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  • Sara Doan, Northeast Arkansas News

Multiple area school districts implement mask mandates ahead of new school year

JONESBORO, Ark- After a Little Rock judge said school districts could create their mask mandates, multiple districts called meetings to put one into place, including two in the region.

School starts just next week, and the Marked Tree School District and Jonesboro Public Schools are just two districts in the area that will require everyone on their campus to mask up. Both superintendents say it’s about safety and keeping students in the classroom this year.

“Taking kids out of school for 2,800 absences, 2,900 absences and, you add 400 teacher absences on top of that on different days,” says Marked Tree Superintendent Matt Wright. “The loss of learning is so significant. I want our teachers and, I want our kids in the building and, I want them in the building as healthy as possible.”

Students and staff must be masked up in school buildings and on busses.

Once given the authority to create a mandate, Superintendent Wright went to work. He says requiring masks gives district leadership more control over the situation.

“The fact that we didn’t have that control it was scary. Because we knew we were going to be dealing with the situation that was going to be potentially disastrous. Not only with kids getting sick, maybe they were getting sick but also with quarantine,” he says.

Superintendent Wright and Jonesboro Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kim Wilbanks say the reaction from the community regarding the mandate has been positive overall.

With new guidelines, both districts hope to limit the number of days in quarantine if one comes in contact with somebody who has tested positive.

“Our number one goal is always going to be to have students in the classroom where they have the opportunity to receive an onsite education. So, we’ve put a lot of measures in place to really limit quarantining,” Superintendent Wright said.

JPS will require masks regardless of vaccination status.

“With the continued increase in the number of COVID cases and then, just the sentiment that was expressed in our communities, 70 percent of our faculty, staff, and parents all requested a mandate,” says Dr. Wilbanks.

Marked tree and JPS will be prepared to switch to virtual if needed. For students returning to a Jonesboro public school this fall, it will look familiar.

“Our students wore masks in the spring. They’re gonna come back with those continued safety precautions in place, that additional cleaning. Continuing with assigned seating, continuing with a lot of procedures that help us with contact tracing,” the superintendent said.


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