Conway Public School District (CPSD) Superintendent Jeff Collum announced Tuesday at the monthly school board meeting that he has implemented a two-week mask mandate for all CPSD schools and facilities that will go into effect once schools reopen on Tuesday.
This mandate will last a minimum of 10 schools days and applies to all students and staff as well as all CPSD facilities and extracurricular activities.
“After the 10-day mark, if cases are down and numbers look good, we would love to go back to business as usual as quickly as we can,” Collum said. “If numbers are not, then we going to gauge that campus by campus.”
The district will review the data on Jan. 30 to determine if the mandate will end or be extended.
“We have to do something different to keep our kids in schools, period,” Collum said.
This decision comes after all schools in the district switched to virtual learning for three days, which Collum says is attributed to a large staff shortage across the district.
“We had a lot of teachers and staff out day one coming back from the Christmas break so that was alarming,” he said. “That number almost doubled day two. It was affecting our ability to instruct. If you have to begin combining classrooms, if you have to begin putting them in auditoriums or gyms to manage them, you are now counterproductive to not only instruction, but also to keeping our kids safe.”
The Conway school board also approved a new mask policy Tuesday in a six-to-one vote that would give Collum the authority to implement more mask mandates in the future for single campuses without having to come to the board for approval.
The policy states that if more than 5 percent of students at a single school or campus have tested positive on any given day, masks would then be required for all students and staff only on that specific campus for the next 10 calendar days.
After those 10 days, the data will be reevaluated and if the positivity number falls below 5 percent, the mask requirement will end, but if it continues to be above 5 percent, masks will continue to be required until the numbers drop.
Board member Jennifer Cunningham was the sole vote against the new mask policy. The Log Cabin Democrat reached out to her about her decision but she declined to comment.
Despite giving a speech prior to the vote voicing his concerns over mask mandates, board member Bill Clements ended up voting in favor of the new mask policy.
“I’m trying to give the benefit of the doubt the administration’s decision to see if this is going to make a difference,” Clements told the Log Cabin. “That’s the only reason I voted yes.”
School board Secretary Diane Robinson said she was proud of the board’s decision and how the district has handled the pandemic so far.
“I want to do what we need to do to keep kids in the classroom,” Robinson said.
The new mask mandate will go into effect once schools reopen Tuesday after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
“Please make sure your student has a proper-fitting mask and wears it to school on Tuesday,” the district said in a Facebook post Tuesday evening. “We need your help to keep students in school, safe, and healthy.”