Future School to require face masks; no mask policy in Fort Smith, Greenwood

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 711 views 

With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreading quickly through Sebastian County, the Future School of Fort Smith Board of Directors voted Thursday (Jan. 6) at a special called meeting to enact a mask mandate.

All board members at the virtual meeting voted for a resolution authorizing Superintendent Boyd Logan to implement a face-covering requirement for all persons present on school campuses or in school vehicles or buses as long as the district stays above 30 cases per 10,000 residents for a consecutive 14-day period.

Logan said the school would use numbers from Sebastian County to determine the rate since the school draws students from the county. If the district, or county, goes below 30 cases per 10,000 for a consecutive 14-day period, then the mask mandate will automatically lapse to only a mask recommendation.

Sebastian County had 975 active cases of COVID Thursday, according to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) COVID dashboard, up 306 from Tuesday.

“COVID numbers are really spiking in our area. … It looks like this will peak fast and then go back down fast,” Logan said. “I don’t think it will be down by the next regular board meeting in two weeks, but it could very well be that the mandate is a recommendation by the meeting following that.”

The board meets at 5:30 p.m. on the Tuesday of every month.

Fort Smith Public Schools will most likely discuss masks and other protocol at the school board’s called meeting/study session at 5:30 p.m. Monday (Jan. 10) said Zena Featherston Marshall, FSPS executive director of communication and community partnerships. Certain steps like limiting visitors to campuses could happen before the meeting, she added.

The FSPS school board repealed the district’s face covering mandate Oct. 11 because the district had fallen into the orange category positivity rate as reported by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) data. Fort Smith is still in the orange category with the ACHI reporting 44 cases per 10,000 in the district. There were 114 active cases in Fort Smith public schools as of Jan. 3, the ACHI website states.

Greenwood Public Schools were listed in the red category with 50 known infections per 10,000 residents as of Jan. 3. The GPS website stated there were nine new positive cases of COVID among students and staff Thursday with 31 active cases of the virus.

“We are following safety precautions for disinfecting and cleaning classrooms and facilities, especially as we move into cold and flu season. It is our hope we can minimize the spread of infection as much as possible,” the district’s website states.

Assistant Superintendent Suzy Wilson said the district is not looking at requiring masks.

“We continue to encourage masks and welcome them,” Wilson said. “We also encourage social distancing of three feet with a mask and six feet without one, and we will work with anyone requesting extra social distancing in the classroom as much as possible.”

Wilson said the school district would continue to monitor and comply with ADH recommendations, noting they believed revised recommendations would be coming soon.