Masks now optional inside Fayetteville public schools

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FAYETTEVILLE — Masks are now optional inside Fayetteville Public Schools.

The School Board on Thursday voted unanimously to revise the district’s policy to “strongly recommend” masks instead of requiring them. The new policy takes effect immediately. It applies to all students, staff members and visitors in any school building, indoor facility, or other indoor areas of a school campus.

A Jan. 29 order from the Centers for Disease Control is still in place that requires masks on school buses and other public transportation vehicles.

The district’s mask mandate was automatically reinstated on Jan. 5 after the number of active cases in the community passed the district’s policy threshold of 30 active cases per 10,000 people in the community. Masks had been optional for students in grades 7-12 since Nov. 15, and would have been optional for all students after the holiday break if cases had remained under the threshold.

Superintendent John Colbert last week said he supported removing the mandate now that circumstances have changed and cases have dropped significantly across the region.

Colbert said vaccines and boosters are also now more widely available to students and staff, and community spread is also down. The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement’s most recent report on Feb. 21 showed 39 cases per 10,000 people across the district.

“The steady downward trend in new positive cases is very encouraging,” said Colbert on Thursday. “I am very grateful to our students, staff, and parents for their commitment over these many months to do whatever is best for the health and safety of everyone at school.”

School Board president Nika Waitsman said the board has watched the situation closely, and is now comfortable with removing the mandate.

“We understand that COVID will continue to be with us and that we must move from a pandemic mindset to an endemic mindset,” said Waitsman. “We believe that removing the mask requirement while still strongly recommending masks is a good step in that direction.”