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K-12 students and teachers in Utah could be charged with a misdemeanor for not wearing a mask, as they return to classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to multiple reports.
Gov. Gary Herbert’s office confirmed the potential penalty this week. While Utah doesn't have a statewide mask mandate, he issued an order in July requiring all students, teachers, staff, and visitors to wear the face coverings on school property and buses.
Leaders of schools and charters can decide whether to seek charges, a spokeswoman told the Salt Lake Tribune.
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Students raise their hands while a teacher wears a protective mask during a lesson at a public charter school in Provo, Utah, U.S., Aug. 20, 2020. (Getty Images)
“It’s enforced on a district and superintendent level,” said Anna Lehnardt, director of communications for Herbert. “But we’re not thinking, ‘Let’s slap a bunch of kids with misdemeanors.‘"
The charge for those who violate the order would be a class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000, according to the Utah Judiciary.
Lehnardt added the primary goal was to keep teachers safe when they return to classrooms during the coronavirus pandemic.
A report by the Tribune this week found that found 79 teachers had resigned due to concerns over the virus spreading in Utah schools.
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Still, some parents see charging students as a way to protect others is a step too far. The mother of a high schooler in Cache County, located north of Salt Lake City, questioned why her child should be punished for what she deemed was a personal choice, according to the Tribune.
“Our children should not have to suffer criminal consequences for getting an education,” said Angie Martin during a legislative meeting Wednesday.
Another mother in Utah said that parents of students should be charged with the misdemeanor, not young kids.
Meanwhile, Herbert, a Republican, declared a new state of emergency Thursday after the Utah legislature refused to extend the expiring one. He said the decision was made to prevent the state from losing access to hundreds of millions of dollars in federal relief funding while allowing for quicker responses to COVID-19-related issues.
Due to concerns from teachers over the lack of PPE equipment, Herbert added that the state's unified command team has decided to provide five KN95 masks and two face shields to every teacher and staff member in the state, "as a supplement to existing supply."
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"The nature of a pandemic is fluid and requires constant adaptation," he wrote on Twitter. "We are still very much in an emergency situation, and I will continue to work as governor to protect lives and livelihoods."
As of Friday morning, Utah has reported more than 47,982 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 381 deaths from the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
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