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Bentonville School District retains mask mandate

by Dave Perozek | September 22, 2021 at 7:19 a.m.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVE PEROZEK The Bentonville School Board discusses the School District's mask mandate during its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021.

BENTONVILLE -- School District students and employees must continue to wear masks, although that requirement could be suspended if community infection rates decline.

The School Board on Tuesday voted 5-2 to continue requiring masks at least until its next regular, monthly meeting on Oct. 20, with the stipulation Superintendent Debbie Jones may relax the rules if reports of new, known covid-19 infections over a 14-day period drop below 30 per 10,000 district residents.

The rate is currently at 51, according to Arkansas Center for Health Improvement data.

That number will be looked at weekly to determine whether the requirement should be lifted, Jones said.

Jones will make that determination by the end of each Friday, and if a change in the mask policy is warranted, it will take effect the following Monday, according to a resolution the board approved.

The board originally approved mask mandates for both staff and students 3 and older on Aug. 11 by a 5-2 vote. They must wear masks indoors and while riding in school vehicles, with some exceptions. The board promised at the time to reevaluate the policy monthly.

Eric White, board president, and Brent Leas voted against the mandate both at Tuesday's meeting and the Aug. 11 meeting.

Tuesday's decision came after a lengthy discussion among board members and a presentation by Dr. Joe Thompson, president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement.

Thompson told board members this summer's surge in covid-19 cases, fueled by the delta variant, seems to be waning, but "we're not out of the woods yet."

While Tuesday's discussion focused on masks, board members and administrators alike expressed frustration with quarantine requirements imposed by the state.

Bentonville had identified 671 staff and students as probable close contacts as of Thursday, said Leslee Wright, district communications director. Eight people, or 1.1%, tested positive for covid-19, she said.

Kelly Carlson, a board member, urged the public to contact the state to reevaluate and relax quarantine requirements, so fewer students are forced to miss school.

The chairpersons of the district's licensed and classified personnel policy committees sent a ballot to all staff members on Aug. 12 seeking their opinions on masks. The voting closed Aug. 25.

The poll found 64% of licensed staff members and 54% of classified staff members favored a policy mandating they wear masks inside school buildings or while riding in school vehicles, with some exceptions.

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How they voted

Here’s how Bentonville School Board members voted Tuesday on a resolution to continue the School District’s mask mandate.

YES

Matt Burgess

Kelly Carlson

Willie Cowgur

Jennifer Faddis

Joe Quinn

NO

Brent Leas

Eric White

Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette

Print Headline: Bentonville School District retains mask mandate

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