Active covid-19 cases in public schools increased about 15% statewide over the seven-day period that ended Monday, according to state Department of Health data.
The time period included the first week back to school after spring break, with cases rising to 170 from a previous count of 148. The Health Department report before spring break, dated March 18, listed 302 active covid-19 cases among students and staff members in public school districts.
Several of the state's largest school districts have said they are keeping face-covering requirements in place for students and staffs after Gov. Asa Hutchinson last week announced an end to a statewide mask mandate that aimed to mitigate the spread of covid-19.
But at least nine public school districts as of Monday had publicly stated they were dropping the mask requirements.
"We ask that all parents, students, and staff make an informed decision as to whether or not to wear a mask on campus," Scott Gauntt, superintendent of Westside Consolidated School District, said in a message dated Wednesday and posted on social media after a School Board decision to make masks optional. The Craighead County district enrolls about 1,700 students.
"In addition, we ask that everyone respect the decisions of others and not criticize others for the choices they make in regards to wearing masks," Gauntt said.
The state is requiring school boards to make decisions about face-covering mandates for their schools. Many boards have yet to meet since Hutchinson's announcement.
After statewide case counts in public school districts topped 3,400 in mid-January, districts had seen covid-19 infections plunge until recently.
A count Thursday of 153 active infections marked the first rise in public school district cases since March 4. The Health Department releases reports on covid-19 in schools twice a week.
Compared with a month ago, case totals remain low. A Health Department report dated March 4 listed 461 active covid-19 cases among students and staff members in public school districts.
Monday's report listed the Bentonville School District with 16 active cases, the highest total among all districts. The Springdale School District came next with 11 active infections.
No other school district had 10 or more active cases.
The report Monday listed nine school districts with five or more active infections, up from Thursday's report, which listed seven districts as having five or more active cases of covid-19.
The Health Department report Monday also showed covid-19 cases rising at colleges and universities in the state.
Active infections increased to 75 at colleges, up from the 57 cases listed in Thursday's report.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville topped all universities with 18 active cases, followed by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff with 11 active cases and the University of Central Arkansas with eight active infections.
No other college in the state was listed as having five or more active infections.