FAYETTEVILLE -- The School Board on Thursday unanimously voted to amend the district's mask policy to make masks optional beginning Nov. 15 for students in grades 7-12 and staff in those schools and district administrative and support buildings.
The Nov. 15 effective date will allow the district to make a safe and informed policy transition, said Mary Claire Hyatt, district general counsel.
The policy will be amended Dec. 23 to make masks optional for grades K-6 to give time for students who don't currently qualify for the covid-19 vaccine to get vaccinated following potential federal approval of the vaccine for that age group in the days ahead, said Alan Wilbourn, district public information officer.
The district continues to strongly recommend wearing masks, according to the policy. Visitors to district buildings will still be required to wear masks.
The revised policy will remain in place as long as the district stays below 30 cases per 10,000 people as reported by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, according to the policy. If the district rises above 30 cases per 10,000 people for a consecutive 14-day period, the mask mandate will automatically go back into place, until such time that the district drops below 30 cases per 10,000 for a 14-day period.
The School Board voted Aug. 9 to require masks for all district staff, visitors and students in kindergarten through the 12th grade.
"This issue of quarantines is a central consideration," said Nika Waitsman, School Board president. "It's very important for children to remain in school."
Arkansas Department of Health guidelines for schools exempt people who are vaccinated or who had covid-19 infections within the past three months from which they recovered from having to quarantine unless they develop symptoms.
Students and staff also can avoid quarantine if both they and the infected person were wearing masks.
Angie Maxwell, community member, made comments in support of keeping the mandate at the meeting, noting it's a way to help provide student access to education during the pandemic and adjusting the policy may create additional work for teachers to track student mask wearing.
"An additional burden for our teachers is a lot to ask right now," Maxwell said.
Cassie Booth, parent of two district children, supported parents' and students' right to choose wearing masks, adding she believes those who won't wear masks at school won't pose a significant risk to others.
In other news, the board voted 7-0 to approve a more than $27.7 million guaranteed maximum price for a new academic and athletic complex at Fayetteville High School.
The Bulldog Academic and Athletic Complex will replace some facilities near Harmon Field and expand others, said Megan Duncan, associate superintendent for support services.
The complex will consist of two main parts, Duncan said. The three-story Student Wellness and Academic Center will replace the football fieldhouse south of Harmon Field and the concession and restroom facilities. The center will include new restrooms and concessions and a new entrance gate to the field.
The center will also offer locker rooms for the football, soccer and cross country teams and will feature training materials and equipment to teach sports medicine, editing bays and technology for student broadcasting and academic space that can be converted to a banquet area and seating overlooking the field for football and soccer games, Duncan said.
The Bulldog Teams Center will replace three former Boys & Girls Club buildings that are more than 60 years old and will extend the indoor practice facility north of Harmon Field, administrators said. The space will include a spirit court for cheer and dance team practice, an auxiliary training room, batting cages, storage space, locker rooms and extra parking.
"I think it's pretty remarkable," said Justin Eichmann, board member, of the development.
The project is part of a school bond restructuring voters approved in February 2020, administrators said. The bond restructuring will help generate about $111 million for district facility improvements and construction.
Nabholz Construction of Rogers is the project developer, Duncan said.
Construction will begin Dec. 6 and is scheduled to be completed in May 2023, Duncan said.
Information on covid-19 positivity rates for Arkansas school districts is available at https://achi.net/covid19/.
Source: Arkansas Center for Health Improvement