BENTONVILLE, Ark. — The Bentonville School Board voted Tuesday (March 16) to continue having students wear face masks until the end of this school year.
In a 6-1 vote, the school board has decided that Bentonville students will be required to continue wearing masks for the remainder of the school year, regardless of the state's decision.
The mandate will stay in place until May 27, 2021.
“Decided that we would continue the mask requirement for the remainder of the school year but the policy is over at the last day of school so our plan is to come back to school next year without masks,” said Eric White, Bentonville School Board President.
White says several staff members and parents voiced their concerns about eliminating face coverings at this point in time.
“I think we got 700 emails," White said. "There were a number of people who felt uneasy about removing masks and a lot of people felt very strongly that it somehow compromised their own safety.”
Not everyone feels the same though. Mom of two Jenny Miller, whose children attend Bentonville Schools, says she strongly disagrees with the decision.
“It’s government overreach for the school district to feel responsible or feel like it’s their right to dictate that and the people in institutions need to stay in their lanes,” Miller said.
Miller has a child in the 8th grade and a senior in high school. She says she believes it should be up to medical professionals to make the decision on masks.
“I think that’s practicing medicine without a license. It doesn’t match the school governments and policies in their own mission statement and they should not be doing that," she said.
A teacher herself, Miller says she sees the toll it puts on students in the classroom and behind a computer screen.
“I’m super concerned about the mental and emotional impact on the young, the younger students as well and how they read facial and social cues,” Miller said.
White says he respects the opinions of those who disagree with the mandate.
“In the end, it’s a risk management decision," he said. "How we do get to a spot that points us closer to normal and how fast does our community allow us to take them there.”
Governor Asa Hutchinson is said to consider lifting the state mask mandate on March 31, 2021, provided the COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates are in accordance with Arkansas Department of Health recommendations.
Watch both the task force meeting and the board of education meeting live streams at www.youtube.com/c/BentonvilleSchools/live
Many area schools have also been holding discussions regarding COVID-19 safety.