The Catholic Schools Office mandated Jan. 5 that any school located in a county with 100 or more new COVID-19 infections per 10,000 people will be required to wear masks at all times on campus. As of Jan. 5, the mandate went into effect for the following schools:
North Little Rock: Immaculate Conception, Immaculate Heart of Mary and North Little Rock Catholic Academy
Little Rock: St. Theresa, Holy Souls, Christ the King, Catholic High School for Boys and Mount St. Mary Academy
Conway: St. Joseph
West Memphis: St. Michael
Jonesboro: Blessed Sacrament
Paragould: St. Mary
COVID-19 cases are tracked using the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, achi.net.
The schools office stated in an email to principals that it would continue to monitor the situation.
The mandate came less than a week after the office mandated masks be worn in common areas throughout the school, but allowed them to be optional in the classrooms, according to a Dec. 31 letter. Schools not in high-infection zones will continue to follow that guidance.
On Nov. 5, the schools office announced masks would be optional in elementary schools starting Jan. 3. But with the rise of the highly transmissible omicron variant, it was decided during Christmas break after discussions with local medical experts, diocesan school board, principals, pastors and school administrators speaking with their COVID task force teams and local school boards, to once again mandate masking in certain areas.
“As you can imagine, it was very divided, but there were more people that I talked to that wanted the option,” Theresa Hall, superintendent of schools said Jan. 3
Hall said most in the medical community wanted masks to remain in place.
“What was said is each layer that you have, whether it’s the distance, the mask, each layer is just that much more protection from spreading it,” she said.
Individual schools not in high-infection rate areas can still decide if masks are appropriate to be worn in the classroom.
“What I wish is that people would take into consideration that this is something that we have never dealt with before. And we really are trying to do the best that we can to keep their children in school and be able to receive their education in school,” Hall said.
With a shortage of substitute teachers, keeping everyone safe is a priority.
“We have to think about the bigger picture and think about all of our kids, all of our teachers, everybody in that school community.”
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