GENTRY -- Arkansas' mask mandate was lifted March 30 and, as a result, the mask mandate in Gentry public schools was also lifted, though other requirements remain in place.
Due to low hospitalization numbers in the state, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced on March 30 that he is lifting the mask mandate in the state but pointed out that Arkansans should still respect the decisions of businesses and institutions which continue to require the wearing of masks.
Gentry School Board, at its meeting on March 29, voted to lift the mask mandate at Gentry schools when it is lifted by the governor. The school district will continue social distancing policies and restrict access to the campuses by visitors, as well as continuing to practice health department quarantine guidelines.
Also pointed out to the board were the requirements of the Arkansas Activities Association at school sporting events that continue to be in effect for both participants and spectators until lifted by the AAA.
Gentry High School principal Brea Harper said he did not expect AAA to make any changes for the current school year.
The board decision was made after hearing survey results from teachers and parents in which the majority favored or were OK with discontinuing the mask mandate at the schools should social distancing practices continue.
Johnny Key, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Education, at the March 30 news conference, outlined the requirements for school boards to make a decision regarding the wearing of masks and to have that decision posted on the school district websites. He also said that students and school staff members coming into close contact with someone who tests positive for covid-19 will not be required to quarantine if both the infected and those coming into close contact were wearing properly fitted face masks at the time of contact. Quarantine requirements remain in place if one or both parties were not wearing a properly-fitted face mask at the time of contact.
Jose Romero, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, spoke of the increase in infections in other states across the nation and offered words of caution. He urged Arkansans to continue wearing masks where social distancing is not possible and not to become careless lest a fourth wave of the coronavirus should sweep through Arkansas.
In a March 30 afternoon email sent to the Gentry School Board and also shared with the school district's teachers and staff members, Gentry School District superintendent Terrie Metz and assistant superintendent Christie Toland wrote: "At the March board meeting (March 29, 2021), the Gentry Board of Education voted to change the current mask policy in the event that Governor Hutchinson rescinds the state mask mandate. Today, Governor Hutchinson announced that the statewide mask mandate is lifted effective immediately. Beginning tomorrow, March 31, 2021, wearing a mask will be an option and not a requirement in our district. Wearing a mask is an individual choice for families, staff, and students. Individual classrooms cannot require students to wear masks. We expect that acceptance and understanding of those who choose to continue to wear a mask will be demonstrated just as we expect the same for those who choose not to wear a mask.
"The Board wants to make it clear that all other safety practices that have been in place will continue. The only safety protocol being addressed by their decision is masks. Masks may still be required at events in other districts in which we are guests. If this is the case, we are expected to follow the rules of the district in which we are visiting," the email states.