Utah students could face misdemeanor charges if they refuse to comply with Gov. Gary Herbert’s mandatory mask order, including kindergartners.
Herbert spokeswoman Anna Lehnardt on Wednesday confirmed the potential criminal penalty for violating the requirement for all who enter schools to wear masks, but argued she doesn’t expect enforcement to result in many charges.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports:
Lehnardt said she expects charges will rarely be pursued. And schools have the choice, too, to push students who won’t wear a mask to do online work. There are also exceptions to the order for those with medical conditions and during breakfast or lunch times.
If a criminal prosecution is sought, though, a school employee or a student — including those in kindergarten — could face a class B misdemeanor. That is the standard for any violation of a public health order, Lehnardt added. And it can be punished with a sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. That is the same level of charge, for example, as a first offense for driving drunk.
Coronavirus related mandates are set to expire in Utah this week, but the requirement for masks in schools will remain because it was issued by the Utah Department of Health.
The issue came up at a legislative meeting on Wednesday, when parent Angie Martin complained about the consequences for violating the school mask rule.
“Our children should not have to suffer criminal consequences for getting an education,” Martin said.
The mask requirement has become a flashpoint with parents across the state as students begin returning to class for the 2020-21 school year. At least one district, in Washington County, came up with a compromise that allowed students and staff to wear clear plastic face shields instead of cloth masks, but Herbert intervened to quash the idea.
According to the Tribune, “one day after schools opened and pictures circulated of many wearing the shields, Herbert modified his school mask order to forbid plastic face shields as an alternative to a fitted mask. They have not been found to be as effective at preventing spread of the coronavirus, the governor said.”
Initially, district officials ignored the governor and informed parents shields only would still be fine, but changed course after an emergency meeting on Monday, when the school board voted to follow the governor’s order to wear a mask under the shield.
“I know that there are a lot of parents that allowed their kids to go to school because they could use shields [instead of masks],” said Candice Nay, a parent of three students at Pine View Middle and High Schools in St. George, told the news site.
Parent Danielle Cottam and numerous others are now removing their children from the district’s schools, while others are planning a rally for Friday to protest the statewide school mask mandate.
“I should have the kids in school,” Cottam said as her five children played at a splash pad in St. George with other maskless tikes on Wednesday. “But I chose to keep them home because of the mask crap. … It’s totally unconstitutional. It’s not even giving us a choice. I think I should have a right to choose whether or not my kids have to wear it.”
“I just think if things keep going this way, there’s going to be an uprising, and it’s going to get ugly,” Cottam said.
Both Cottam and Nay and many other parents are convinced officials are exaggerating the dangers of coronavirus exert more government control over their lives.
“I know everybody has different views on it, but that’s out of hand,” she said. “At least give the parent the misdemeanor. Don’t give my kids, who are that young, a misdemeanor.”