Fayetteville school board votes to require masks for upcoming school year

The Fayetteville Board of Education on Monday voted unanimously to require face coverings for the upcoming school year.

The requirement is for all kindergarten through 12th grade students, staff members and visitors in indoor spaces and when driving or riding in school-provided transportation.

The policy revision will take effect immediately, and will remain in effect until further action of the board.

School district attorney Susan Kendall said the proposed amendments to the were based on current guidelines recommended by the CDC, Department of Health, the Department of Education and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Kendall said the updated policy is more lenient than last year when masks were also required outdoors. The district will continue to monitor the spread of the virus in Arkansas, she said, along with new variants that may arise, and new developments regarding the lawsuit currently barring enforcement of the state’s mask mandate ban.

The decision follows the Fayetteville City Council, who on Friday voted to reinstate the city’s mask mandate.

Both the council and board were able to enact the rules after a Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge last Friday temporarily blocked the state from enforcing its ban on mask mandates.

The ruling was in response to two lawsuits challenging the state’s ban, and comes after the Legislature last week failed to make changes to the prohibition to allow public schools to require masks.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the legislation into law over the summer, but has since said that he regrets that decision. Hutchinson called the special session of the Legislature last week, asking lawmakers to amend the ban. Two proposed measures that would’ve allowed some school districts to enact mask requirements were rejected with no legislative action taken.

Active cases of the virus and hospitalizations have continued to increase rapidly in Arkansas in recent weeks. The state announced the largest single-day increase in hospitalizations since the pandemic began on Monday, with active cases of the virus also nearing record highs.

Hutchinson expressed concern over the rise in hospitalizations Monday.

“Today’s report shows some very startling numbers,” he said. “We saw the largest single-day increase in hospitalizations and have eclipsed our previous high of COVID hospitalizations. There are currently only eight ICU beds available in the state. Vaccinations reduce hospitalizations.”

Kendall said the school board will reevaluate the policy at its regularly scheduled meeting in October.

» Read the Fayetteville School District’s amended mask policy (PDF)