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Lifting mask mandate wins board's approval

by I.C. Murrell | November 11, 2021 at 2:51 a.m.
White Hall School District Superintendent Doug Dorris makes comments during a board meeting Tuesday. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

WHITE HALL – Board members unanimously gave Superintendent Doug Dorris the green light to lift the White Hall School District's mask mandate, effective Dec. 6.

Dorris told parents at a stakeholder meeting last week he intended to make the recommendation, citing decreases in the number of students who have been diagnosed with covid-19 and the number of those who have gone under quarantine. The board in August allowed Dorris to enact a requirement for all students and staff members to wear masks while indoors on school property, citing a rise in covid-19 cases.

"In the last 30 days, a lot of things have changed since that time," Dorris said. "I'm asking y'all to lift this mandate Dec. 6, and the reason why I'm asking you to change it to Dec. 6 is that the White Hall School District covid-positive and quarantine numbers have decreased in the last 30 days. Now, to be honest with you, they've gone up in a few places this week and last week."

White Hall was not among the school districts with five or more active cases of covid-19, according to the latest data from the Arkansas Department of Health. A dashboard printout from last Thursday revealed White Hall had 16 students actively under quarantine and four active cases.

Dorris also cited the availability of vaccinations for children ages 5-11 and the district's Test to Stay program, which allows students who come in close contact with a positive covid-19 individual while at school to remain in school if they test negative for the disease.

"That's our big goal, I think, to keep kids in school and try to do what we can," Dorris said.

A clause in White Hall's mask policy calls for the mandate to be reinstated for seven days if the district has 30 or more positive cases or quarantines.

The mandate has drawn opposition from some parents in the district, many of whom signed a petition in hopes of reversing the mandate. Board members stuck with the mandate after an Aug. 31 public hearing, but another petition has been filed and is awaiting a date for a second hearing to be set.

NEW CLASSES COMING?

The White Hall School District has submitted a grant to the Arkansas Department of Education's Division of Career and Technical Education (DCTE) in hopes of establishing a new veterinary science course for the 2022-23 school year and advanced programming computer science course for 2023-24.

The district presently offers classes in agricultural power, structural and technical systems and natural resources/environmental service systems, as well as Level 1 and Level 2 animal science. Veterinary science would be the Level 3 course in agriculture.

The DCTE recently approved courses in Computer Science Programming I and II, College Board AP Computer Science Principles and College Board AP Computer Science A, which are taught under the STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math) Computer Science CTE Department.

Assistant superintendent Debbie Jones said she hopes to hear from the Division of Career and Technical Education about the grant by January.

"The community involvement, we had to come together and have letters of support, so like in the computer science piece, we had letters from JRMC, Central Moloney, the local veterinarians in town and FFA groups also had letters of support," Jones said. "That shows they would come in and partner and provide guest speakers, provide intern things that they need to shadow, and we have to show we have all the coursework that would allow us to prepare kids to take that."

IN OTHER DISTRICT BUSINESS

Employees will receive one-time bonuses from the district by Dec. 1. The board approved a $1,000 payment to each certified employee, $750 to each classified employee and $500 for each contracted bus driver.

Board trustees voted to move the annual election from November 2022 to May 2022. The move requires Dorris to send notice to the Jefferson County Election Commission and the Jefferson County Clerk by Saturday.

PERSONNEL MOVES

Dorris announced his retirement effective June 30 after 46 years in education, 40 of which have been in the White Hall School District.

The district has hired James Raney as a long-term substitute at White Hall Middle School and approved maternity leave for middle school English teacher and band assistant Christa Haynes through Feb. 22.

Print Headline: Lifting mask mandate wins board's approval

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