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Flagstaff Unified School District lifts mask mandate following new CDC metrics

Associated Press | LM Otero
Most Americans live in places where healthy people, including students in schools, can safely take a break from wearing masks under new U.S. guidelines released Friday. The Flagstaff Unified School District Governing Board voted 3-to-2 Monday to lift its mask requirement that's been in place since the beginning of the school year.

The Flagstaff Unified School District has lifted its face mask requirement for students and staff as cases of COVID-19 continue to decline. It comes after federal health officials issued new safety guidelines.

The FUSD Governing Board voted 3-to-2 to change its masking rules at a special meeting Monday morning. No public comment was heard at the short meeting and the measure went into effect immediately. The district is now encouraging but not requiring masks be worn on school grounds and inside buildings along with FUSD buses and district vehicles.

Students and staff at Leupp Elementary, however, must still wear masks until the Navajo Nation’s public health order is rescinded. FUSD put its mask mandate in place at the beginning of the school year along with many local charter schools.

“Individuals may choose to wear a face mask at any time and to their comfort level, and decisions to mask or not to mask should be supported and respected,” said Superintendent Penca. “It is recommended that face masks be worn indoors when at the high – orange – community level. Individuals with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask regardless of community level.”

The district board had previously voted to lift the mask requirement after spring break. But last Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new metrics for COVID mitigation that focus more on hospitalizations. Under the new guidelines, areas classified as low or medium can consider lifting mask requirements in public indoor spaces, including schools. Coconino County is in the medium category as COVID infections have dropped significantly in recent weeks.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.