PROVO, Utah — Members of Utah Parents United gathered at the Provo courthouse Thursday, continuing their push to end the K-12 mask mandate in Utah schools.
Utah Parents United (UPU), formed by a group of Davis County parents, announced at the press conference that the Kane County School District modified mask mandate exemptions in their schools after discussions with UPU and a local parent.
"Since this began, I kept wishing that somebody would do something," said Amber Bowman, whose son is a student at Kanab Elementary School.
Bowman said the mask mandate has been detrimental to her son's education and health.
"It was distracting to him and his learning," she added. "It was also hard for him to hear the teacher. It was hard for him to understand a lot of the things because he couldn't see her lips."
After the statewide mask mandate ended on April 10, but was still required in schools across the state, Bowman decided to take matters into her own hands.
"I still had fears, I still had worries, but I knew that I needed to be strong, I needed to do this for my children and help them in their education and their health," Bowman said.
With the help of UPU, she was able to convince the Kane County School Board to modify their mask mandate medical exemption by accepting medical exemption letters from parents in addition to doctors.
The Utah Department of Health's public health order published on April 13 exempts "individual(s) with a medical condition, mental health condition, or intellectual or developmental disability," from wearing masks in school and states, "a school may require an individual to provide a medical directive from a Doctor of Medicine...documenting a need for an exemption."
UDP argues that parents know their children best and should not have to go to a doctor to request a medical exemption from the mask requirement.
Jennifer Berry, founder of the Franklin Discovery Academy in Vineyard and one of the speakers at Thursday's press conference, said she has seen the negative impacts masks have on children firsthand.
"One of the biggest things, because our teachers are wearing masks, is the students having a hard time hearing their teachers, understanding them," Berry said.
Doctor Lyle Mason, orthopedic surgeon and board member of UPU, said children are among the safest in our state when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.
"When it comes to children, who are the safest group, they're the least likely to get the disease, less likely to get real sick, less likely to go to the hospital, least likely to die, they're wearing masks I do not believe really protects them," Mason said during the press conference.
But the Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at the University of Utah disagrees.
"It's absolutely the wrong thing," said Dr. Andrew Pavia. "Masks are the single most effective tool we have. We've learned some amazing things about masks during the course of this year. We've learned that even elementary age and kindergarten age students can wear them effectively, it doesn't bother them. There are really very few if any medical contraindications."
Pavia added that although children are at a lower risk for getting a severe infection from COVID-19, the community should still aim to protect them from getting it in the first place.
"I really wish I could stop people from saying it's not bad for kids," Pavia added. "It's just not nearly as bad for kids as it is for older adults, but it's killed 560,000 people. So, to say that it's not killing as many kids as it is older people is damning with feigned praise."
Despite there being only six weeks left in the school year, UPU said statewide action to remove the mask mandate in schools, or adoption of the medical exemption modifications by districts around the state, needs to happen now.