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Fayetteville community continues school mask conversations

by Mary Jordan | August 27, 2021 at 7:26 a.m.
John L Colbert, superintendent, gives his monthly report Thursday at the Fayetteville School District School Board meeting. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Mary Jordan)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The community shared mixed opinions of wearing masks in schools Thursday at the district's School Board meeting.

About 20 people signed up to speak into the board's Aug. 9 decision to require wearing masks in indoor spaces in all kindergarten through 12th grade schools regardless of vaccination status.

The board voted 6-0 in support of the policy. Keaton Smith, board member, was absent.

A Pulaski County Circuit Court judge on Aug. 6 ruled a state law banning mask mandates for public institutions -- including school districts, universities, cities and counties -- was unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction against it. The law isn't in effect at the moment, prompting mask decisions by school districts throughout the state.

Shayla Oldham has one child attending school in the district and spoke out against the board's decision to require masks in schools.

"You have failed these children," Oldham said. "You should heed the outcry of parents," she said, noting many don't support students wearing masks.

Oldham said she doesn't blindly follow Centers for Disease Control recommendations regarding mitigating the spread of the covid-19 virus and feels students wearing masks in schools should be at the discretion of parents.

Marti Sharkey, Fayetteville city health officer, thanked the board for its decision.

Numerous studies have proven universal masking prevents the spread of the covid-19 virus, which can lead to death, Sharkey said.

Lisa Mollner, parent of a Fayetteville High School junior and two recent graduates from the school, expressed her support for the board's decision to require masks in school.

"Public safety necessitates rules," Mollner said.

The Rev. Evan Garner, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, admitted it's a tough time for many people. Garner is the parent of four children, three of whom attend Fayetteville schools, he said.

"It is hard not walking my kindergartner to the classroom, but it's important that I not go into the building," Garner said, explaining it would be harder to visit his daughter in the hospital should she contract covid-19.

Masks were not on the agenda, so the board didn't address the policy at the meeting, said Nika Waitsman, board president.

"The situation has not changed in Washington County from when we enacted the policy, so it's not yet time to reconsider it," Waitsman said.

The board plans to revisit the policy prior to its Oct. 28 board meeting, she said.

The district reported 82 students and nine staff members as being positive for covid-19 Thursday on the Fayetteville Public Schools Covid-19 Dashboard. Thirteen staff members and 207 students were in quarantine or isolation, according to the dashboard.

In other news, the board voted 7-0 to update its policy for using district buildings in support of the community.

"Our buildings in normal operational times don't sleep," said Megan Duncan, associate superintendent for support services. "We constantly have events that are happening and going on in the schools."

The new policy will lead to updates for an antiquated system that currently relies on paper forms, phone calls and a lot of back-and-forth communications, Duncan said.

The new system will include an online dashboard that will allow people to view facility availability by date, understand what facilities look like and receive rental estimates.

"They also will have the ability to pay online, which we've heard from the community at large is much preferred to bringing in a paper check into a physical building," Duncan said.

Use of district buildings by the community is currently on hold due to the covid-19 pandemic, said Alan Wilbourn, district public information officer.

The new policy will allow the district to meet the community's needs as soon as it's feasible to do so, Duncan said.

"When the climate and conditions allow for it, we do want to be ready to take on the load of whatever those events are that people would like to have."

Keaton Smith, board member, said he loves the community schools model the policy reinforces.

"Making it easier for other folks to use our buildings is a good use of the resources and helps to solidify that idea of school as a community hub and neighborhood anchor," he said.

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The Fayetteville Board of Education holds its regular meetings at 5 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of each month in the Adams Leadership Center at 1000 W. Bulldog Blvd.

Meetings are live-streamed at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrvo4fc7vCuce7FWUyX9GLg.

Source: Fayetteville Public Schools

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