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With new health guidelines on the way, will Utah school safety protocols change?

Kosovo Virus Outbreak Schools
Posted at 10:18 PM, Mar 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 00:31:49-05

Could schools return to somewhat of a pre-pandemic normal before the end of the school year?

Many are raising that question as announcements around health guidelines and mask mandates signal that Utah is slowly pulling out of the pandemic.

Governor Spencer Cox is expected to sign a bill into law that lifts the statewide mask mandate on April 10. Plus, the CDC announced that vaccinated people can gather, unmasked -- and even gather with those who are in the low-risk group, such as children.

The news comes as spring high school sports kick off with Test to Play. Alta High School hosted its first pre-season tennis tournament of the year Monday, with players from Jordan, Murray and Farmington High Schools competing in matches.

All players and coaches were tested for COVID-19 beforehand. Tennis players said it felt good to be back on the court.

"They're so grateful to play right now," said Alta High School Tennis Coach Lori Sperry. "And we talk a lot about gratitude, and how we were in a tough spot last year."

Sperry and her daughter Callie Rice coached last year as well. The worst announcement hit right when their 2020 season started: Everything was shutting down to slow the spread of COVID-19.
That included spring sports like tennis.

But this year, the season is kicking off with the best news anyone in Utah has heard in a long time.

"They're talking about lifting the masks in April, which would be nice," Sperry said.

"Everyone I've talked to is so excited about the mandation of masks being gone," said Alta High junior Tyson Lutz, who played in Monday's tennis tournament. "Everyone does not like them, especially at school. It gets really hot in there. I'm super excited just to take that off, and get back to normal life."

However, the statewide April 10 date set forth in the bill passed by the legislature does come with some fine print.

Jeff Haney, a spokesperson for the Canyons School District, explained that the law does not lift the mandate in schools.

"We would follow the applicable law. And the law, as it's written right now, is that it carves out the exemption for K-12," Haney said.

House Bill 294, as it is written now, says that public health safety measures in schools "may" remain in place when the statewide mask mandate expires. It also gives each county the ability to adopt its own mask mandate.

Because of this, Haney indicated that the district doesn't know yet if mask mandates will stay in the classroom for the rest of the year or not. It's also unclear if protocols will stay the same, including Test to Play and limiting capacity at school events.

For now, Haney talked about how they will continue like they have all year while they watch the issue very closely.

"If it indeed becomes law, then we would be working with Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) and local health authorities on a path to move forward," he said.

FOX 13 also reached out to several other school districts, including Jordan, Salt Lake City, Granite, Tooele, Davis, Weber and Alpine school districts. Most gave the same response as Haney, explaining that current protocols will stay unless the law changes or the local health department recommends otherwise.

Many pointed to the UHSAA for how they'll receive guidance as well.

"The UHSAA will continue to consult with state and local officials, along with our governing boards, in the coming weeks to assess the most effective path forward for high school activities in light of new developments to public health guidelines," wrote Jon Ogelsby, assistant director at UHSAA, in a statement to FOX 13.

While Alta High tennis players described how no masks and loosened protocols would be nice, they're fine if restrictions stay.

Whatever keeps them in class and on the court, in a safe way.

"We'll do what we have to do to play, because we want to play so bad," said Alta High senior Jordan Robinson. "So whatever they tell us, we're doing."