Mask mandate

Following a unanimous vote of its school board during a special meeting Tuesday night, the Marion School District will implement a mask mandate for all students and staff beginning immediately, Wednesday, August 11.

The policy applies to all students (grade K-12), staff, and campus visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Under the policy, masks must be worn while indoors at any school campus and when riding school transportation, including school buses. All masks and face coverings must cover the nose and mouth of each individual. Students will be allowed to remove their masks while eating and drinking. The full text of the policy can be found here.

Anyone who does not comply with the requirement will be subject to disciplinary action consistent with district policies. For the first day of the policy only, Students who arrive at school without a facemask will be provided one.

“We have said since Day 1 that the safety and wellness of our students is our top priority,” said Dr. Glen Fenter, superintendent. “With the alarming rise of local cases, particularly in regard to the Delta variant, it was imperative for us to take action to protect our students. The proper wearing of facemasks is a proven way to stop the spread of Covid. And masks work best if everybody is wearing them – they don’t work if only a few people have them on.”

Marion is joining several other districts across the state in implementing a mask rule, including Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Watson Chapel, West Memphis, KIPP Delta, and more. On Friday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox issued an injunction blocking enforcement Act 1002, which had prohibited public schools from creating mask requirements. The injunction came in response to a lawsuit challenging the law filed by Marion schools, Little Rock schools, and two Little Rock parents.

The new facemask rule will accomplish two main things for the Marion School District:

1. It will protect the health of students and staff. Health experts have consistently advised that consistent and correct mask use is an effective way to stop the spread of Covid-19. On July 27, 2021, the CDC recommended that everyone in areas with high Covid-19 infection rates (including Crittenden County) wear masks in public indoor spaces, regardless of vaccination status.

2. It will reduce the number of students missing school because of quarantine. In guidance dated July 9, 2021, the Arkansas Department of Education said individuals exposed to a confirmed case of Covid-19 will not need to be quarantined if they have no symptoms and both the infected and exposed individual consistently and correctly were wearing a mask.

Through Monday, August 9, a total of 1,194 student quarantines had been ordered for Marion students who had been close contacts of individuals testing positive for Covid-19. Had the mask mandate been in place since the start of the school year, the number of students forced to miss school would be closer to 83, which is the number of students who have tested positive for Covid.

While the mask mandate is expected to improve the district’s Covid response, Fenter said the district is still urging all eligible individuals to get vaccinated.

"Masks will help, but the best defense against Covid-19 is still vaccination,” he said. “It’s the only way we are going to finally beat this thing. We are going to keep holding vaccination clinics every few weeks to help get shots in people’s arms. Our next clinic will be Thursday (August 12) from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Patriot Arena.”

Vaccines are also available locally at several sites, including the Marion Family Pharmacy, Walmart, Kroger, Walgreens, East Arkansas Family Health Canter, and the Arkansas Department of Health.