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A letter from the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) sent Friday afternoon to superintendents, principals and Area Education Agencies urging schools and child care settings to make wearing masks optional has caused area schools to adjust their school masks policies with only a couple of weeks left in the school year.

The letter sent from IDPH Director Kelly Garcia recommends that schools and child care settings “approach COVID-19 like other child illnesses.”

The letter went on to say that the department was “concurrently revising our COVID-19 guidance for schools and child care settings, including quarantine guidance, to recommend that while COVID-19 positive and symptomatic children should be excluded, exposed children should no longer be required to stay home, regardless of mask usage.”

Garcia added, “While we acknowledge that some parents may want their child to continue to wear a cloth face covering for reasons that make sense for their family or that child’s individual health condition, we urge schools and child care settings to provide parents and students with the option to make their own decision about mask usage.”

A letter from Western Dubuque Superintendent Rick Colpitts went out to families over the weekend stating that masks in the district’s buildings will be optional for students and staff beginning May 17.

The district will continue to contact trace and notify parents of an exposure. But if the student shows no symptoms of COVID-19, the parents will determine if the child will be quarantined.

Colpitts said the district will continue to follow guidelines from the IDPH, as they have done all year. He also addressed virtual learning options for students.

“Moving to virtual learning at this time will only be allowed if there is a doctor’s note stating that a student must move to virtual learning for a health-related reason.”

Colpitts said the new guidelines from the IDPH could also impact some end-of-the-year events planned in district buildings.

Colpitts added, “I want to thank you all for your patience and flexibility as we navigate another significant change to the school year. The pandemic has been extremely challenging for everyone and I am hopeful we can get back to a more normal year in 21-22.”

Other area schools have also announced changes to their mask policies:

• Beckman Catholic began with optional masks at commencement ceremonies May 16. In a letter announcing the change, high school principal Marcel Kielkucki, said, “Students, staff and guests may still choose to wear a mask and that decision will be respected by everybody.”

• During a special board meeting May 16, Maquoketa Valley’s Board of Education voted to follow IDPH guidelines. In a statement, Superintendent Dave Hoeger said, “The Iowa Department of Public Health announced on Friday that Iowa Schools should transition to optional wearing of cloth face coverings for students and staff. Based on this guidance, our school board met on Sunday and voted to accept these recommendations immediately.”

• Edgewood-Colesburg also dropped their mask requirement. A statement from Ed-Co officials read “Following Ed-Co’s Return to Learn Plan and guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health, Ed-Co families will have the choice to have children wear masks at school and school activities covered by Ed-Co School policies. Policies at other school districts may vary. This change is effective immediately.”