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Local school districts drop mask mandates

DEWAYNE HOLLOWAY/dewayne@mcnews.online
As of Monday night all three school districts serving Montgomery County families have announced they will discontinue their mask mandates as they move toward the end of the 2020-21 school year.
The current school year began with a battery of precautions in place to protect students and staff from the COVID-19 virus. Social distancing and the use of masks and shields have been at the forefront of the battle to prevent the spread of the virus. Many of these procedures were mandated by the state.
Once active case numbers and hospitalizations dropped Governor Asa Hutchinson made the decisions to remove the mask mandate statewide. Many schools in the state had passed policies to govern the use of masks on their campuses. Once the state-wide mask mandate was lifted, school district boards of directors had to then decide what they would do about their mask use policies.
Ouachita River School District, which is comprised of Oden and Acorn campuses, was the first to remove the mask mandate on their campus. Superintendent Jerrell Strasner announced Monday, April 5, via Facebook that the district’s board of directors had decided to make the use of masks optional.
His Facebook post reads:
“Tonight, the ORSD School Board voted masks to be optional to students, staff, and teachers while attending school starting tomorrow April 6th. This decision is in light of the recent announcement by the Governor to lift the mask mandate across Arkansas. ORSD will monitor all safety protocols and continue to receive guidance from the Arkansas Department of Health. We are grateful that the positive Covid-19 cases have drastically declined in our communities. If you have questions on the safety measures of your respective school, please feel free to call us on the Acorn Campus @ 479-394-2348 Ext. 7 or 870-326-4311 on the Oden Campus.”
Mount Ida and Caddo Hills School Districts followed suit this Monday, April 12, during their regularly scheduled meetings. Both schools released statements on Facebook to announce their decisions.
Mount Ida Superintendent Mike White stated;
“In consideration of Governor Asa Hutchinson removing the Covid-19 mask mandate for the state of Arkansas due to a drop in cases, as well as feedback from stakeholders, the Mount Ida Board of Education has voted that masks now be optional for all students and staff in the district. This will be in effect starting Tuesday 4/13/21. Masks will still be available for students and staff members who wish to continue to wear one. All other Covid-19 safety protocols will remain in place at this time. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.”
Caddo Hills School District’s mask optional policy is part of a nine part initiative presented to the school board by their Ready for Learning Committee.
The district statement reads as follows;
The Caddo Hills School Board has voted to approve the following Ready for Learning Committee COVID mitigation and health procedure recommendations beginning immediately for the remainder of the school year.
1. Mask worn will now be optional for staff and students.
2. Cafeteria shields will be removed and stored.
3. District will keep other sanitizing and mitigation practices, temperature checks every morning and the use of bottle filling stations only.
4. Field trips may be approved by administration if the field trip is outside with no parent participation in order to maintain lower numbers.
5. Playground will return to normal activities without grade level separation.
6. Graduation plan will be to increase the number of participants to more closely match the attendance at the ballgames this year.
7. Award ceremonies will be observed with scheduling of different grade levels where feasible in order to maintain lower numbers.
8. Class warfare will be scheduled but all activities must be pre-approved by administration
9. Fun Day for elementary will be observed without the use of water slides with other activities pre-approved by administration.

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