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Lawton Public Schools will reinstate the mask mandate it had last school year for students and staff, effective Monday.

District officials said Friday that the decision was reached after receiving feedback from district parents, staff, students and local health officials. Parents and staff had been asked to record their opinions via an on-line survey that the district had circulated earlier this month.

LPS Superintendent Kevin Hime said the mask mandate effective Monday will be the same one the district had in place for the 2020-2021 school year, which applied different regulations for students depending on their grade level and the amount of social interaction they had with others. Masks also were required for district staff members in most instances.

Hime said the decision was made because of safety concerns.

"The safety of our school family is our greatest priority and the rise in cases of COVID-19 in our community made this difficult decision necessary," he said in a statement.

Hime said an Oklahoma judge recently ruled that — at least temporarily — the masking requirement implemented by the Lawton district is permissible under state law. This is because parents may choose to opt their children out of participation for any one of three exceptions: medical reasons, religious reasons or personal reasons.

Oklahoma school districts began the school year in August with voluntary policies in place after Gov. Kevin Stitt signed legislation in late May forbidding school boards from imposing mask mandates.

"We believe, like most parents and community members do, that in-person learning is best for students. By wearing masks in the school setting, we can better protect the health of students and staff and likely reduce disruptions to learning. Health officials recommend masking as an important mitigation tool to have a safe, successful and in-person school year," Hime said in his statement.

The policy means masks will be required in all indoor locations of the school and on LPS school buses. While eating or drinking, masks will not be required.

Parents who want to op out of the requirement may complete the Mask Opt-Out form available on the LPS website. The form must be printed, completed, signed and turned into the front office of the student's school. Those without printers may request a physical form be sent home.

Teachers and support professionals are being encouraged to visit with their principals or department supervisors about the process for opting out for religious or medical reasons.

In addition to masks, LPS is continuing other policies to protect students and staff, to include social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing.

As of Wednesday, 196 students and 48 staff members had confirmed cases of COVID-19 since LPS resumed classes Aug. 12. As of Tuesday, 21 staff members and 81 students remain isolated due to a positive COVID-19 test, while nine staff members and 177 students remain in quarantine due to close contact with someone with COVID-19. Of cases that tested positive, 115 students and 27 employees have recovered.

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