Mask term ended with Fort Smith Public School District

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With confirmed positive COVID-19 cases returning to pre-winter holiday numbers, the Fort Smith Public Schools Board of Education repealed a mandatory mask requirement reinstated Jan. 10 at a meeting of the council convened on Monday 7 February.

When the school board voted to reinstate the mask mandate, the district was in the purple zone with 137 cases per 10,000 residents, according to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI). The district then moved to the pink zone (the highest level of cases). On January 31, ACHI still had Fort Smith in the pink zone with 229 per 10,000 population, up from 285 the week of January 24. A new report is not yet available with new figures.

However, FSPS Superintendent Dr. Terry Morawski told the council that as of Monday there were 43 positive cases in the district, 27 students and 16 staff members. The Arkansas Department of Health report for educational facilities dated Feb. 7, reported 181 active cases for Fort Smith public schools.

On Jan. 10, when the mask mandate was reinstated, there were 198 positive COVID cases at Fort Smith schools, including 49 staff members and 149 students, Morawski said at the time. The highest number of active cases in the district was Jan. 14 with 641 cases, including 520 students and 121 staff. By comparison, the district’s workforce was 40 total, with nine staff members and 31 students, on December 22.

“These numbers show a steep and steady decline that has occurred over the past several weeks,” Morawski said.

Morawski recommended the board let the mask’s term expire because it was only in place for 30 days on January 10 and would expire at the end of the day on Wednesday (February 9). The board, however, voted unanimously to repeal the requirement with immediate effect.

Along with declining active COVID cases in schools, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced at a Feb. 1 press conference that there would no longer be a contact tracing requirement for schools across the country. Arkansas, regardless of the school’s mask mandate policy. When the school district reinstated the mask mandate, there was no contact tracing requirement for districts with a mask requirement. The district has not had contact tracing since reinstating the mask mandate, Morawski said.

“Previous requirements related to contact tracing and quarantining of these students and staff have caused incredible disruption to our schools,” Morawski said. “With this new flexibility, we are able to eliminate contact tracing in our schools whether or not we have a mask requirement.”

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