Superintendent: Masks likely to be required again in Fayetteville public schools

Superintendent John L. Colbert / FPS

Update: Colbert on Wednesday announced that the mask requirement at Fayetteville Public Schools will return until further notice. The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) reported that active cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 people in the district was 71 as of Wednesday, more than double the threshold of 30 that would have kept the mask-optional policy in place.

Masks will likely be required for all Fayetteville School District students, staff and visitors when classes resume this week, said Superintendent John L. Colbert on Monday.

Although the School Board approved a new, mask-optional policy, the rule only applies if the School District community stays below 30 cases per 10,000 for a consecutive 14-day period as reported by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. Colbert said last week’s ACHI report showed 33 cases per 10,000 for Fayetteville Public Schools.

Colbert said he anticipates that this week’s number could again exceed the 30-case threshold, which would automatically trigger the requirement for masks for all students, staff and visitors across all campuses.

“Please begin to prepare your child for the possibility that masks will be required upon their return to school,” Colbert wrote in an email to the district community.

Classes are set to resume Thursday, Jan. 6.

The mask-optional policy was adopted in October, and was applied to grades 7-12 on Nov. 15, and to grades K-6 on Dec. 23.

At the time, there were only four active positive cases among the district’s 10,378 students, and one case among staff.

A recent surge of the COVID-19 virus has led to the highest statewide increases yet. A new high was set on Dec. 30 when 4,978 cases were announced. The case count on New Year’s Eve was 3,957 and cases on New Year’s Day were reported at 4,155. It had been almost a year since cases reached the 4,000 mark. Update: A new statewide record was set on Tuesday with 6,562 new cases reported.

Up until last week, it was unclear if schools would be able to enact mask mandates going forward. A recent Legislature action prevented schools and other governmental entities from requiring face masks, but that law was struck down by a Pulaski County circuit judge when he ruled that the ban is unconstitutional.

As of Monday (Jan. 3), the statewide active case count was at 27,162, which is the highest since the pandemic began. Update: A new record was set on Tuesday when 32,280 active cases were announced.

Colbert said more information about protocols would be available before classes begin on Thursday.

“We understand there are additional questions regarding COVID-19 and school, including quarantine guidelines,” Colbert said. “The district is communicating with the Arkansas Department of Health and the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education regarding changes in COVID protocols. The district will communicate the most up-to-date information prior to January 6, 2022.”

Weekly ACHI COVID-19 Dashboard – Dec. 27, 2021

DistrictKnown infectionsNew infectionsRate per 10K residents

Weekly ACHI COVID-19 Dashboard – Jan. 3, 2022

DistrictKnown infectionsNew infectionsRate per 10K residents

Source: Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI)