Debate on masks stronger than ever after first day of school

Education

PULASKI COUNTY, Ark. – School is officially back in session for many public schools in Central Arkansas, and parents are split on the requirement of masks in class.

With many schools mandating face coverings indoors, Monday was the first real indicator of what the school year could look like.

Some parents celebrating the first day are just happy their kids can learn in person, while others say the decision to cover up should be left to families. With just one day in the books, the discussion is far from over.

Casey Burks is one such parent taking part in the debate. He lined up with signs during pickup and drop off at Maumelle Charter School to protest the school’s mask mandate, a move he says he will repeat as often as possible.

Burks’ daughter is in her first year at the school. “She started kindergarten this year, so the whole school thing is brand new to us,” he explained. The 5-year-old had only been in class for a few days when the charter decided to mandate the use of masks, something Burks says he wishes he was better prepared for.

“If we would have known ahead of time,” Burks said, “we would have probably made other arrangements for our child.”

Burks says he sees nothing wrong with masks but wishes the decision would have been left to him and his family, not the school.

Burks isn’t alone in his stance; two protesters at Pulaski Heights Middle School greeted parents dropping off kids Monday morning, holding signs and waving to families.

Other parents are just happy school is back in session. Lori Chumley and son Sean just wrapped up their first day at Crystal Hill Elementary. For the first grader, the addition of masks has become an old habit.

“It’s good to know that he can still continue with his education, considering everything that’s been going on with the pandemic,” Chumley said. “Last year he was in kindergarten during the pandemic, and he still went in-person and had to wear a mask then.”

Students who don’t wear a mask in class could face disciplinary action. For example, students in Little Rock schools like Pulaski Heights face a certain number of violations before a possible suspension. Then, the student could be transferred to virtual learning.

Burks says if Maumelle Charter School still mandates masks in January, he’ll pull his daughter out and have her learn from home.

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