Utah School District Overcomes Legal Issues on Mask Mandate Ban, Suit Filed to Challenge Law

A group of Utah parents filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the ban on mask mandates at schools as the Grand County School District is remains the only district in the state to have overcome the legal issues to require masks at its schools, the Associated Press reported.

Parents worried about the safety of children with medical conditions said in the lawsuit that the state's ban is forcing them to choose whether to risk infection from COVID-19 or to keep their kids at home for another school year, away from their friends.

The lawsuit comes as kids begin returning to school for the fall semester and while the Delta variant has surged in Utah, leaving hospitals out of room for patients.

"It just sort of seems like nobody cares," said Jessica Pyper, one of the parents against the ban.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Utah School
Only one small school district in Utah has managed to get past the legal hurdles to allow a mask mandate as a lawsuit challenges the ban on mandates. Above, a teacher's aid helps students at Freedom Preparatory Academy on February 10, 2021, in Provo, Utah. George Frey/Getty Images

Parents like Pyper say a Utah state law that blocks districts from passing mandates wrongly prevents children from getting a safe education. She wants her 10-year-old son, Ryker, to join his fifth-grade classmates this year, but his type-1 diabetes puts him at serious risk.

The case is the latest U.S. lawsuit of its kind from families and educators concerned about school without masks as the highly contagious delta variant surges. Similar cases have been filed in states like Arizona, Texas and Florida, where thousands of students have already been sent home in rapidly spreading outbreaks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for universal masking in schools, but amid contentious anti-mask protests, several conservative leaning states are blocking mask mandates.

Officials, mostly Republican, contend that there are downsides to kids being masked all day and parents should have the power to decide whether to put them on children, who tend to be less vulnerable to the virus than older adults.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox and Attorney General Sean Reyes didn't immediately respond to email and text message requests for comment about the lawsuit.

Utah schools were open for in-person learning with a statewide mask mandate last year, but after that ended, the GOP-dominated Legislature decided individual school districts couldn't require face coverings on their own.

Without masks and other protective steps, coronavirus infections could spread rapidly among kids who are too young to get vaccinated and could bring it home to their families, experts have said. Masks are an effective tool against the spread of the coronavirus, but work best when everyone uses them, research has found.

An attempt to require masks in Salt Lake County was overturned by the Republican-controlled county council.

Many schools are encouraging students to wear masks, though, and in some parts of the state many are doing so.

But in father Brad Plothow's conservative community of Lehi, south of Salt Lake City, few students except his own children have been wearing them in the classroom, he said. He and his wife home-schooled all four of their children last year, but his older children especially missed their friends and pined for school milestones like getting lockers for the first time.

So they sent their older children to school, both wearing masks. They installed air purifiers and filters at home in hopes of protecting their younger children, one of whom has fairly severe induced asthma.

Plothow said it was frustrating for state leaders abandon steps he said largely worked to keep schools open and safe last year.

"We're not activists, we're not political, we're not partisan...where we draw the line is when you mess around with the kids," he said. "This should not be a political football."

Jessica Pyper
A group of Utah parents is suing the state over a law that bans school districts from approving mask mandates. Above, Jessica Pyper with her children, Ryker, 10, and Sage, 3, on August 20, 2021, in West Jordan, Utah. Rick Browner/AP Photo