Although some school districts in White County haven’t decided yet what their ultimatum is going to be if students refuse to wear masks when school returns Aug. 24, the ones who have say that “students are going to have to conform.”
When the Beebe School Board discussed its plans for returning to classes a couple of weeks ago, it included that those who refuse to wear masks will be switched to virtual learning. Although the district has changed its policy concerning mask styles, Superintendent Dr. Chris Nail said forcing students whose parents won’t make them wear masks to go online is still in the plans.
“Unless the governor changes his mandate, we have no choice on that,” Nail said.
In the Searcy School District, information provided by School/Community Coordinator Betsy Bailey states that “students who refuse to wear a mask or face covering at school or at a school function under this policy shall be required to leave the school campus consistent with Board Policy 4.19 on student conduct while riding a bus.”
“Students may remove masks and face coverings on a case-by-case basis for specific instructional needs and other activities, as determined by a teacher, in which case the teacher will utilize appropriate social distancing measures or students may be exempted from this policy due to special behavioral or individualized needs as determined by the Director of Special Services or the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction,” the policy states.
White County Central Superintendent Dean Stanley said his district will use “verbal reminders [when a student refuses to wear a mask] but if it becomes a recurring problem with a student for noncompliance then we will have them go virtual.”
Pangburn Superintendent David Rolland said “with the mandate, you have to wear a mask when social distancing is not possible. We will warn students but eventually they will have to conform to that [wearing a mask]. We have a virtual option as well that they can do. They are going to have to conform.”
Bald Knob, Riverview and Rose Bud have yet to determine if students will have to go to virtual learning if they refuse to wear masks. The Daily Citizen was unable to reach Bradford Superintendent Ann Stevens.
Bald Knob School Superintendent Melissa Gipson said she doesn’t have a firm answer yet but will provide information concerning mask enforcement when the district has it ready to announce.
Riverview School Superintendent Stan Stratton said if a student continually refuses to wear a mask, the district will have a conference with the student’s parents, but the district has not made a decision about what the district would do next if the problem persists.
Rose Bud School District Superintendent Allen Blackwell said Rose Bud’s plans are to “highly recommend that we follow the Department of Health guidelines.”
“We are not planning on it becoming a discipline issue,” Blackwell said. “If a student absolutely refuses – at this particular time our teachers and staff are going to be asked to recommend students to wear if they cannot be socially distant – if they just are going to refuse then we are going to put them in a position where they just aren’t going to be close to others. The principals and I feel that we can keep this from becoming a discipline issue. We have not made the decision to threaten them to put them in virtual school.”
The Beebe School District already has had some issues with COVID-19, with a second student-athlete having tested positive Thursday.
“Mr. Chris Ellis, our point of contact, has called the Department of Health and what we’ve done is, we’ve canceled all athletics until Monday to give us time to go in and deep clean all athletic facilities to make sure they are safe and we will resume athletics on Monday,” Nail said.
Asked if anyone else who may have been in contact with the athlete would have to quarantine, Nail said, “I believe there is some but I can’t release how many that is; we have some.”
Earlier this month the district reported another athlete testing positive for COVID-19. All facilities and equipment were sanitized after that report, according to Nail.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Friday his intentions for high school football, volleyball and cheerleading to be held this fall, with teams being allowed to hold no-contact drills in helmets Monday-Friday. It is possible that contact drills will be allowed beginning Aug. 10, but an advisory board is being established to determine that and make recommendations about fall sports.
While Beebe is trying to get a handle on having two of its student-athletes test positive for COVID-19 before those team drills began, the district also had to handle some backlash it received for initially determining that students would have to wear masks with “no writing on them,” other than Beebe Badgers.
“We really thought we were helping parents by providing the masks for the kids, but I guess a lot of them already purchased them,” Nail said. “We were just trying to take the burden off of them. Obviously, we were wrong. We got some good feedback, which is great.
“We’re glad that everyone seems to be happy about the masks now. As long as they meet dress code, like a T-shirt, they will be fine. If a child wanted to monogram their initials on their mask, that would be fine as well.”