SILOAM SPRINGS, Ark. — The Arkansas Department of Education (ADE), in coordination with the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), started working on back-to-school guidance once the last semester wrapped up.
On Tuesday, July 27, the ADE released their guidelines on how schools can open safely for students with COVID-19 cases surging in the state and vaccination rates low. Their guide did not mention the new recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks indoors and in public spaces in COVID hotspots - such as Arkansas.
Dr. Joel Tumlinson with the ADH, who helped write ADE's guidance, says the CDC made some changes a few weeks ago, forcing them to adjust those plans. The state’s guidance recommends all children under the age of 12 correctly wear masks inside, but he says now they are highly encouraging the CDC recommendations of masking indoors.
“I would try to set that as the expectation even though you can’t mandate it right now," he said. "As many people having masks on is very important. Like I said with physical spacing, let’s do as much as we can, and that’s kind of in general. Let’s do as many measures as we can while still having an effective education."
Another big change from last year’s guidance is that fully vaccinated students or staff exposed to a positive case do not need to quarantine unless they have symptoms. Amanda Britt is the liaison between the department of health and education. Besides having your kids wear masks, she says getting your child vaccinated if they are old enough is very important.
“If you aren’t comfortable right now with the vaccine, talk to a doctor, get some real information in terms of what the risks are, and then make your own decision from there,” she said.
At the Siloam Springs School District, they are reviewing the guidance from the state, but they say things will look very similar to this past May. The district is encouraging the vaccine for students who are old enough and staff and wearing masks.
“Just because we are encouraging it, we by no means are mandating it, but we are just trying to get the information out that there are two different guidelines to follow, depending upon masked or unmasked, vaccinated or unvaccinated,” Assistant Superintendent Shane Patrick said.
Patrick says that students learn best with face-to-face learning last year through testing.
“We need to keep kids in school, and we need to do the best we can to do that, and the way we do that is the easiest and most is when we limit the transmission,” he said.
The education and health departments say they are discussing updating their guidance, but those decisions have to go through multiple channels for approval.