Fort Smith School Board to keep mask mandate in place through school year

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 925 views 

The Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education agreed at its regular board meeting Monday (April 26) to keep the district’s mask mandate in place until the end of the school district.

During the citizen’s participation segment of the meeting, Lacy McCain, mother of two school-age children who attend FSPS, appealed to the school board to drop the mask mandate considering Gov. Asa Hutchinson lifted the mask mandate at the end of March. McCain said children should be allowed to return to normal in classrooms for their health and mental well-being.

The school board in March agreed that mandates set prior to the start of the first of the 2020-21 school year should stay in place through the end of the year. Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawski said the plan was to lift the mask mandate for students, teachers and staff in June. Board member Wade Gilkey moved the mandate be lifted immediately. The motion did not receive a second.

“We made an agreement with the parents, with teachers and the community. Many parents made decisions to have their children attend on campus or virtual even at the start of the semester based on that mandatory mask plan for the school year,” said Dee Blackwell, school board member.

In March Deputy Superintendent Martin Mahan said all of the district’s principals wanted to proceed with caution and recommended keeping existing staff and student safety measures outlined in Ready to Learn until the end of the year because of the short timeframe until the end of the year. Those safety protocols include directions on arriving at schools, visitors to the schools, food deliveries to the school, personal protective equipment, plastic barriers, masks and social distancing, Mahan said.

School board member Dalton Person said no matter what the school board decided there was going to be a “percentage of the population” who was unhappy with the decision, but agreed with Blackwell and others that there was an agreement with the community to have the mask mandate for the entire school year and it should be kept.

“Statistics and facts have not changed in that it is well backed by science that masks work,” Person said.

Morwaski also brought up a safety recall that has been issued for Verizon Hotspot devices issued for remote learning by the district. Verizon recalled the devices because of possible danger posed by faulty wiring, and the district sent out a notice April 22 that those 1,100 devices had been turned off and needed to be returned.

“They have been turned off and should not be working, but we want parents to be aware and to return them in order to make certain to avoid in problem,” Morwaski said.

In May 2020, the school board approved the purchase of 2,500 LTE modems, more commonly known as hotspots, for the start of the school year in August. The cost of that equipment was about $2,716. Servicing cost was expected to be about $1.097 million for 10-month service or $1.317 million for 12-month service. The district paid for the hotspots through Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds.

The districts park and learn areas throughout the city, where wifi signals are available for students, will remain in order to help students impacted by the hotspot recall, Morwaski said. Verizon also will replace the devices, he added.

Early voting for the school elections for the FSPS Board of Education will begin May 11. Elections are May 18. Only one of the three seats up for election is opposed. Positions held by FSPS school board members Bill Hanesworth (at large), Wade Gilkey (Zone 1) and Yvonne Keaton-Martin (Zone 4) are up for re-election. Hanesworth and Keaton-Martin filed for reelection to their seats according to the Sebastian County Clerk’s office. No opponent filed to run against Keaton-Martin, who was first elected in 2003. Matt Blaylock filed along with Hanesworth for the at-large position. Troy Eckelhoff is the only candidate to file for the Zone 1 seat. March 1 was the filing deadline.

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