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Fort Smith School Board enacts 30-day mask mandate

by Monica Brich | January 11, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.
Students traverse the campus of Fort Smith Northside on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Fort Smith. Visit nwaonline.com/220111Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

FORT SMITH -- The Fort Smith School Board has decided to enact a 30-day mask mandate in response to the recent increase in covid-19 cases, specifically the omicron variant.

The board agreed in a 4-2 vote Monday night that Deputy Superintendent Terry Morawski could remove the mask mandate before the 30 days is up if Sebastian County has fewer than 49 covid-19 cases per 10,000 residents for a consecutive 14-day period.

Board members Dee Blackwell, Yvonne Keaton-Martin, Dalton Person and Talicia Richardson voted in favor of the mandate, and Troy Ecklehoff and Susan McFerran voted against.

The Future School of Fort Smith passed a similar version of its mask mandate Thursday, which automatically lapses if Sebastian County has fewer than 30 cases per 10,000 residents.

Three parents of district students spoke in opposition and one spoke in favor of the mask mandate prior to the board's decision.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Martin Mahan also gave a presentation about the district's updated covid-19 response plan.

Mahan had Kerri Tucker, School Based Health Center Coordinator, explain the new CDC guidelines regarding quarantining and isolation that the state health department recently adopted.

Tucker said instead of an isolation period for 10 days at home if someone tests positive, it's a five-day isolation at home followed by five days of wearing a mask, regardless of vaccination status.

"If someone is exposed to a positive person and they have been boosted, or they are up to date with their vaccination -- which means they are not really eligible yet for a booster -- that person then can continue normal activities. They are to mask for 10 days around others. If an individual is in close contact with a positive case and they have not been vaccinated or have not been boosted and it's past the time for their booster, then they have to quarantine at home for five days and mask for five additional days when they are around other individuals. And if anyone is unable to mask, then they are to remain either in quarantine or isolation at home for that 10-day period," she said.

Mahan said the district is continuing to provide expanded cleaning processes and has an adequate amount of supplies that are being monitored and purchased as necessary. He said N-95 masks have been distributed to staff who have asked for them.

Mahan said staffing considerations are being looked at on a daily basis to ensure the district can provide proper classroom instruction, building supervision, nutrition services and transportation.

The district is providing a new substitute incentive pay through the end of the month, where substitute teachers, paraprofessionals and office administrative assistants can receive a $250 bonus if they work 10 days or $500 if they work 15 days.

Fort Smith is also preparing to move to remote learning if necessary, as K-2 students who do not typically take a computer home began taking their devices home. Roughly 200 Hot Spots are also available for students who need them, and 300 have already been checked out.

Mahan clarified that the district had more flexibility from the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education last year regarding virtual learning. He said this year the district is allowed 10 days to use as needed, and if they go over it would need to be made up at the end of the school year, similar to extreme weather events.

"I do truly have concerns about staffing our schools and our district departments if things continue the way they are," Morawski said. "And it's not unlikely that the school or the district could have to go virtual at some point due to employee absences from either being sick or quarantined."

Morawski said on Monday the district had six staff members and 108 students in quarantine. He said 37 of those cases were due to contact during school.

  photo  Students traverse the campus of Fort Smith Northside on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Fort Smith. Visit nwaonline.com/220111Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
 
 
  photo  Students traverse the campus of Fort Smith Northside on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Fort Smith. Visit nwaonline.com/220111Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
 
 


Print Headline: Fort Smith School Board enacts 30-day mask mandate

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