Local schools continue mask policies

Tuesday, April 6, 2021
Eureka Springs High School seniors Kyle Plott (left) and Cole Saab wear masks while studying on Friday, April 2. The Eureka Springs School District is continuing its mask policy through the end of the school year despite Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate.
Samantha Jones / Carroll County News

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced last week that he would be lifting the statewide mask mandate, explaining that while masks would no longer be mandatory, many entities, including businesses, government offices and schools would be able to make their own decisions.

“Schools can opt to continue the mask policy within their school,” Hutchinson said. “They actually have to make a decision by the local board and they have to post that decision and they will be able to have that local option to continue the wearing of masks in their school based upon the decision that the school board makes.”

Soon after Hutchinson lifted the mandate, the three school districts in Carroll County — Eureka Springs, Berryville and Green Forest — announced that they would be continuing mask policies on campus.

Eureka Springs

Eureka Springs Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said the school board’s policy is to wear masks for the rest of the school year, saying that policy will remain in place.

“We were aware that the governor was going to change that mandate, but we’ve been really successful with our COVID incidents here, so we decided to just go ahead and wear masks for the rest of the school year,” Pruitt said.

By the time the school board has its next regular meeting, Pruitt said, there will be only one month of school left. Pruitt said it makes sense to continue wearing masks for the next couple of months, saying the board will reassess its policy for the 2021-2022 school year.

“We put out a notice on Facebook so our parents know about that,” Pruitt said. “The principals emailed the students. So far, all the public comment has been very positive.”

Pruitt said the virus didn’t significantly spike after spring break.

“We weren’t real for sure on how things would go after spring break, but so far it’s been OK,” Pruitt said. “We’re wearing masks for the safety of our kids and the staff.”

Pruitt said the ECHO Clinic is offering vaccines to all students 18 and older with signed permission from their parents. With many staff members already vaccinated, Pruitt said, he’s feeling relieved as the school year comes to an end. His primary concern, Pruitt said, is the safety of everyone in the district.

“We didn’t want to do away with the mask policy and all of a sudden two weeks later, there’s an outbreak and everybody has to bring their masks back,” Pruitt said. “Hopefully, we’ll have more herd immunity and more people vaccinated next school year and we can have a mask-free party then.”

Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry said in a phone interview on April 1 that he’s still looking into what the city can do to encourage people to wear masks. In an email sent at 12:43 p.m. that day, Berry writes that he is “fully aware of the strong support for a mask mandate” and supports it.

“I am in daily contact with various attorneys at the Municipal League about how to draft an ordinance in support of a mask mandate and encourage everyone to do the right thing and wear a mask and maintain social distances as per CDC guidelines,” Berry writes.

Berryville

Berryville Superintendent Owen Powell said the district will continue requiring everyone to wear a mask when on school premises.

“Ultimately, we just want to keep our students and our faculty safe,” Powell said. “Even though the mask mandate was lifted, it was still strongly advised by the department of health and the department of education to continue to wear the mask.”

Powell said the school district has done “pretty well” in stopping the spread of the virus.

“We only have a couple of months left, and we want to finish the year strong,” Powell said.

Powell said there are a lot of big events coming up and he wants students and faculty to participate in those events.

“If things continue to go well, we can have prom,” Powell said. “We’ve got graduation ceremonies coming up. We want to keep everybody safe and healthy, and we want our people to participate in those events that are coming up.”

Powell said “quite a few” of the school’s staff have received their vaccinations.

“Our numbers are down. Right now, we have one positive in the entire district,” Powell said. “We’re just trying to keep everyone safe and get this school year finished. If numbers continue to go down, we’ll have a lot more normal school year next year.”

Berryville Mayor Tim McKinney said the city’s mask mandate is tied to the state’s mask mandate.

“So I guess the city’s mask mandate went away when the state’s did, but you’re still required to wear a mask in all city facilities,” McKinney said. “Businesses can choose to require people to wear a mask.”

McKinney said he supports the mask mandate and is thankful that some city employees have received their vaccinations. He’d like to see more employees get their vaccinations, McKinney said.

“I think if people would just be cautious and continue to wear their mask and avoid large crowds and get their vaccinations, we can get this thing behind us,” McKinney said. “The more resistance we have to safety guidelines, the longer we’ll have to deal with it.”

Green Forest

Green Forest Superintendent Matt Summers said the school board will address the mask mandate at its April 19 meeting. Until then, Summers said, the mask mandate is in full effect at the district.

“The governor has lifted his mandate, but the CDC and the department of education haven’t changed their guidelines,” Summers said. “Right now, we’ll be staying the course.”

Summers said he’s spoken with the school’s lead nurse to determine the best action moving forward.

“We believe we should stay the course and make a new plan next year when we know where we’re at,” Summers said. “We’ve had no close contact with staff or students at this time. I think that’s a sign that what we’re doing is working.”

Summers added, “We’ve worn masks all year long, so obviously we know we can do it and then make a decision for next year.”

When the students learned the mask policy would continue, Summers said, they didn’t ask any questions.

“I’ve been really proud that the kids have been safe and they want to stay safe,” Summers said. “They’re resilient and I’m proud they’re so cooperative.”

Summers said the vaccine was offered to anyone who works in the district.

“So anyone that could be vaccinated in our district had the opportunity to do so,” Summers said. “I feel much more comfortable knowing I’ve had both shots, because I feel like I’ve taken every step I know to protect myself and my family.”

Summers said he’s still wearing a mask when he’s close to other people.

“We never know how much we prevent by making good decisions,” Summers said. “I’d rather be accused of being safe than be sorry down the road.”

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