Eureka Springs School Board reinstates mask policy

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Staff and students at the Eureka Springs School District will be required to wear masks when school starts next week.

The Eureka Springs School Board voted unanimously to reinstate its mask policy Monday night. Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said he spoke with the school’s attorney about reinstating the policy after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox temporarily blocked the state from enforcing a ban on mask mandates on Friday, Aug. 6.

“Fox declared it unconstitutional and they’re already going to the Supreme Court on it, but in the meantime, let’s see if we can keep our kids safe,” Pruitt said.

Bryan Pruitt

Pruitt said he told somebody a while ago that he was sure two school districts in the Ozarks Unlimited Resource Educational Service Cooperative would approve a mask mandate for the upcoming school year.

“One would be Harrison and the other would be Eureka Springs,” Pruitt said. “There’s other schools where it’s not going to happen.”

Pruitt said masks are vital to keep everyone safe as the COVID-19 Delta variant surges.

“We want to keep our kids safe. We want to have a conducive place for learning and safety,” Pruitt said. “For our kids that are under 12 years old and cannot be vaccinated, we want to keep them safe and we feel like we can do that by reinstating our mask policy.”

Board president Chris McClung asked if the mandate would include all grade levels and Pruitt said it would. Pruitt suggested reinstating the mask mandate until the next board meeting, when the board could evaluate the number of COVID-19 cases.

“Or unless by law it gets struck down again that we can’t mandate it,” Pruitt said.

Board member Jason Morris said Fox’s ruling should be heard by the Arkansas Supreme Court sometime in the next two weeks. Morris then moved to reinstate the mask mandate for the 2021-2022 school year to be re-evaluated each board meeting or until the mandate is overturned by law, and the board unanimously agreed to do so.

Earlier in the meeting, Pruitt proposed a virtual option for the Ready for Learning plan. Pruitt said the district hadn’t planned to have a virtual option this year, but he got a call from the state education department encouraging it when COVID-19 cases continued to increase. Pruitt recommended the Edgenuity program, which would provide a teacher, lessons and books.

“It’s an online platform but we’re still in charge of accountability,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt said the program would cost $2,000 per student, so the district will be selective about who enrolls. If a student didn’t do well with virtual learning last year, Pruitt said, they won’t be selected for the virtual learning program this year. Pruitt said the district can use COVID-19 relief funds to cover the cost of the program for each student.

Board member Jayme Wildeman asked what happens if a student is quarantined and Pruitt said the student can make up for the missed time when they get back.

“If COVID gets so bad we have to pivot, we will revert back to a virtual plan,” Pruitt said.

The board voted unanimously to approve the virtual option and moved on to consider additional pay for staff members who have had the COVID-19 vaccine. Wildeman asked how that would affect staff members who can’t get the vaccine and Pruitt said the pay would only cover those who got the vaccine.

“We have to have documentation of everyone’s COVID card,” Pruitt said. “That’s for the federal audit.”

The board voted, with everyone except Wildeman agreeing to pay vaccinated staff members $200 each.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13, at the middle school cafeteria.

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