The Fayetteville School Board on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution asking the Arkansas Legislature to either suspend, amend, or repeal the new state law that bans mask mandates.
The move comes after Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday said he planned to call a special session of the legislature to reconsider Act 1002, a measure sponsored by Sen. Trent Garner of El Dorado, that prohibits schools, municipalities, state agencies, and others from enacting face covering requirements.
The resolution states that the goal is “to provide local school districts the local control and ability to implement mask requirements.”
It asks the Legislature to reconsider the new law which went into effect this month, and pass an emergency clause to allow mask mandates to begin at the start of the 2021-22 school year. Without the emergency clause, changes to the legislation would take 91 days to go into effect.
Board members said the resolution does not automatically come with a mask mandate at Fayetteville Public Schools, and a separate meeting would be held to discuss the district’s face covering policy after the ruling comes from state lawmakers.
The resolution does, however state that if it weren’t for Act 1002, the district would “immediately reinstate” a policy requiring masks for employees and students in all K-12 schools within the district.
The rise of the more contagious delta variant, the increase in hospitalizations among children in the state, the rapidly rising case and hospitalization numbers in the state, and recommendations by the Center for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatrics, the Arkansas Department of Education, and the Department of Health to require masks for children who can’t yet be vaccinated are among the reasons cited in the resolution to ask for changes to Act 1002.
Board President Nika Waitsman said the district’s responsibility to the safety of their students is in conflict with Act 1002 as it is currently written.
“We have learned that there are several layers of necessary safety measures against this virus. The first and most effective is vaccination. The second is face coverings,” she said. “As mandated by state law, the school district is required to provide a safe learning environment for all students. We will fail to uphold that obligation if we endanger the lives of children and their families in order to prioritize individual personal freedoms.
“There are times when the exercise of our personal freedoms imposes on the fundamental rights of others. In my view, this is one of those times,” she said.
On Friday, Fayetteville Superintendent John Colbert released a video on the district’s Facebook page expressing support for the resolution, anddrequesting cooperation from parents, students, and community members to encourage mask wearing on school property in the face of rising COVID-19 cases as school is set to return Aug. 16.
Colbert said the district is recommending that all students, teachers, faculty, staff, and visitors to school property wear a face covering this fall.
“We are working on ways to make our back to school events as safe as possible, while still providing ample opportunities for students and families to interact with teachers,” he said.
“Even with the pandemic around us, we are planning to have a great school year,” he said. “We did it last year, and we can do it again.”
Gov. Hutchinson said a date is not set for the special session to reconsider Act 1002, but he expects legislatures to come together to reconsider the measure as early as next week.
» See the full resolution adopted by the Fayetteville School Board Thursday