The Fort Payne School Board accepted the recommendation of Superintendent Brian Jett to require universal indoor masking by all students, staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. This was done in an emergency meeting on August 6 in reaction to the circulating and highly contagious Delta variant. The mask mandate will be re-evaluated on Sept. 3 to determine if it should continue or if the policy can return to personal preference.

A petition page on the website change.org requests signatures of people who want to “make masks optional in Fort Payne City Schools.” It states, “Wearing a mask or NOT wearing a mask is a medical decision and should be made by each individual family based on their specific situation.”

Jett said he was reluctant to require the masks, but he made the recommendation “after consulting with local pediatricians and health care providers, reviewing guidance from [The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and direct recommendations from Dr. Harris and the Alabama Department of Public Health.”

The CDC recommends everyone entering indoor spaces in K-12 schools wear masks, along with physical distancing between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk. Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination at this time. Under federal mandate, passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses regardless of vaccination status.

The petition states, “Wearing a mask or NOT wearing a mask is a medical decision and should be made by each individual family based on their specific situation.”

The petition argues that mask wearing actually has detrimental impacts on students required to wear them. The CDC, however, states that “mask wearing has no significant adverse health effects for wearers… No oxygen desaturation or respiratory distress was observed among children less than 2 years of age when masked during normal play. While some studies have found an increase in reports of dyspnea (difficulty breathing) when wearing face masks, no physiologic differences were identified between periods of rest or exercise while masked or non-masked.”

The face coverings are a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people. As reported by the CDC, the recommendations come from what is known about the role respiratory droplets play in the spread of the virus along with emerging evidence from clinical laboratory studies that show cloth face coverings reduce the spray and spread of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.

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