Guidance on handling COVID-19 for school districts for the start of the school year is expected “in the next week or so,” according to Riverview School District Superintendent Stan Stratton.

“So far, there is no guidance from the state,” Stratton told the Riverview School Board on Thursday night. However, “there were a couple of state laws that passed that will be involved in that.

“First is that schools do not have a mask mandate so masks will be totally optional this year. It will totally be a parent-student decision on that, to wear a mask. The second one is that vaccinations cannot be required and they can’t be forced. We cannot require for any reason that students be vaccinated.”

Stratton said a survey was conducted by the district on whether it should hold a COVID-19 vaccination clinic “and we did not have enough interest. We had less than 10 students whose parents signed them up.”

As of Friday afternoon, 39.86 percent of Arkansans 12 and up had been fully vaccinated and another 9.23 percent had been partially vaccinated. White County’s vaccination lags behind the state rate at 34.1 percent fully vaccinated and 5.1 partially immunized.

The Searcy School District has posted on social media that a vaccination clinic for any student aged 12-19 will be held Thursday at the College Church of Christ, 712 E. Race Ave. from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. There is no cost for the students. Medical Center Pharmacy is scheduling appointments at (501) 268-3311.

Those wishing to be vaccinated are asked to enter the west side of the building and go to Room 100. Students must have signed parental consent. The form can be found on the Searcy Public Schools Facebook page.

Riverview School Board President Darren Gordon said Thursday night that he would like to see an insert in high school open house information about vaccinations. He told the board and Stratton that he just did not know if the survey given to parents where less that 10 people were interested in vaccinations was an accurate portrayal. He noted that “we had an issue opening it.”

“We could do that,” Stratton said, adding that he was in a Zoom meeting with Dr. Joe Thompson from the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and he is drafting a letter that the district could use signed by him.

He said the district has administration meetings Monday and Tuesday and he is “really hoping maybe that guidance will come out.” Stratton said with a spike in cases right now it may be a challenge starting school.

Arkansas had 8,804 active cases of COVID-19 as of Friday afternoon, for a cumulative total of 360,258, an increase of more than 15,000 over the past month. Active cases in White County were 63 on June 16 and 325 Friday afternoon. They had gotten down as low as the 30s in April and May.

Danyelle McNeill, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Health, said Friday that “back-to-school guidance hasn’t been finalized yet. We think it will be sometime next week.”

Stratton said he does know that quarantine rules will still be in effect for schools when classes start back in a month from what he has been told.

“Those that have been vaccinated don’t have to quarantine,” he said, “and then also there is still the 6-foot distance; if you were inside that bubble for more than 15 minutes, then you will have to be quarantined unless you have had it within the last 90 days. There will be some challenges with that.”

Stratton also mentioned that the COVID leave that was offered to staff last year has “gone away.”

“Right now, there are saying no COVID leave from the state level, so it just reverts to sick leave for the staff,” he said.

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