FORT SMITH, Ark. — The Fort Smith Board of Education met Monday, Oct. 11, to discuss lifting the district's face mask mandate for students and staff.
The board voted 4 to 3 to remove the mask mandate. The Fort Smith School District will continue to recommend and encourage wearing masks but will not be required.
The school board also went over the Fort Smith school's 2021- 2022 quarantine exemption guidelines and cited possible coming alternatives, including:
- Previously testing positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days
- Being fully vaccinated
- both parties consistently and correctly wearing masks throughout the exposure
- 70% of the school campus being vaccinated
- 7-day quarantine with negative COVID test or 10-day quarantine with no symptoms
- other district piloting the 'Test to Stay' program, which is not available to Fort Smith schools currently
Attorney Greg Payne fought and won against the Bentonville School District's mask mandate after a Benton County Judge ruled against schools requiring masks. Payne says he plans to sue the school district because of the school district's use of Arkansas Department of Health data to determine mask requirements for schools.
“We are confident that judge Duncan was exactly correct on the law in the state of Arkansas regarding mask mandates. The school districts have not been granted the authority by the state legislature," said Payne. "They’ve gone weeks on, weeks off. We can’t depend on their discretion whether or not to issue a mask mandate. They simply do not have the power to do it.”
The board spoke about the court cases against Arkansas school districts before voting on the mask mandate for Fort Smith schools.
“Lonoke county the district prevailed on the motion for a temporary restraining order. In Benton County, the district lost," said the Fort Smith School attorney.
Fort Smith Superintendent says he is not worried about the lawsuit and that maks have helped keep several kids in school amid the pandemic.
“It definitely helped in the area of minimizing quarantines for students. Especially when we had a large amount of cases," said Morawski. “Thanks can change the virus that we’ve never seen anything like this before so we will continue to monitor it.”
The board used ADH data during the meeting which showed a steady decline across the district for active COVID-19 cases.
The Fort Smith School District says the mask mandate and COVID-19 cases are an ever-changing situation and comes with positives, like children being able to see each other's faces.
For more information about the Fort Smith Public Schools or its COVID-19 safety protocols, please visit their website.