Masks required in El Dorado School District, ‘strongly encouraged’ in other districts across the county

Arkansas News

EL DORADO, Ark. (KTVE/KARD) 8/11/21 — The results are in for each of the school districts in Union County regarding whether or not students and staff will wear face coverings.

The El Dorado School Board met at the administration office for a special called meeting at noon on Wednesday which lasted about 15 minutes. All board members were in attendance and the audience consisted of community members and school staff.

Board President Susan Turbeville called the meeting to order stating that there would be no opportunity for comment by the audience. “The meeting is not of the public,” Turbeville said.

Superintendent Jim Tucker presented 5 options to the board to consider:

  1. The El Dorado School District strongly recommends that all employees, students and visitors wear a mask while inside any school district campus, building or bus.
  2. All students under the age of 12 shall properly wear a mask while inside any school district, building or bus. All of other students are strongly encouraged but not required to properly wear a mask while inside any school district building or bus.
  3. Masks shall be properly worn by all school district employees, students and visitors while inside any school district campus, building or bus.
  4. Should the covid-19 positivity rate exceed 8 percent then masks shall be worn by all school district employees, students and visitors wear a mask while inside any school district campus, building or bus. This covid-19 positivity rate shall be determined by the Arkansas Department of Health database which is updated daily. In the event this rate is reached, the district administration shall promptly provide notification to all employees, students and parents and guardians of students that the mask requirement is in effect. This mask requirement once initiated in accordance with this policy shall remain in effect until modified or discontinued by the school board.
  5. All employees, students and visitors who have not received a complete dose of the covid-19 vaccination shall properly wear a mask while inside any school district campus, building or bus. All employees, students and visitors are strongly encouraged but not required to wear a mask while inside any school district building or bus. In order for any employee, student or visitor to be excused from wearing a mask, proof of vaccination must be provided to school district administration. It is also a recommendation that this policy shall be renewed or modified at every school board meeting until the school boards determines the policy is no longer necessary for the health and safety of the students and employees in our district.

Superintendent Jim Tucker recommended option 4 which states the district would continue to require masks for employees, students and staff only if the positivity rate in Union County exceeded 8 percent.

Following the recommendation by Superintendent Tucker, School Board Member Wayne Gibson made a motion to go with option 3 which states masks shall be properly worn by all school district employees, students and visitors while inside any school district campus, building or bus.

School Board Member Todd Whatley questioned the positivity rate of which Superintendent Tucker responded the rate in the county was at 18 percent.

“It’s had an 8 percent spike in the past week,” Superintendent Tucker said. “The CDC has guidelines of positivity rates in the county. If you’re 8 percent or below there’s a moderate chance of transmission in the county. When it gets above 8 percent there’s a high chance of transmission.”

Whatley also asked if the district could postpone the start of school for 30 days to monitor the coronavirus situation in the county.

“At this the point the governor and the Arkansas Department of Education have stated there will be no delay in start of school at this time… for the betterment of the mental health and economy he wanted school to start on time,” he said.

Board President Turbeville added to the discussion saying that she heard from about 50 parents. She said 95 percent of those parents wanted to make the choice about masking.

“I know as parents we have the best read on our children and their health and their welfare. Many of those comments included concerns for the mental and emotional strain experienced by the children while wearing masks which I know to be real,” Turbeville said.

Following Turbeville’s comment, School Board Member Keith Clemon seconded the motion and there was more discussion from other members who wanted to understand the difference between options 3 and 4.

According to Superintendent Tucker, if the positivity rate ever reached below 8 percent, then the mask mandate would immediately cease until it exceeded that percentage again (option 4).

With option 3, the board members would have to meet in a regularly scheduled meeting or special called meeting to vote on if masks could be optional.

In Turbevile’s final plea to the board before a vote, she asked them to reconsider making a mask mandate.

“I think that we need to think very carefully about what we are doing to them through both mental health and physical health. The struggles are real for those who are forced to put on that mask,” she said.

The board then voted 4-3 to pass a measure requiring masks to be worn by all school district employees, students and visitors while inside any school district campus, building or bus.

Some parents and school faculty that were in attendance were visibly upset following the vote, storming out of the board room.

On Tuesday night, Parkers Chapel School Board voted unanimously to strongly recommend masks for all students and staff while Smackover-Norphlet School District was one of the first district in south Arkansas to make a decision, also saying the district would start off the year strongly encouraging masks for all students and staff.

Junction City School District isn’t make it a requirement either though Superintendent Robby Lowe said those kids who aren’t wearing a mask will be properly distanced from others.

Superintendent Tucker says there is a possibility that the mask mandate could change.

“The board can revisit this at each board meeting. Maybe numbers in Union County drop or maybe things across the state drop and things are looking better and more people are vaccinated then the board can decide at that time to call a board meeting or do it at a regular scheduled board meeting and do away with masks,” Superintendent Tucker said in an interview.

Here is the most recent update on school districts mask policies as of 8/11:

Masks Required For Students/Staff-

  • El Dorado School District-
  • Camden Fairview School District-
  • Strong-Huttig School DistrictMasks Required For Students/Staff considering Covid Positivity Rate-Magnolia School DistrictMasks Not Required but “strongly recommended”-Junction City School District-Parkers Chapel School District-Hamburg School District -Smackover-Norphlet School DistrictUndecided-Crossett School District

Masks Required For Students/Staff considering covid positivity rate

  • Magnolia School District

Masks strongly encouraged

  • Parkers Chapel School District
  • Junction City School District
  • Smackover-Norphlet School District
  • Fordyce Public Schools

Undecided

  • Crossett School District

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