The Bald Knob School District is keeping its mask policy in place, with Superintendent Melissa Gipson delivering the Ready for Learning Committee’s recommendation the same day Arkansas Department of Health numbers showed that less than 30 percent of White County’s residents had been at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19.
Gipson said at Monday’s Bald Knob School Board meeting that the recommendation of the committee is that masks continue to be required for the rest of the school year.
Bald Knob High School Principal Sarah Shannon brought up an example from Friday in support of the requirement. Shannon said there was a senior meeting as usual with four students per table, wearing masks the entire time. “A student in that group tested positive for COVID-19 and because they were all wearing their masks, it kept the remainder of those students from being quarantined.”
Shannon said there are several big events coming up in the high school so “thankfully” these students won’t be taken out of those situations.
Gipson said the focus of the conversation with the Personnel Policy Committee and the Ready for Learning Committee “turned into more of concerns about removing masks, concerns that the students who are the most at risk healthwise by not being vaccinated would be put at greater risk by removing the masks, concerns that kids would be quarantined.”
She said the district has “experienced the impacts socially, emotionally and mentally and academically on those students this year who have already been quarantined, an impact on students and their ability to participate not only in academics but also extracurricular activities, namely prom and graduation specifically, and an impact on state testing for students who test positive and then have subsequent quarantine.”
In announcing his decision last week to lift his statewide mask mandate, Gov. Asa Hutchinson presented the fact that quarantines could be tied to wearing a mask now, Gipson said. “If you wear a mask, you no longer have to quarantine if those are being worn properly.”
“This really shifted the thinking of the face masks and it’s something that our point of contacts have been concerned about the entire time and have hoped for this to happen, for us to be able to not quarantine if two people are wearing masks correctly,” she said.
Three options were considered in regard to wearing masks. Gibson said: maintaining face masks as the policy is currently written, removing face masks as a requirement and revisiting wearing face masks at a later date.
“I think the deal breaker was, unless the governor ties more stipulations or changes things even more, that quarantine is the biggest reason we would recommend continuing to wear face masks,” she said, “because it allows us to keep kids in school, keep educating them face to face and it allows us to protect students healthwise and from the impact of a subsequent quarantine from someone who may not choose to wear a mask to school.”
Bald Knob’s decision follows the Beebe School Board holding a special meeting Thursday and choosing to make masks optional for its students and staff, saying “we understand that it is a very controversial issue which both sides feel passionate about. The board has taken all feedback into consideration in order to come to a decision that best meets the needs of our students and staff.”
The White County Central School Board and Rose Bud School Board have adopted similar policies, recommending but not requiring that masks be worn.
The Searcy School Board decided March 24 to keep its “current district policy of requiring masks for both students and staff at this time,” according to School/Community Coordinator Betsy Bailey, and did not discuss the policy at a special meeting Friday.
The Pangburn and Bradford school districts also are maintaining their masks policies at the time, while the Riverview School District asked for input from its patrons and staff on a survey that ended Monday. It has not posted the results of the survey.
The results of the Department of Health’s Monday county vaccination report shows that 10,379 residents (16.61 percent) had been fully vaccinated, another 6,899 (11.04 percent) had received the first dose and nine had been given an unknown number of doses. These numbers are based on those 16 years old or older, which accounts for 62,498 of the county’s population.
A total of 477,857 (20.12 percent) in the state had been fully vaccinated and another 357,280 (15.04 percent) had been partially vaccinated.
A free COVID-19 vaccine clinic will be held at Valley Baptist Church, 3328 Arkansas Highway 36, on April 21 from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. No appointment is necessary. If insured, insurance cards should be brought.
Around Searcy, reaction to the removal of the state’s mask mandate has been mixed.
White County Sheriff Phillip Miller said that no changes to the White County Detention Center’s requirements have been made “although we have developed and are implementing a plan in stages for returning the jail to pre-COVID operations. Our employees are allowed to exercise their discretion on wearing masking in the offices.”
Searcy Parks and Recreation Director Mike Parsons said at the Carmichael Community Center, “state police and their group are still required to mask and per the mayor, for at least the next few weeks, we are not changing any of our protocol – we are still requiring it [wearing a mask].”
Parsons said residents are going with the flow and no big issues have come up because of the mask requirement.
Some businesses, like Shoe Dept, have rescinded their requirements for customers to wear masks, according to key holder Candace Cox, while others, like Stotts Drug Store, continue to have signs saying that masks are required.