Letter: From masking to vaccination, government should not usurp the power of parents

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Governor Spencer J. Cox sports an "I love Dr. Dunn" t-shirt during a press conference Thursday to provide updates on the ongoing pandemic during the weekly briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol, May 6, 2021. State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn is leaving her statewide post to instead lead Salt Lake County's Health Department.

During our recent legislative session, constituents were insistent that we address the unilateral power of the governor to mandate citizen behavior in response to COVID-19. In response to overwhelming public demand, the legislature passed HB294, the Coronavirus Endgame Bill, which established dates for ending mandates — April 10 for the mask mandate and July 1 for all other mandates.

The bill also required mandates be lifted earlier if certain benchmarks were achieved. Those benchmarks were met on May 3 and the state Health Department has therefore rescinded all COVID mandates with one exception: K-12 schools. Neither the governor nor the Health Department is offering any specific metrics that indicate when these mandates might be lifted. Instead, they are insisting masks continue at least until the end of the school year.

Predictably, this has led to parents demanding their local school boards unilaterally abate mask mandates or at least move to a policy of voluntary masking. Unfortunately, it does not appear that local school boards have the power to contravene this last bastion of mandates no matter how many parents protest. As a state senator, I will continue to address the concerns of my constituents. I have spoken with parents from across the state who want their children to be able to attend school without wearing a mask. People know how to care for themselves and their families. Government should not usurp the power of parents. Whether it be masking, vaccination, or distancing, I continue to support the active engagement of parents in deciding what is best for their children.

Local school boards are in the best position to determine the specific needs of their local area. State mandates are far too inflexible to be practical given our various school districts and their unique needs.

Mike Kennedy, Senate District 14

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