HOPE – An expansion of policy to both provide masks and require their practical usage in keeping with the mandate of Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson across grades K-12 was affirmed by consensus of the Hope Public Schools Board here Monday night.
Meeting in a “socially distanced” setting via Facebook livestream, the board made it clear the practice as explained by HPS Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hart has board support.
“We’re practicing social distancing in the board room; and, if you choose, you may take your masks off,” Dr. Hart noted at the outset of the meeting. “We do, however, intend to follow the Governor’s mandate.”
That said, Hart emphasized the renewed importance of face coverings as a means to stem the transmission of the COVID-19 illness in the middle of a global pandemic.
“We are coming to you with a policy on face coverings,” he said. “The Governor’s directive covers students from ages 10 and up; however, we note that a majority of districts that have created a policy have gone to K-12.”
Hart said the district has 2,248 students and more than 200 faculty and staff to consider.
“Administrators and teachers need to know they have the support of this body,” he said. “However, we don’t want to make it punitive.”
Hart said parents who insist their student(s) will not wear a face covering still have the option of registering their student(s) for the Hope from Home Virtual Academy, which is currently taking registrations through July 31.
The highly personal nature of the point was not lost on the board.
“I don’t have a problem with masks,” Zone 4 Representative Jimmy Courtney explained. “I know a lot of parents don’t want it.”
Courtney said many parents believe the practice of “social distancing” in classrooms should resolve the problem, particularly for younger students; but, they were also concerned about extended wear of a face covering affecting students.
Hart said the policy recommendation is intended to provide consistency in practice, but he recognized the need to be realistic about its use.
Zone 8 Representative David “Bubba” Powers agreed.
“I know we are going to get some strong push back; but, number one, we need to protect our young people, and, number two, we should protect our personnel,” Powers said. “There is no perfect answer to this situation. I think it is going to take the extraordinary support of every parent, child, everybody, to get through this.”
Hart said currently a child who steadfastly refuses to wear a face covering in the classroom will be removed from class, and the parents notified. He said the parents will be given the option of switching the child to the virtual academy for instruction; but, the use of face coverings has the legal standing of a governor’s executive order.
“Our first action would be to try to find some common ground,” Hart said.
He said the district has ordered 10,000 cloth face coverings to provide three coverings each for all students and staff.
Policy guidance regarding face coverings is as follows:
–“Face coverings” include any material that covers the nose and mouth and prevents respiratory particles from traveling beyond the immediate area of the person wearing the face covering.
–Face coverings should fully cover the mouth and nose and fit snugly against the side of the face with no gaps. Examples of face coverings include masks, neck gaiters or “buffs,” and face shields.
–Reusable face coverings should be machine washed or washed by hand and allowed to dry completely after each use.
–Additionally, pay special attention to putting on and removing face coverings for purposes such as eating. After use, the front of the face-covering is considered contaminated and should not be touched during removal or replacement. Hand hygiene should be performed immediately after removing and after replacing the face covering.
–All students must wear face coverings when physical distancing of six feet is not possible or not practical. (School entry, exit, classroom, hall passing, bathroom). This includes any time a student is on district property, on district-owned transportation, waiting at bus stops, or at all school-sponsored activities.
–Students may remove face coverings while eating meals or snacks. Physical distancing should be maintained as much as practicable.
–Students will be given face-covering breaks throughout the day. Students will be spaced at least six feet apart during face-covering breaks.
–Exceptionstoface-coveringrequirementswillbemadeforthoseforwhomitisnot possible to wear face coverings due to medical conditions, disability impact, or other
health or safety factors. Requests for face-covering exceptions must be approved by the student’s principal and accompanied by appropriate medical documentation.
–All staff (certified and classified) must wear face coverings when physical distancing of six feet is not possible or not practical. (School entry, exit, classroom, hall passing, workrooms). This includes any time a staff member is on district property, on district-owned transportation, waiting at bus stops, or at all school-sponsored activities.
–Staff may remove face coverings while eating meals or snacks. Physical distancing must be maintained while during meal or snack times.
–Staff and presenters may remove face coverings while teaching if 12 feet distancing is maintained.
–When the District determines face shields or clear masks are necessary for instructional purposes (e.g., English Learners, early childhood, foreign language, etc.), shields or clear masks will be provided by the District. When face shields are selected as a matter of preference, the shields must be provided by the employee.
–Exceptions to face-covering requirements will be made for those for whom it is not possible due to medical conditions, disability impact, or other health or safety factors.
–Requests for face-covering exceptions must be approved by the employee’s
supervisor and accompanied by appropriate medical documentation.
The policy adheres to CDC guidelines, Hart said.