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White Hall district amends mask rules

by I.C. Murrell | October 14, 2021 at 2:58 a.m.
White Hall School Board President Raymond Jones (from left), district Superintendent Doug Dorris and board members Scott Ray and Roy Agee follow the agenda for a board meeting last month. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

WHITE HALL -- School Board members reviewed the White Hall School District's mask mandate as scheduled Tuesday and approved a proposal to amend the requirement for students and staff members to wear face coverings inside campus buildings during each school day.

Superintendent Doug Dorris introduced the policy, which will go into effect Jan. 7. Under the policy:

• The district will "highly recommend face coverings or masks" but not require them unless the number of students with positive cases or in quarantine reaches 30 or more.

• A student does not have to quarantine if he or she has been fully vaccinated against covid-19, unless the student is showing symptoms, and if both the student with covid-19 and the close contact are properly wearing masks and not showing symptoms.

• There will be an option for students who wear masks to sit in groups with other students who opt to do the same. This will keep students from going into quarantine, district officials say.

• Temperature checks will continue each day.

• No masks will be required during extracurricular activities, but they are highly recommended.

• Masks will still be required on buses since students cannot distance from one another.

"I took a lot of different notes from different schools on a lot of different things and visited a lot of people," Dorris said, adding that he reached out to Jefferson Regional Medical Center personnel.

"I asked, 'What do y'all think?' because a lot of people are saying by the end of October or Nov. 1 that they're going to have the shot available for the 5- to 11-year-old range," Dorris added. "That played a lot of role in it. That way, parents could go and get the shot for the child, if they wanted to."

Pfizer and BioNTech have formally asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize their vaccine for children ages 5-11. The two drug companies, along with Moderna, are reportedly expanding studies on vaccination effects for children of that age range.

Dorris said in August that he was instituting the district's mask mandate because kids under 12 were not eligible for vaccination before the start of the school year. He said the mandate would be reviewed within 60 days of the first day of school, which was Aug. 16.

Some parents opposed the policy, saying it should be a parental choice of whether their children wear masks, but the mandate remained in force after an Aug. 31 public hearing.

Each district campus also has an air purification system installed to circulate fresh air through each classroom, gym and hallway.

Dorris said he is hopeful that state officials will approve a program that allows school districts to use rapid testing for students who would otherwise have to quarantine. Under an ongoing pilot program in four districts, a student assigned to quarantine can go to school and be checked each day before school starts; if the student tests negative, then he or she can go to class.

Current state guidelines allow for students and staff members to avoid quarantining if they and the person who is infected were wearing masks.

OTHER DISTRICT NEWS

The district also released its annual report during Tuesday's meeting.

Dorris announced that the district has enrolled 3,021 students, an increase of 105 from last school year. There were 2,970 enrolled during 2019-20.

The attendance rate for all grade levels during 2020-21 was 92%, a short drop from 94% during 2019-20, the latter part of which marked the start of the pandemic. White Hall High posted a 93% graduation rate during 2020-21, an increase from 89% during 2019-20.

The average teacher salary is $55,723 and expenditure per student is $10,620.67.

Elementary art instructor Ashley Thompson and high school agriculture instructor Kisia Weeks were named district Teachers of the Year.

PERSONNEL

The district approved the hiring of Kaden Davis as a bus driver and accepted the resignation of Jason Mitchell at that position.

Print Headline: White Hall district amends mask rules

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