The Searcy School District at least temporarily dropping its mask mandate late last week due to a reduction in the area’s risk level is an “opportunity to kind of get some semblance of normality back,” according to Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hart.
The decision follows the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement reporting that the district is in the “green” level, which indicates that there are 10 to 19 COVID-19 cases per 10,000 residents for a 14-day period. The mask requirement was rescinded by Hart for indoors and on buses, and face coverings for students and staff members are optional.
“We made that decision Thursday afternoon,” Hart said. “The resolution that the board passed [Aug. 12] gave me the ability to make that determination. I consulted them [the School Board] and said, ‘Here’s what I’m seeing; here’s where we are headed,’ and if they had any reservations, I asked them to share them with me.
“I think everybody is pleased with the idea that [COVID-19] cases are down. ... I just hope it continues to stay that way.”
The school district was not on the Arkansas Department of Education’s school report for COVID-19 on Thursday. The biweekly list includes all school districts with five or more active cases.
Searcy was back on the list Monday with five active cases and 182 cumulative.
“One of the biggest concerns we had is quarantines,” Hart said. “If there is a positive case in a classroom, if everyone is not wearing a mask then we’re subject to having quite a few quarantines, and that’s not our rules, that’s the Department of Health.”
According to the district, 2,050 students have been kept out of quarantine since school started because of the district’s mask mandate.
Some students and teachers Hart said he talked to said they are going to continue to wear their masks. “It’s just like everything else in the world today, it’s about at 50-50 probably.”
The next School Board meeting will be Oct. 27, and Hart said he “will probably have a resolution so we can formalize the data that we are going to be using. ACHI has talked about – but not made the date known yet but at some point – that data may go away, so we want to make sure we have some pretty good sound and robust data for any decisions moving forward.”
Hart said the district will release information every week where its in relation to the next week in regard to COVID-19. He said this was expected to be posted on Friday afternoons between noon and 3 p.m.
In the latest communication, last Thursday, from ACHI, 40 Arkansas public school districts have COVID-19 infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 district residents over a 14-day period, down from 77 the previous week.
The health policy center also said that for the third week in a row, the number of school districts with COVID-19 vaccination rates of at least 50 percent remained at five: Bentonville 53 percent, Cleveland County 53 percent, Fountain Lake 52 percent, Magnet Cove 52 percent and Pulaski County Special School District 51 percent.
Among the 40 districts with 14-day infection rates of 50 or more new known infections per 10,000 residents, none have rates of 100 or more new known infections per 10,000 residents, down from seven the week prior, according to Arkansas Department of Health data obtained last Monday.
On the ACHI map of Arkansas school districts, a district with 50 to 99 new known infections per 10,000 residents is shaded red and a district with 100 or more new known infections per 10,000 residents is shaded purple. The color-shading of a district is based on infections among community residents living within the geographical boundaries of each school district and not on cases among school employees and students.
The White County Central School District reported on its Facebook page that its ACHI zone for COVID has dropped to yellow and it is also mask optional for this week. It has not been on the Department of Health’s biweekly school report since Sept. 9
Beebe, Bald Knob and Bradford are still under a mask mandate. Masks are optional at Rose Bud, Riverview and Pangburn.
Monday’s school report from the Department of Health showed Beebe with 14 active cases (86 cumulative), Pangburn with 14 (69 cumulative) and Riverview with 6 (45 cumulative).