Eureka Springs school board extends mask mandate

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Eureka Springs School District is extending its mask mandate for another month.

The Eureka Springs School Board voted Monday night to extend the policy after much debate. Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said the board is aware that Benton County Circuit Judge Xollie Duncan granted an injunction to prohibit the Bentonville School District from mandating masks, but that ruling doesn’t apply to the schools in Carroll County.

“I’ve had a couple of people that had that confused,” Pruitt said. “It does not affect Carroll County.”

Bryan Pruitt

Pruitt said there are many pros and cons to wearing masks.

“We know that people are tired of wearing masks. We know the numbers are going down in our district,” Pruitt said. “But we have had three cases — we have two students and one staff member that are isolated right now — and since they were masked, we have nobody quarantined.”

The one staff member in isolation, Pruitt said, would have caused half of a grade to go into quarantine if they weren’t wearing masks. Fortunately, Pruitt said, they were. That means the district can keep those students in the classroom, Pruitt said, and prevent learning loss — a major problem that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We want our kids here in school. We want them learning and staying on top of things,” Pruitt said. “We want them to keep progressing so we can meet all these state guidelines.”

Pruitt continued, “Masking has helped us to where we don’t have to send them home for quarantine when someone tests positive. That way, parents don’t have to make arrangements to stay with them and maybe miss work.”

Other school districts don’t have a mask mandate, Pruitt said, and the board understands that many people are frustrated with wearing masks. Looking at the big picture, Pruitt said, it’s clear that wearing masks has kept the district healthy over the past year.

“We haven’t had all these stomach flus and bugs that normally go through and take out a lot of teachers and kids. We have been really healthy from wearing masks, and that’s what the board made its decision on,” Pruitt said. “We get it. We’d love to not be wearing masks, but we want to protect our kids.”

It’s especially important to wear masks to protect the youngest students in the district, Pruitt said, who aren’t eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We have to protect our kids that don’t have the ability to get a shot. They can’t be vaccinated, so they’re the most vulnerable,” Pruitt said. “That’s really what we stressed on, protecting our kids who don’t have that opportunity yet.”

The board will reconsider the mask mandate at its November meeting, Pruitt said.

Also at the meeting, the board adopted a resolution to rezone the district into five zones with two at-large positions. Pruitt said the rezoning was necessary because the district’s general population includes more than 10 percent minority groups. The new board positions will last for five years, not three, and will be voted on in May.

Pruitt gave an update on how the district has spent its Title I funds, saying the funds are used to pay for instructional facilitators, technology, educational enrichment materials and supplies to keep the facilities safe and clean. Pruitt said the district spent much of the funds on Chromebooks for students and laptops for every staff member.

“We bought a ton of that, and then we upgraded our wireless capability where pretty well anywhere on the campus, you’re wireless and it’s not going to bog us down, even if we’re testing,” Pruitt said. “We had to gear up those servers to improve our wireless capability.”

The district purchased 75 new laptops for the staff, Pruitt said, which were then further upgraded to meet district requirements.

“We had to beef them up because they weren’t the quality we wanted, but with COVID, you took what you got and you were happy with it,” Pruitt said.

The district used some funds for sanitizing equipment, masks and food preparation. Pruitt said the district had to buy styrofoam containers for meal service. Overall, Pruitt said, the funds were mainly spent on technology and educational software.

“All these online programs, we buy the software rights to them so our kids can use their Chromebooks and have access to these programs,” Pruitt said.

When it comes to Chromebooks and other devices, Pruitt said, the district has about two devices per student. Students in the elementary school can’t take their Chromebooks home, Pruitt said, but the devices are always available when they are on campus. Middle and high school students can take the devices home, Pruitt said.

“Now, testing is all online. Typing class used to be in the eighth grade, and now it’s in the second grade,” Pruitt said. “That’s how the change in education goes, and it’s all about testing. Everything’s electronic. There’s no more pencil and paper, and if there is, there’s a special combination for it to be that way.”

In other business, the board approved a student transfer to the Berryville School District and accepted the resignation of dyslexia paraprofessional Jennifer Hancock. The board hired Jeanie Baker and Terri Cox to work in the cafeteria and Earl Hyatt as a bus driver. Pruitt said the district needs more paraprofessionals and substitute teachers — to make it more enticing, he said, the district recently increased its substitute pay to $100 a day and increased pay across-the-board for staff members.

The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8, at the middle school cafeteria.

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