No virtual options open with Fort Smith Public Schools after mask mandate lifted

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 709 views 

No information has been released on whether Fort Smith Public Schools will have opportunities for students not enrolled in virtual learning to switch to that option after the district’s mask mandate was lifted by the school board.

Fort Smith Public School Virtual Enrollment will open in December for Spring 2022 and the 2022-2023 school year. The Fort Smith Public School Board voted Monday (Oct. 11) to end a mask mandate.

Some parents have expressed concern over the mask mandate ending on various social media posts, some of whom have discussed homeschooling their children.

“I don’t care if it’s the middle of the semester or not … if the numbers get too high I will pull my kid out of that school and homeschool her,” Christina Johnson Stewart commented on the FSPS Facebook page.

Liz Johnson said she and her husband work full-time, which makes it impossible to be home to homeschool or assist in virtual learning.

“You feel like you’re being forced to choose between her education and her health because you are. It’s a shame. Children should be provided both safety and an education in the classroom,” Johnson commented.

When asked if there was a virtual option available to parents with health concerns for their children remaining in school without mandatory masks, FSPS administration responded with, “FSPS Virtual Enrollment will open in December for Spring 2022 as well as the 2022-2023 school year.” When asked again by Talk Business & Politics to clarify if special options will be available, the district did not respond.

FSPS Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawski said at Monday’s meeting that 38.6% of staff responding to a survey by the district said they supported removing the mask requirement as soon as possible. The remaining percentage of respondents were split with 27.4% supporting making masks optional once the district’s positivity rate is at yellow (29 or less cases per 10,000 residents over 14 days) as reported by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) data. The other 34% supported continuing the mask requirement.

Zena Featherston Marshall, executive director of communication and community partnerships, said administration opened the survey to all of the district’s staff on Friday (Oct. 8) with a text messaged link to the form. A reminder was sent on Saturday (Oct. 9) by email. The form was closed at noon Monday.

“There were 1,407 responses of the approximately 2,000 certified and classified employees,” Marshall said.

Of those responding 67.6% were certified staff and 32.4% were classified employees. Morawski told the board that administration recommended removing the mask requirement because cases are dropping significantly in FSPS, the region and the state.

FSPS is in the orange ACHI category with 30-49 active cases of COVID among the school population. Morawski told the board the district’s numbers were 30 as of Oct. 4, just one above the yellow category of 20-29 students. ACHI school district data represents known infections per 10,000 residents over 14 days. Dr. Joe Thompson, ACHI president and CEO, has recommended that if mandates were to be dropped a district should have no more than 30 new known infections per 10,000 residents over 14 days.