous as last school year, and a focus on keeping the same kids together. Kids can expect to stay in cohorts and have fewer large group activities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Horsely said.

“They will be with that same group of students going into the lunchroom and they will be with that same group of students out on the playground area,” he said.

WATCH: Canyons School District welcomes hundreds of new teachers from all over the world

UDOHs recommendations include:

  • Encouraging everyone 12 years and older to get vaccinated for COVID-19
  • Wearing a mask when indoors
  • Isolating at home if you test positive for COVID-19
  • Quarantine and other protective measures after a school exposure
  • Testing for COVID-19
  • Staying home when you’re sick
  • Physical distancing and cohorting
  • Improving or increasing indoor ventilation
  • Hygiene practices
  • Cleaning and disinfection

Neither masks nor vaccines will be required, which came as a disappointment to many Utah teachers, according to American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Utah President Brad Asay.

READ: BYU students, faculty asked to report COVID vaccination status

“We would have liked to see more of a firm stand, for the Department of Health to look at mask mandates and then take that to legislative committee and say, ‘this is what we need,’” Asay said.

Masks will be encouraged but not required, Horsley reiterated.

“My biggest concern moving forward this year is while we are trying to encourage people to adhere to health guidance, families certainly have a responsibility to choose to do so on their own and so I think that is going to be the biggest concern for a number of our families,” he said.

There are more teachers wanting masks to be mandated this year compared to last, Asay said.

“Last year it was mixed, this year I am seeing more educators and more teachers and staff that are saying we need to have the masks, much more than I did last year, mainly because of the severity of the variants and the effect it is having on those that are unvaccinated,” he said.

Political leaders in Utah have said there will not be another state-wide mask mandate. However, recently, House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said mask mandate policies could bend depending on circumstances.

"While Utah’s K-12 COVID-19 response plan places a high priority on minimizing disruption to students’ education, officials are still able to adapt to changing circumstances. The governor and county elected officials – in conjunction with local health departments – retain the flexibility to address new developments with the virus, including instating mask usage," he said in a statement. "It is my hope that these guidelines will help students face fewer interruptions to in-person learning and have a much more consistent educational experience than the previous two school years,” he said.