LINCOLN -- Lincoln School Board met only 15 minutes last week before unanimously voting to require masks for all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. The mask mandate will be reviewed at monthly board meetings, as necessary.
The board, in a special meeting Aug. 11, approved a resolution that notes Arkansas is "experiencing a public health emergency due to covid-19."
To protect students and staff, the school board implemented an emergency policy to require masks for children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade while attending school or at a school function that is inside a school building or facility and to wear masks when riding in school-provided transportation.
Students do not have to wear masks when they are eating or drinking and can remove them when appropriate social distancing measures are in place, as determined by school staff. They also can remove masks on a case-by-case basis for specific instructional purposes, such as extracurricular activities.
Students may be exempt from the emergency plan due to special behavioral or individual needs, as approved by the administration.
Staff will be able to remove masks to eat or drink and when appropriate social distancing measures are in place. They also can request to be exempt from the mask mandate with proper medical documentation.
Emily Robbins, Lincoln High School nurse and the district's covid-19 point of contact, noted that if everyone is wearing a mask, they will not have to quarantine if they are exposed to covid-19 at school, unless they start showing symptoms.
"No one has to quarantine at all. It's plain and simple," Robbins said.
She said she is not allowed to ask students if they have received a covid-19 vaccine, but if someone is not vaccinated and is not wearing a mask, they will have to quarantine for 10 days. They can have a covid-test on the fifth day, and if it comes back negative, the student or staff member can return to school on the eighth day, Robbins said.
Another factor to consider, Robbins said, is that for the 2021-22 year, schools have to have 178 days of instruction. Last year, the state was more lenient on this requirement but it will not be this year, she said.
She pointed to the cases and quarantines in the Marion School District this summer. The district had hundreds in quarantine the first week of school because of covid-19. If Lincoln had a situation like that, it would be going into school as late as June, she said.
"We all take an oath to protect our kids," Robbins said. "If there's a reason masks shouldn't be used, I haven't heard it."
Mary Ann Spears, superintendent of Lincoln Consolidated School District, said the mask mandate is about the same as the one used last year at the beginning of the school year.
"This is my recommendation that we put this in place," Spears said. "Most schools across the state are looking at this. Mainly after looking at what happened in Marion."
Like most people, Spears said she does not like masks and would prefer students not have to wear them.
"We thought we were over this," Spears said, noting that at the first of July, administrators at a meeting were talking about how the state was "done with it." But within days, they realized it was not over, she said.
"It's back with a vengeance," she said.
Spears said she trusted the recommendation from Robbins to enact a mask mandate.
"She's done a great job. We didn't have huge outbreaks last year or huge transmissions."
Board President Oleta Danforth said she agreed with a mask mandate.
"I couldn't live with myself if I had the ability to keep someone well and I didn't," Danforth said.
Lincoln Covid-19 Cases*
Active cases, 5
Active cases, 1
*On Aug. 16