Utah mask-mandate ban ‘unfairly defined’ education boss says

Parents and students hold rally at Utah State School Board Office calling for mask mandate Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, in Salt Lake City. The school year is days away for many kids in Utah and public health experts are worried about whether kids too young to get vaccinated will stay safe in school amid a wave of coronavirus cases. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — In response to federal education officials opening a new investigation into whether state law banning school districts from imposing mask mandates violates the rights of students with disabilities, Utah’s top education official says the U.S. Education Department the state has been “unfairly defined.”

Utah State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson said in a statement Monday that there is a way for schools to require masks. One small county, the liberal-leaning Grand County, has navigated new restrictions in state law to pass a school mask mandate.

Dickson says she looks forward to working with federal officials clarify Utah’s position.

The mayor of Salt Lake City put a mask mandate in place for its schools after an effort to mandate masks in Salt Lake County was overturned by the Republican-controlled council. One powerful lawmaker has said the city rule is unenforceable and threatened legislative action to constrain mayors’ emergency powers.

Utah is one of five Republican-led states now under investigation. The others are Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee. The Education Department says those states’ moves to ban or limit mask requirements in schools could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or health conditions because those students can’t safely attend school.

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