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Fort Dodge public schools to encourage masks

District is avoiding an absolute mandate

-Submitted photo Drum majors in the Fort Dodge Senior High Marching Band, Josh Meier, left, Rylie Reed, Gracie Miller and Reagan Black, pose with their masks.

Fort Dodge public schools will strongly encourage but not require students to wear masks as they return to in-person instruction this month, contrary to a previous claim mistakenly made by one school board member.

Following recommendations and guidance from various state agencies, students and staff should wear face masks or coverings when social distancing is not feasible, said Jennifer Lane, director of communications for Fort Dodge Community School District.

She said the district is avoiding an absolute mandate in consideration of some students who may claim incompatible health conditions or who will simply choose not to use them.

“We’re not going to force it, but it will certainly be encouraged,” she said.

Efforts to encourage face coverings such as masks or shields will be in the vein of taking responsibility to protect friends and classmates, Lane said. To help encourage the habit, the district has ordered enough cloth masks to issue one to each of the district’s nearly 5,000 students and staff members, plus extras.

“It’s a teachable moment surrounded by that theme of empathy,” Lane said, explaining guidance for teachers being developed. “What we’ve said to staff so far is that (the focus) needs to be on teaching and learning. That’s where you focus your efforts. That’s where our bottom line will remain.”

In addition to those purchased, the school will accept handmade coverings from groups wishing to donate them.

In addition to the masks, the district will also purchase a lanyard for each student to hook their mask to, ensuring that fewer will be lost or mistaken for another student’s. The lanyards will be particularly helpful for elementary school students, who represented the greatest concern for some parents and school administrators in adapting to the new habit.

Conversations about masks have been happening since early June as the district followed evolving guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health agencies.

About 55% of parents surveyed by the district said they would prefer their child not wear face masks at school, Lane said.

At a Constituents in Cars event Tuesday, school board President Stu Cochrane said that students would be required to wear masks, a statement corrected by Lane on Wednesday.

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