Utah Legislature Passes Bill Prohibiting Mask Requirements in Public Schools, Universities

May 20, 2021 Updated: May 20, 2021

The Utah legislature on Wednesday night approved a measure that bans public schools and universities from enforcing mask mandates in the next school year.

House Bill 1007, according to its text, “prohibits a face covering requirement to participate in or attend instruction, activities or any other place on the school campus or facilities in the system of public education after the end of the 2020–2021 school year.”

In addition, it said that a university “may not require proof of vaccination as a condition for enrollment or attendance,” unless the institution allows for an exemption for students with certain medical conditions or religious beliefs.

Sponsored by Republican state Rep. Val Peterson, the legislation passed 50–24 in the House and 23–5 in the Senate, on largely party-line votes, during a special session. It now awaits the signature of Republican Gov. Spencer Cox, who took office in January.

“At some point this has to end,” Peterson said, reported the Associated Press. “What this bill is really about is making sure we have those assurances to our students that they can go forward next fall and get right into the school year without the thought of masks and what that might mean.”

The vote comes as Cox said Utah schools can go mask-free for the last week of the 2020–2021 school year.

The change will “give kids an opportunity to see their teachers, to see their friends, to spend that last week together without masks, if they so choose,” Cox said at a May 13 press briefing, citing a decrease in new COVID-19 cases, and a rise in residents who have been vaccinated.

Individual school districts will be able to make their own decisions whether to keep enforcing mask policies, Cox said, “if they feel there is spread in their schools, or that they want to have mask requirements.”

Utah’s statewide mask mandate ended in April 10, with the exception for gatherings involving more than 50 people and K-12 schools.

“If you go into a business and they are requiring you to wear a mask, wear a mask. If you’re not comfortable with indoor dining, order takeout,” Cox’s office said in a statement. “We need a measure of grace and patience with each other. We have to treat each other with respect.”

“We’re not out of the pandemic yet. And we know that masks work to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” it added. “Bottom line: We encourage everyone to keep wearing masks whenever you can’t physically distance.”