FARMINGTON -- Farmington schools will continue to require masks for staff and students because of covid-19 concerns but will re-evaluate on April 19, according to Stephanie Pinkerton, assistant superintendent.
Lincoln is planning to require masks for the remainder of the year, according to Superintendent Mary Ann Spears, and Prairie Grove schools will follow the current guidelines for masks and social distancing with a review planned for the April 20 school board meeting.
Pinkerton, addressing Farmington School Board at its March 29 meeting, said a survey of teachers and staff showed 60% wanted to wait until mid-April before considering any changes to a mask mandate for Farmington schools.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson last week lifted the statewide mask mandate but gave schools the option to set their own mask policies.
Pinkerton said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Arkansas Department of Health are still recommending that people wear masks. The district's Ready for Learning Committee also is recommending the mask mandate remain in place for now, Pinkerton said.
Farmington wants to "err on the side of caution," Pinkerton told board members. She said committee members decided they would like to wait two or three weeks after spring break before reviewing the mask policy.
The district sent out a news release March 31, which noted the governor's announcement did not change the guidance and recommendations for schools from the department of health or the Arkansas Department of Education.
"The procedures we have followed since the first of the year have helped prevent person-to-person spread of the virus among students and staff at school," the news release said.
According to the news release, the district will review the plan again after seeking public comments.
Lincoln Consolidated School District will require masks for the rest of the year, mainly because students will not have to quarantine if they come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for covid-19 if everyone is wearing a mask, Spears said.
"That's pretty big," she added.
The district surveyed staff prior to spring break, and Spears said a majority were ready to get rid of masks. However, she noted the education department is encouraging schools to keep masks in place. The director of the health department also continues to say masks are important, she said.
"It would have been a lot easier if the governor had kept it...at least until June 1," Spears said. "He's made us out to be the bad guys."
Lincoln has not had any positive cases or anyone in quarantine since about the middle of February.
Reba Holmes, superintendent of Prairie Grove schools, emailed a letter to parents on Friday, noting the district has to follow several guidelines before it can change its mask policy.
"We must involve the School Board members, receive input from parents, post amendments to our 'Ready for Learning' plan while we also are encouraged to continue to follow ADH guidelines," Holmes wrote.
For now, students and staff will wear masks when social distancing of six feet cannot be maintained, Holmes said.
She said information gathered about a possible change will be presented to the board at its April 20 meeting. Input from medical practitioners and parent and faculty surveys will be part of that information, Holmes said.
"I understand that this can be very controversial with both sides passionate about their views; however, I would ask that all involved respect the decision that will be made on April 20, for the remainder of the school year," she said in her letter to parents.
Several Prairie Grove High students last week said they supported wearing masks for the remainder of the year.
"We're only eight weeks out. Let's ride it out for the rest of the year and start fresh in August," said Clay Battles, a junior.
Another classmate, Jeryn Carter, agreed, "Just keep doing it. Dude, ride it out."
Emma Hannah, also a junior, said it's been a minor inconvenience, but she noted everyone is used to it now. She said she believes the mandate should stay in place.
Schools’ Covid-19 Dashboards*
1 case, 4 in quarantine
0 cases, 0 in quarantine
1 case, 8 in quarantine.
*On April 5