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Utah students who don’t wear masks in schools can be criminally charged — even kindergartners

Utah students as young as kindergartners can be criminally charged for not wearing masks in schools in order to protect against the spread of COVID-19, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

What are the details?

And while the paper said the office of Republican Gov. Gary Herbert confirmed the potential for K-12 students and staff getting misdemeanors for violating the mask mandate, spokeswoman Anna Lehnardt said it’s up to schools to seek such charges — and that it’s expected they will be rarities.

“It’s enforced on a district and superintendent level,” she added to the Tribune. “But we’re not thinking, ‘Let’s slap a bunch of kids with misdemeanors.'”

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Herbert had
issued the mask mandate for public schools in July. As classrooms have begun reopening across the state this week, though, it’s become a new source of frustration for many parents — with a focus on the enforcement.

During a legislative meeting Wednesday, one mother questioned why there should be potential misdemeanor charges associated with something she sees as a personal choice.

“Our children should not have to suffer criminal consequences for getting an education,” Angie Martin, whose child attends high school in Cache County, said, according to the Tribune.

In addition to the rarity of pursued charges, the paper said schools can encourage students who won’t wear masks to do online school work — and that there are exceptions for the mask-wearing mandate for individuals with medical conditions, as well as during breakfast or lunch periods.

What if criminal prosecutions are pursued?

The Tribune said that if schools do pursue criminal prosecutions, violators could face class B misdemeanors, which Lehnardt said is the standard for public health order violations. And violators can be punished with sentences of up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000, the paper added, which is the same as a first offense for driving drunk.

“We want our teachers to be safe,” Lehnardt told the Tribune in explaining the rationale behind the penalty.

In addition, she said that the mask mandate for schools has no expiration date, as it was issued in conjunction with the Utah Department of Health, the paper said.

Parental pushback

Some parents, however, aren’t down with the mandate and are even attempting to get it repealed, the Tribune said.

Danielle Cottam has removed her five children from school so they don’t have to abide by the order, the paper reported, adding that on Wednesday — during what was supposed to be a school day — her kids played with a crowd of other mask-free kids at a splash pad in St. George.

“I should have the kids in school,” Cottam noted to the Tribune. “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.”

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