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Utah, Salt Lake Co. ask judge to reject K-12 mask lawsuit

Virus Outbreak Utah
Posted at 4:08 PM, Sep 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-23 20:33:05-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawyers for the state of Utah and Salt Lake County are asking a judge to reject a request for a restraining order blocking laws that severely limit mask requirements in schools.

In court filings obtained by FOX 13 on Thursday, the county pushed back on a lawsuit filed by a group of parents over laws that severely restricted the ability of K-12 schools to impose mask requirements in the COVID-19 pandemic. The parents essentially argued that the laws deny their at-risk children a right to an education that they're entitled to under the Utah constitution.

Attorneys for the parents have asked a judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court for a restraining order blocking the laws from being enforced.

The Utah State Legislature this year banned mask mandates, but did allow local health departments to issue mask orders. However, a county commission or council could vote to override them. The Salt Lake County Council overturned a request by the Salt Lake County Health Department for a K-6 mask mandate, while the Grand County Commission upheld one sought by the Southeastern Utah Public Health Department.

"This case is not about the best masking policy for Utah schools. Rather, this case is about who is empowered, in our constitutional system, to determine mask policy for schools during a pandemic, and whether those who are authorized to set that policy followed Utah’s Constitution and statutes," said assistant Utah Attorney General Jeffrey Teichert.

The Utah Attorney General's Office said in its filing, the plaintiffs claims are "non-justiciable political questions."

"Mitigating the risks of COVID-19 involves matters of scientific uncertainty. It would be imprudent for the Courts to wade into this policy discussion by invalidating legislation," Teichert wrote.

In its filing, attorneys for Salt Lake County argued that what the parents want is too broad.

"There is no evidence that the requested relief would materially alleviate the alleged harm experienced by the children. Even though it appears that, at most, only eight of the named children are not able to learn remotely and would return to school if there were a mask mandate (assuming that none of these children are already within Salt Lake City School District or prefer to continue with the alternative educational arrangements made by their parents), Plaintiffs seek relief that would affect an additional 72,000 students, more or less," wrote deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney LaShel Shaw.

Judge Vernice Trease may hold a hearing on the parents' request before making a decision on whether or not to grant a restraining order.