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730 students now quarantined in Arkansas school district

Superintendent, governor ask lawmakers to amend mask mandate ban
Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 2:53 PM CDT
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MARION, Ark. (WMC) - Two days into the second week of the new school year, Marion School District has more than 700 students in quarantine because of COVID-19.

As of Wednesday morning, Superintendent Dr. Glen Fenter said there were 730 students quarantined with positive cases in 34 students and nine faculty and staff.

Fenter says about a third of those cases are among elementary students who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

It’s why the superintendent is so outspoken about a new state law that bans mask mandates. He appeared at a special session Wednesday with Arkansas legislators.

“My concern is I can’t teach our kids if they are quarantined,” said Fenter. “I think it’s important to understand that if our students had been under the same mask mandate that we administered last year, instead of having 730 people quarantined we would have had 42.”

Governor Asa Hutchinson is asking lawmakers to amend Act 1002 to allow schools to issue their own mask mandates.

Fenter says that would help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those young students who can’t yet take the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I can tell you if nothing changes and our numbers continue the direction that they appear to be headed we’re going to have another school year where students don’t learn and have another interruption in our economic evolution in terms of our progress and it’s not just going to be happening in Marion America,” said Fenter. “It’s going to happen all over the state of Arkansas.”

Republican Rep. Julie Mayberry introduced House Bill 10-03 during a Health Committee Wednesday, which would amend a previous law passed that bans mask mandates by the state or any other public entity.

″This bill does not say every school and every school board can mandate masks, it narrowly focuses it down to specific school districts that we know over a 14-day period of time have had at least 50 cases of COVID in their school district,” she said.

Mayberry says the bill would only apply to school districts in the “hot zone” in terms of the volume of cases. Of the 283 districts in the state, 100 districts would fall within the guidelines.

Each individual school board would have to vote on mask mandate. The superintendent would not have the authority to do so.

The bill also says the mask mandate cannot last more than 60 days, and those with medical conditions would not be required to wear a mask.

One mom spoke out against the bill.

“Y’all may be uncomfortable in here, but you’re asking children 12 to 4 to be uncomfortable a lot for 8 hours a day, but then it’s OK for wrestlers and football players to spit and drink on top of each other and roll around on top of each other without a mask...that doesn’t make any sense,” said Dallas Green.

Meanwhile, Hutchinson said Tuesday he regrets signing the initial legislation into law is gaining national attention.

”In hindsight, I wish that had not become law,” he said. “But it is the law and the only chance we have is to amend it or for the courts to say it has an unconstitutional foundation.”

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