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Masks will be optional at Pea Ridge schools

by Annette Beard | April 8, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

PEA RIDGE -- Face masks will be optional at all four campuses in the School District.

The School Board held a special meeting April 1 via Zoom to consider the question.

"We're here today to decide if we're going to continue with what we're doing, modify or eliminate what we're doing and require them to make them optional," school superintendent Keith Martin said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state-wide face mask mandate would expire March 31. Officials at the Arkansas Department of Education announced decisions about face masks would be a local option, according to Pea Ridge school superintendent Keith Martin.

"From a data standpoint, our last positive case was Feb. 26. We've had no close contact, contract tracing, quarantine ... we've had zero cases in the last month," Martin said. "I've called each principal to get the pulse of their building."

He said the majority of the faculty and staff prefers the use of masks be optional, but that he believes the percentage of staff preferring a mask mandates or optional requirements reflect the preferences in society as a whole.

"From my standpoint, I believe we're at the point ... we can make it optional," Martin said, as he recommended doing away with the mandate and making it optional.

Jeff Neil, board president, said he had reached out to the state Department of Education, and was told the state is "forcing local boards to make a policy."

"The reality is, they are forcing the board to make a policy -- either to continue the mask mandate or to remove the mask mandate, and that is actually tied to some federal funding, so we really don't have an option," Neil said, "whereas there was no board action taken to have a mask mandate in the district to begin with."

"We have no option," Neil emphasized, saying the board must make a decision regarding masks. "Our hands are tied as a board and a district."

Martin agreed, "We have to have formal action."

School Board member Sandy Button said she's prefer the board pass a resolution stating the decision. Neil agreed.

Board member Jenny Wood asked, "Just clarification, with the mask mandate, when the masks are optional -- what are still the safe guidelines?"

"If the choice is to make face masks optional, the district will still do all other safety precautions -- cleaning protocols, social distancing protocols... We will continue to operate as we have all year, except without a mask on," Martin said, adding that includes staying with a 6-feet "bubble" or perimeter around people.

"Will this have anything to do with people coming to the schools?" board member Mindy Cawthon asked.

"We will continue to operate as we have been minus the masks," Martin said. "We can look at opening up a little bit more in the future maybe."

Neil made motion which was seconded by Button. The motion passed unanimously with all board members attending virtually.

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