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EDITORIAL: Brave School Boards 'Step Up' To Protect Students, Teachers

August 18, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

Unless you are employed directly with the schools, a banker or, perhaps, a newspaper reporter -- few citizens in any community in Arkansas can name all the members of the area school board. If you don't believe me, get out a scratch piece of paper and quickly write down all the school board members' names without stopping and having to ask for assistance.

Being on any school board in Arkansas is first, a non-paid, always elected, and usually thankless position in the community.

There are lots of long boring meetings doing the public's business, spending a large portion of the public's local and state tax monies within rules and guidelines established by a cornucopia of federal agencies, the state board of education, and local needs.

So, ask yourself this question: Who is on the local school board? Do you know?

And unless you want this public board to become mired in these wild and crazy political swings of the day, you should, as a tax-paying citizen, care -- yes, you should care who is on the local school board. Why? Because of late, local school board members are taking the lead in protecting the lives of the children, the teaching staff, the service employees of the area school district -- and lastly -- all of us as patrons of the area's school districts, by enacting some type of mask rule for the school year ahead.

How can you say that? It is easy, I'll tell you.

These school board members are doing the right thing when doing the right things cannot and must not be deflected by some unproven, non-scientific, verbose demagogue spouting off the "freedom of choice' mantra to the public.

If you do not want to take the vaccine, fine. If you do not want to wear a mask, fine -- unless a business owner posts a sign or you live in a community that has a mask ordinance.

Naysayers will point to a couple of local Arkansas laws that are currently in court, saying they have the law on their side.

Well, a state judge says we will have to stop and see the State Constitution on that issue -- and we will, eventually.

Even our governor, who dislikes wearing a mask, has taken to doing so again. Asa has regrets he did not veto or override that bill when proposed early in the session. But by not doing so, all Asa avoided was a 15-round boxing match with the far-right conservatives, lasting all session long. I really don't blame him for adopting the old saying -- don't poke the bear until it needs poking.

Folks, it is time to poke these bears. And poke all this "personal freedom" jargon that is clogging the airwaves, social media, regular media and the TV and radio airwaves as political garbage not about personal rights.

The school boards, by and large, are following healthcare officials' recommendations to ensure that little Johnny and Susie are safe at school and not spreading this virus.

It is not an easy decision but one I am glad to see boards in Farmington, Prairie Grove, Lincoln, Fayetteville, Gravette, Decatur, Bentonville, Rogers and Springdale (even with a hybrid policy on mask-wearing) are making.

Contrast that, I am sure, with other boards in the River Valley who will soon follow suit but, for right now, seem, well, a little put off on even taking up this issue or requiring masks for students.

Sure, school board members, given the longview, are perhaps the community's best forward-thinking public boards. I am proud of these boards and their members in taking up this issue and deciding to err on the side of science and health and not be cowered by angry, vitriolic threats from protesters.

They are serving for the sake of the safety of our children in our community.

-- Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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