LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — While public schools can’t require masks for the upcoming school year, private schools can, and today the Diocese of Little Rock decided that masks will be mandatory at the start of this school year at all their elementary schools.
“We believe it’s the right decision at the right time, Mark Wilburn, assistant principal at St. Joseph Catholic School in Fayetteville, said. "Things have changed in the last few weeks. We went from 130 active cases on the 7-day average to 1,300."
The Diocese of Little Rock says they decided to require elementary school students 4 and older and teachers and staff to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. They say this is because of the resurgence of COVID-19 and children 11 and younger not being able to get the vaccine.
“Wearing masks, if that can allow more students to be in person, to be here with us for that in-person learning, we think it’s a good thing,” he said.
Wilburn says what he saw last school year is that their kids understood why they were wearing masks and didn’t hear any complaints.
“In fact, they kind of had fun with it last year," he said. "We have school uniforms, obviously with us being a Catholic school, and it was a way for our students to show a little personality with whatever team they support, or maybe it’s a hobby they display on their mask, our kids kind of got into it."
St. Joseph Catholic School says that since they have elementary students through 8th grade, those older children will also be required to wear masks inside the school and parents and visitors.
Vanessa Branch has a 6 and 9-year-old who attend St. Joseph. Before the diocese’s announcement, she was a little nervous about sending her kids back to school in just a few weeks.
“The most important thing as a parent is you want your child to be safe," she said. "When that mandate came out, we were really relieved. My husband and I both felt happy, and we were just really thankful and grateful."
She doesn’t think having kids like her’s wear masks again will be any big deal because sometimes her daughter forgets to take it off when they get home.
“The mask-wearing is such a minor inconvenience, something the kids seem really compliant with, and it doesn’t even seem to bother them," she said. "They don’t even acknowledge they have it on."
The Diocese of Little Rock says it will reevaluate the mask policy regularly.