Masks to become optional over next two months in Fayetteville School District

Angie Maxwell, parent of a district child, speaks to the School Board on Thursday / FPS board meeting broadcast

With virus cases on the decline, masks will become optional over the next two months for students and staff in the Fayetteville School District.

The School Board voted unanimously to make changes to district policy at its regular meeting on Thursday.

Per the new rules, masks will be optional for students in grades 7-12 starting Nov. 15, and for students in grades K-6 on Dec. 23. The change also applies to staff members in those schools.

Those working in district administrative and support buildings can choose whether to wear a mask beginning Nov. 15.

Masks have been required for all district students, staff and visitors since Aug. 9.

Officials said the later date for younger students would allow time for children who don’t yet qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated. Federal approval of vaccines for younger people is expected in the coming weeks.

As of Thursday, there were four active positive cases among the district’s 10,378 students, and one case among staff, according to the FPS COVID-19 dashboard.

The mask-optional policy will continue as long as the district community stays below 30 cases per 10,000 as reported by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. If the district rises above that threshold for a consecutive 14-day period, the mask mandate would automatically go back into place until case counts return to the 30-per-10,000 rate for a 14-day period.

During public comment, parents of several children spoke in support of the proposed phase-out of masks, while others argued that the mandate should be immediately removed for all students.

Angie Maxwell, parent of a district child, said as cases have declined, the district’s layered approach for a return to normal has so far worked well. She said recent decisions to relax quarantine policies, introduce previously halted activities and incrementally allow parents and visitors into schools are all appropriate.

“But that last line of defense for those of us with kids under 12 – until they can get the vaccine – is not something I believe we should lift until they have had the time to get that vaccine if their parents choose to do so,” said Maxwell.

Those who spoke against said they either don’t think masks work, or they aren’t sure whether the board has the authority to mandate masks.

School Board president Nika Waitsman said the new plan keeps focus on the health of students, and thanked the board for working together with staff members and the community to reach a decision.

Superintendent John L. Colbert agreed.

“I am grateful for the work of our school board and staff as they weighed all of the information and worked together to forge an amendment to the policy that continues to keep our students, staff members, and community safe,” said Colbert.