Eureka Springs district to continue mask policy

Thursday, April 8, 2021
Eureka Springs High School seniors Kyle Plott, left, and Cole Saab wear masks while studying on Friday, April 2. The Eureka Springs School District is continuing its mask policy through the end of the school year despite Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate.
Samantha Jones / Lovely County Citizen

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced last week that he would be lifting the statewide mask mandate, explaining that while masks would no longer be mandatory, many entities, including businesses, government offices and schools would be able to make their own decisions.

“Schools can opt to continue the mask policy within their school,” Hutchinson said. “They actually have to make a decision by the local board and they have to post that decision and they will be able to have that local option to continue the wearing of masks in their school based upon the decision that the school board makes.”

Soon after Hutchinson lifted the mandate, the Eureka Springs School District announced that it would be continuing mask policies on campus.

Eureka Springs Superintendent Bryan Pruitt said the school board’s policy is to wear masks for the rest of the school year, saying that policy will remain in place.

“We were aware that the governor was going to change that mandate, but we’ve been really successful with our COVID incidents here, so we decided to just go ahead and wear masks for the rest of the school year,” Pruitt said.

By the time the school board has its next regular meeting, Pruitt said, there will be only one month of school left. Pruitt said it makes sense to continue wearing masks for the next couple of months, saying the board will reassess its policy for the 2021-2022 school year.

“We put out a notice on Facebook so our parents know about that,” Pruitt said. “The principals emailed the students. So far, all the public comment has been very positive.”

Pruitt said the virus didn’t significantly spike after spring break.

“We weren’t real for sure on how things would go after spring break, but so far it’s been OK,” Pruitt said. “We’re wearing masks for the safety of our kids and the staff.”

Pruitt said the ECHO Clinic is offering vaccines to all students 18 and older with signed permission from their parents. With many staff members already vaccinated, Pruitt said, he’s feeling relieved as the school year comes to an end. His primary concern, Pruitt said, is the safety of everyone in the district.

“We didn’t want to do away with the mask policy and all of a sudden two weeks later, there’s an outbreak and everybody has to bring their masks back,” Pruitt said. “Hopefully, we’ll have more herd immunity and more people vaccinated next school year and we can have a mask-free party then.”

Eureka Springs Mayor Butch Berry said in a phone interview on April 1 that he’s still looking into what the city can do to encourage people to wear masks. In an email sent at 12:43 p.m. that day, Berry writes that he is “fully aware of the strong support for a mask mandate” and supports it.

“I am in daily contact with various attorneys at the Municipal League about how to draft an ordinance in support of a mask mandate and encourage everyone to do the right thing and wear a mask and maintain social distances as per CDC guidelines,” Berry writes.

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