Unmasked: Face coverings no longer required in GF schools

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Students and staff in the Green Forest School District will no longer be required to wear face coverings after a decision voted on by the school board during last week’s meeting.

Matt Summers

According to superintendent Matt Summers, the decision to end one of the major health protocols established to help control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic was based on a survey distributed to district parents, guardians and staff.

“The governor’s mandate has pulled masks, and temperatures and those type things are now optional,” Summers said. “We conducted a survey with our staff, parents and guardians that went along with that. We also provided the guidance we had received in that survey. ”

In the survey, Summers said, the district asked if those measures should continue through the end of the school year.

“We had 215 total responses,” Summers said, explaining that some of the respondents were district employees whose children are Green Forest students. “Ninety-five of those were parents or guardians and 160 of those were school employees.”

Summers said the district’s initial “Ready for Learning” pandemic protocol was a simple one, similar to that utilized in many schools across the country.

“Our plan was pretty simple,” Summers said. “Wearing a face covering when going inside and can’t be social distanced, temperature checks to enter the building, social distancing as allowable and then building cleanliness measures, which would simply be wiping down doorknobs and light switches and things with Lysol routinely.”

According to the results of the survey, 59.1 percent of those who responded said mask wearing should be discontinued, 56.1 percent said temperature checks should be discontinued, and 56.1 percent said social distancing should also end. Summers said 93.5 percent of those who responded said the policy of regular disinfection should continue.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson ended his statewide mask mandate on March 30, leaving the decision on whether to continue the public health policy in the hands of cities, counties, individual business owners, entertainment venues and schools. At the same time, Hutchinson said face coverings would still be required at all state offices.

“While we are lifting the statewide mask mandate, that does not mean it ends at every venue,” Hutchinson said. “Whenever you lift a mandate and individuals can make responsible decisions as well as businesses, we just need to honor those decisions.”

Earlier this month, Summers said the Green Forest School District planned to continue requiring face coverings at least until its next board meeting.

At that time, Summers said he “really proud” that his students “have been safe and they want to stay safe.”

The Eureka Springs school board, which met on April 12, did not address any changes to their pandemic protocols, while the Berryville school board, which, like Green Forest’s, met on April 20, voted to continue its pandemic protocols through the end of the year.

In other business, the Green Forest board was presented with the results of its annual legislative audit, which included no major findings, and heard a report from Blaine Lawrence, a high school social studies teacher and Ph.D. candidate who has been interning in Summers’ office.

“We’ve been looking at poverty,” Summers said. “He presented a project on that and the board took that information and our demographics, those type things.”

After hearing Lawrence’s report, Summers said the board decided to approve purchasing a program in which the district’s high school and possibly middle school students participate in an event where they are placed in a “situational poverty” situation Summers described as “where they just got evicted from their apartment or they just lost their job or this or that.”

“And they have to go to tables and try to make a budget and try to make ends meet,” Summers said. “Then halfway through, they stop them and they say, ‘Congratulations, you make good choices. You’re a CPA’ or ‘You have a profession and these are your things. Now go do your bills.’ Then they put them in small groups and talk about it.

“It helps kids understand about the choices you make today and how they affect them long term.”

The board also made a change in its plan for purchasing new school buses for next year. In February, the board approved the purchase of three new buses with the understanding that they’d be able to use funds the district received under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund provisions in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act passed in December.

“With ESSER II, that is not the case unless you’re creating new routes and lessening the amount of student contact and there’s a whole lot of hoops to jump through,” Summers said. “Initially we had ordered three, so we called the company and brought that down to two 54-passenger buses.”

The two new buses will cost the district approximately $198,350 out of next year’s operating budget and are expected to be delivered in July.

The board was able to use ESSER funding to purchase new curriculum assets for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, approving an expenditure of $246,720.93.

“This is a six-year purchase plan for seven grade levels, and that includes the teachers’ and student materials,” Summers said. “We are using ESSER funds to cover that, so that’s taken the sting out of that.”

The board also voted in favor of extending classified salary schedule steps — or yearly increases — for a number of district employees.

“Many of our areas did not extend all the way out to 20 steps,” Summers said. “We made a proposal to continue the step increase amount, but to continue all classified steps out to 20 steps. And so that’s a really good thing for our bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance and custodial.”

The board also approved a number of transfers: Amanda Pearce to 11th grade English/Language Arts; Christie Popejoy to teacher and bus driver; Kyle Farrar to teacher and bus driver; Ross Darby to ESL teacher; Casey Wade to second grade teacher; Kathy Eskridege to first grade teacher; Jack Wellborn to food service, and Jon Taylor to full-time EAST teacher.

The board voted to approve three new staff members, agreeing to hire Vanessa Humbard as a ninth-grade English/Language Arts teachers, Devyn Doyle as a second-grade teacher and Leksi Bailey and Alma Scott as first-grade teachers.

The board also accepted the resignations of Makayla Sanders as junior cheer coach, Carol Snyder as a food service employee and bus driver and Jim Gibson as a chemistry teacher and bus driver.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 18, in the Alumni Center.

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