School starts next week. In the scheme of things, that is a minor miracle. You can give Superintendent Dr. Gildea and the School Board all the crap you want, but they navigated us through the most challenging year in Park City school history. They found a way to make it work. Kudos to them. It couldn’t have been easy.
This year is more complicated. Are your kids going to wear a mask to school? As of now, that is your and your kids’ choice. Summit County’s Health Department theoretically could demand masks, but the County Attorney isn’t sure a mandate from the County would be legally enforceable in schools. If they got around their legal concerns, then the County Council would have the opportunity to overturn that order if wanted. Then, even if the council required masks, it is likely the Utah state Legislature wouldn’t allow it to stand.
Masks won’t be required in schools. Such is Utah — for better and worse.
That said, over fifty people arrived at the Richen’s Building in Kimball Junction on Wednesday to speak for and against masks in our schools. It’s the sort of activism that makes local politics so unique. You can actually make a difference.
In this case, a public groundswell of people who favored masks in schools wanted to make their voices heard during Public Comment at the County Council meeting. Those people opposed to masking mandates also seized upon the Public Comment opportunity to voice their opinions. For those who may not be aware, Public Comment is a period at 6 PM during each County Council meeting where people can speak for three minutes on any topic that isn’t listed on that meeting’s agenda. It’s a great opportunity if you happen to have concerns because the County Council impacts our daily lives and they are generally more than happy to listen.
The comments from the public followed the typical debate over masks. The difference, in this case, was that it was our neighbors, who we know, expressing their feelings about masks in schools. That’s different from someone on MSNBC or Fox News with the standard talking points. On the mask side, the arguments boiled down to it worked last year, we should keep our kids safe, the variant is worse, and you don’t have the right to infringe on others’ rights (to health and safety). On the non-mask side, the arguments ranged from parents’ right to choose, to allowing children’s immune system to develop naturally, to statistics about impacts on children, and you don’t have the right to infringe on others’ rights.
My personal favorite comment was a measured one. One gentleman basically said, let’s do a mask mandate for 30 days and compare Park City to other areas. That can then further instruct the future. It’s an interesting idea.
While I like reporting on issues impacting the Park City area, regular readers will know that this issue is personal for me. I have two kids at Jeremy Ranch. I don’t know what our family is going to do. My kids are fortunate enough not to have disabilities that make mask-wearing hard or detrimental to education. They don’t mind masks. At the same time, I believe by the end of the day, my kids’ masks are dirty, cesspools of germs that likely negatively impact them.
So, as of now, here is my family’s approach. We are going to privately ask our teachers if they have a reason they would prefer everyone to wear a mask. Some of our teachers in the past have had cancer or other issues. We will respect that and wear masks to protect them if that is better for their health.
If they state no preference, we are trying to teach our kids how Covid is typically transmitted and ask them to wear masks during those times. If they are in a classroom for an hour, 3 feet from other kids, keep your mask on. Are you lining up, six inches from the next student? Put your mask on. Are you outside at recess? Don’t bother.
I know that there are flaws in every one of those ideas and the plan isn’t perfect. However, it is a compromise.
We will likely send two masks and ask them to switch mid-day, to mitigate the cesspool effect.
The question I keep asking myself is would I really want a mask mandate? There are undoubtedly health benefits to masks, but I could say that about masks preventing things like the flu. Would I want a forever-mandate because they reduce the transmission of lots of viruses? Probably not — that would seem miserable to me.
Yet, if a mask mandate kept our schools open all year, would I want it? Probably.
So, do I want a mandate? Maybe? I just don’t know.
The reality is that I won’t have to make a decision on a mandate. Masks will be optional, but my kids will wear them when practical or all the time if their teacher(s) need the help. That’s what we are going to do, but it doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.
Regardless, I love the fact that so many people showed up to discuss an issue so politically charged. We once again showed that we as a community can have a civil discussion.
Below is a quick cut of the various comments at the meeting. If you have time to watch, the entire segment gives you an overview of what our community is generally thinking.
As always, we are all in this together. We’re going to have to work together to make it through another year. We can do this.