Mask mandates now certain at Fort Smith Public Schools, Future School of Fort Smith

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 801 views 

All public primary and secondary schools in Fort Smith will require masks from students, visitors and employees when students head back to school next week, including the Future School of Fort Smith.

The Future School school board approved a mask mandate at an emergency board meeting Thursday (Aug. 12) and the Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education approved an emergency regulation to the district’s personnel policy that district employees will follow face covering requirements of the BOD.

The FSPS school board approved a resolution regarding masks and litigation concerning Act 1002 for the 2021-22 School Year at a special called board meeting Monday (Aug. 9). The resolution requires face coverings by all students, employees and visitors in school buildings or vehicles when more than two people are present. The requirement will be in effect for 60 days or reversal of Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox injunction on Act 1002, that prohibits state and local government, including school boards, from requiring people to wear a mask.

The BOD can revisit the mandate at any board meeting prior to that 60 days to determine whether to keep the mandate in place longer for a longer period of time or to repeal it. If Fox’s restraining order is reversed, the mandate would end.

Because the face covering requirement for staff was passed after the start of the contract year, it required approval of the district’s Classified and Certified Personnel Policy Committees (PPCs).

“The board can pass a policy with or without the PPC. But because contracts that are effective for a fiscal year incorporate policies as they exist, the only way that it can be effective in the existing fiscal year is if the staff, voting by secret ballot, passes the provision by simple majority,” said Marshall Ney, FSPS attorney.

The district’s PPCs met Wednesday (Aug. 11) and voted unanimously to have all classified and certified staff vote on the mandate. A 24-hour electronic vote was set from 3 p.m. Wednesday to 3 p.m. Thursday. Paper ballots were given to those who requested them. Staff could vote by signing in with their credentialed district email and could only vote once. Six paper ballots were requested.

Staff voted by 59.6% (865) to accept the mandate; 60.87% of certified employees and 56.91% of the classified employees voting were for the mandate. Of the district’s roughly 2,000 employees, 1,451 voted, 83% of the certified employees, and 59% of the certified employees.

The policy states that in consideration of the recommendations and guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Arkansas Department of Health, all employees of the District shall follow such requirements of the Fort Smith School District’s Board of Education regarding the wearing of masks as may be imposed when public health concerns arise. Because of the wording of the policy, there is no need for another vote of employees if the board choses to extend the mandate past 90 days.

“The policy (approved by the PPC) does not actually deal with masks or no masks. The policy deals with the staff’s willingness to be bound by the existing and future votes of the board,” Ney said.

The Future School of Fort Smith school board voted Thursday to authorize Superintendent Boyd Logan to implement “a face covering requirement to the maximum extent legally permissible for all persons present on school campuses or in school vehicles or buses, including staff, students, visitors, with such requirement to last the shorter of further action by the board, the passage of 60 days or reversal of Judge Fox’s order.” Boyd said the idea is that masks will help stop disruption of attendance necessary through quarantines and to “hopefully stop the spread” of COVID-19.