LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Kids in Little Rock will once again have to wear masks at school.
The Little Rock School Board Thursday voted to require the face coverings indoors. LRSD was one of the first entities to push back against the state’s banning of further mask mandates and is also one of the last Central Arkansas school districts to vote.
The decision was mostly unanimous. One board member had stepped out and superintendent Mike Poore was absent, but 8 board members voted to require masks indoors.
Those two and older will have to mask up for everything school-related indoors, including classes, school events, and taking the bus. The only exceptions will be for eating and drinking, medical conditions, or individualized special learning plans. Masks won’t be required outdoors but will be recommended by those who are unvaccinated and in crowded settings.
The question was raised by board member Jeff Wood if there should also be an exception for certain learning situations, such as during literacy training. His motion to amend the mandate to include that never received a second.
Parents and teachers were able to share their thoughts during public comments, which were mostly on board with the requirement.
“These children that are unable to get vaccinated, they’re very vulnerable children,” explained Naya Carpenter, a pediatric raspatory therapist who has seen the increase in disease firsthand.
Others encouraged the board to vote “yes” on the mandate to better protect kids in a group setting.
But not everyone agreed; one parent wrote in that it should be up to families and students to decide, and not the school board.
But while board members prepare for another school year, some parents and teachers are hoping more can be done.
Veronica McLane used her public comment time to encourage the board to push state leaders to make bold choices, saying “we can’t protect the kids if we’re not protecting them outside of schools.”
Another speaker, teacher Colton Gilbert, took his time to criticize this week’s professional development days for a lack of masks, asking the board to do more to protect teachers while they protect students.
“There are people that felt Tuesday was a super spreader event,” Gilbert said.
Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of UAMS made his own statement Thursday that back to school may have to be put on pause, recommending that school districts in the red zone re-evaluate before classes start.
“I would hope that those schools that are in high transmission areas within the state would consider deferring or delaying,” Patterson said.
With just days before students return to school, district leaders hope face coverings will be enough.
Students and staff who don’t follow the mask mandate will face disciplinary action. Students with enough infractions may have to transfer to online learning instead, or in extreme situations with multiple infractions, be suspended.
The mask mandate will be revisited by the board in 60 days but can be looked at prior to that if COVID numbers change across the state.