EL DORADO, Ark. (KTVE/KARD) 03/31/21 — Governor Asa Hutchinson has made his decision on the public use of face coverings in Arkansas, lifting the mandate on Tuesday. Now school districts are deciding how they will proceed.

State Education Commissioner Johnny Key says Arkansas school districts can change their policies if required but they must take action either to continue, modify or eliminate mask policies.

At least two school district in the state have already lifted its mask mandate which went into effect today.

El Dorado and Camden Fairview School Districts have already decided to continue following its ready for learning planning that was submitted at the end of the year

Superintendent Fred Lilly, Sr. and the Camden Fairview School Board approved a recommendation March 16 to continue wearing face mask and follow the CDC guidelines for the remainder of this school year.

Shortly after Governor Hutchinson announced lifting the statewide mask mandate, El Dorado School District Superintendent Jim Tucker issued a statement saying:

“I can respect and understand that decision for the general public, who can decide where or where not to go. However, in the school setting, it will still be the policy and practice that staff and students in the El Dorado School District will continue wearing masks until the end of the school year. My job as superintendent is to make sure our students and staff are safe. The protocol we have used this school year has made a difference for us. I appreciate our staff and the work they have put in to ensure everyone is as safe as possible. We can do this for two more months and finish the school year safely. Thank you for your cooperation.”

The following school districts plan to discuss the current mask policies with the local school boards to determine what changes will be made, if any to the requirements. We reached out to the Parkers Chapel School District but Superintendent White was not available for comment.

Here is what some of the local superintendents had to say:

Strong-Huttig School District Superintendent Kimberly Thomas: “Our Ready for Learning Committee believes maintaining our current mask mandate is the safest option for our school community. Our Board has been supportive and we believe they will continue to support this decision. The board meeting approval will make it an official policy for our district through the remainder of the year.”

Magnolia School District Superintendent: “I will present them with documents that were on the governor’s announcement with Secretary Key and they will make a decision. I expect to remain with masks until the end of the year because of limiting quarantines if we have masks.”

According to the Arkansas Department of Education, as it relates to identifying quarantine policy, if a school district decides to keep a mask policy and the infected person and close contact person are wearing masks appropriately, the infected person will only have to quarantine not the close contact.

If one of the individuals weren’t wearing the masks properly, then traditional guidelines again will still apply and both individuals would have to quarantine.

If a district chooses not to have a mask policy, traditional guidelines again will still apply.

Junction City School District Superintendent Robby Lowe is considering presenting a plan to the school board for slight modifications which would include more flexibility when proper distance is maintained.

Sheena Smedley, who has two kids in the Crossett School District, says she is happy the policies have changed because her son was asked to quarantine at least four times through the year.

Her oldest daughter has been going virtual since late last year but her son just switched right before spring break.

“I’m very glad that has changed,” she said. “Had we known those changes were coming we would have held off a little bit in going virtual.”

CSD is one of the districts that is undecided about how it will proceed for the remainder of the year but Smedley believes it’s still soon.

“I just don’t want to move too fast. That’s the biggest thing. I’m all for eventually,” she said.

Other parents who agreed commented on a public Facebook post by Gabrielle Phifer today:

“Mask mandate should definitely still apply. Covid isn’t gone and most students or their parents haven’t received vaccines yet. It’s just another month and a half. No need to switch up the protocol and routine now,” one community member said.

“I personally am glad our school district decided to continue with the policy until the end of the school year. There are still cases of COVID daily in our county and this not only continues to keep our children safe but the staff and teachers as well. They have worked so hard this year to ensure everyone is safe and healthy and it has made all the difference.” one parent in the El Dorado School District wrote.

Other parents though agree they should have a choice in whether or not their child continues to wear a mask.

“It should be a personal choice. If parents are more comfortable sending their kid to school in a mask, they should be able to do so. Parents who don’t feel the need to mask their child shouldn’t be forced to. The kids are not masked appropriately anyway, & no masks are worn during outside playing, after school activities, etc. as it is. Hand washing & cleaning common areas is important,” one parent in the Crossett School District said.

“Lift mask for schools. My child has struggled all year with those mask. And it’s a hassle to keep up with,” another parents wrote.

“I personally don’t have children in school. I think the mask are causing more harm then good. I’ve heard of many parents saying their children are experiencing coughs and really bad face breakouts from the mask. I say let these kids breathe fresh air,” one resident wrote.

According to the ADE, the new plans set by each district must be modified and publicized by April 15 and there is a requirement that districts must receive public comment which will be used to make modifications during the summer and following school year.