LRSD Superintendent Mike Poore (file photo) Brian Chilson

The Little Rock School District released a human resources frequently asked questions document to district staff yesterday. Among the information is an update to the LRSD’s policy on students wearing masks:

Students/children – “When feasible, older children should wear face coverings within facilities. It is not required for children to wear a mask. Let the parent determine!”

On June 29, this is what the district said in a FAQ intended for LRSD families:

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Will masks be required? It is the expectation that students and staff will wear masks where social distancing may be a challenge. This includes buses, hallways, and potentially, classrooms. This is an area where we wish we could be more definitive, but as has been demonstrated over the last week the “mask” issue continues to evolve. The use of masks is strongly recommended, especially when social distancing cannot be achieved. However, the District is still awaiting additional guidance from the State and the Arkansas Department of Health and will provide an update as soon as we get clarification.

Meanwhile, LRSD encourages parents/guardians to send a face mask with their student to school that their child feels comfortable wearing. The District will have 3 ply disposable masks available along with hand sanitizer on campuses, as well.

Will my student be sanctioned for not wearing a mask? We are still working to determine the best response to this potential concern and will be gathering input from stakeholder groups consisting of parents, staff and students.

From the HR FAQ, it’s unclear whether teachers will be required to wear masks.

This is the state at work. Governor Hutchinson has taken a decidedly laissez-faire approach to mask policy, and the Department of Education has left decisions on masks and many other crucial policies to individual districts. The Bentonville, Fayetteville and Rogers school districts have all moved to require all students and teachers to wear masks.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that elementary students “should wear face coverings when harms (e.g., increasing hand-mouth/nose contact) do not outweigh benefits (potential COVID-19 risk reduction).” The AAP says that universal face coverings should be worn by middle and high school students when they’re unable to maintain 6 feet of distance.

Teachers I’ve heard from aren’t comforted by the FAQ. Especially for those educators with underlying medical conditions who want to continue teaching but don’t want to return to the classroom, this questions stands out:

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Can my supervisor direct me to return at any time?

Yes, as the situation continues to evolve, school/department needs will change and additional resources will likely need to be deployed to provide assistance at multiple locations. Any employee could be called back to work at their home work location or to report to any other LRSD facility or office as necessary during school closure.

The document says that teachers should check with their supervisor to know whether they’re approved to work remotely. Those discussions are likely to begin soon as district principals just returned to work on contract this week.