LITTLE ROCK (KATV) — With more than a week of school in the books for most Arkansas students and teachers, districts are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation across the state.
According to the Arkansas Department of Health's latest COVID-19 report, Bentonville School District, where masks are required, currently has the most active cases at 88. That's followed by Rogers School District at 74, and Fort Smith School District at 70, who also both require masks.
Districts across the state have been making decisions about masking for a few weeks now.
The Pulaski County Special School District is one of several who put a mask policy in place for students and staff, but others like Benton Public Schools have left them optional.
PCSSD superintendent, Dr. Charles McNulty, said he's spent a lot of time in the schools over the past week, and it's been a smooth start. Unlike last year, parents were able to walk their kids in on the first day, and their focus remains on safety and quality instruction.
The mask policy was approved by the board prior to the first day and will remain in place for the first 60 days. On top of the masks, Pulaski County is keeping a lot of the same protocols they had last year; social distancing, vigorous sanitation, and they’re also providing masks for students and staff if needed.
"We're hoping that with the Arkansas Department of Health, and certainly the governor's initiative that, we're ready to get the Delta variant under control and normalize our school experience, but we've had no issues," McNulty said.
McNulty said he understands why some parents were against the mask policy, but the district felt it was the best approach to keep schools open.
"We're also, you know, allowing no mask outside, we're trying to get outside to get some air, even though it's really hot today."
Benton ended the 2020-2021 school year with masks optional, and started this fall the same way. Isabella Bradley, public relations director for Benton Public Schools, said safety is their number one priority.
"Of course, it's not the year that we anticipated, we're still going through the proper COVID protocols," Bradley said. "It's a little different than what you call a typical school year, but I think the excitement was still there, despite what's going on around us."
Bradley said throughout the schools, she’s seen several students both with and without masks on.
Benton is also practicing social distancing, encouraging hand washing and vaccines, has assigned seating to make contact tracing easier, and they’ve added air purifiers to every classroom.
"No matter what decision you're going to make, you're going to have people on both sides," she said. "At the end of the day, we want to reassure parents and our community that we are doing everything we can to make sure that our staff and students, they're safe and healthy."
As of Wednesday, the Arkansas Department of Health reported 23 active cases of coronavirus in Pulaski County. That's out of 12,718 students and staff.
"We don't want anyone sick, but we are in the midst of, I think, a serious medical situation and health situation, and, and we feel pretty good that we're taking all the controls and keeping the numbers down," McNulty said.
Benton Public Schools have 18 active cases reported out of 6,194 students and staff.
"We know that's the best for our students, so in order to do that, we are taking on all measures," Bradley said. "Any information we get from our head nurse from, our health coordinator, we take that straight to the Department of Health and the Department of Education and we make changes accordingly."
Both districts also frequently update their websites with COVID-19 case and quarantine information. In Pulaski County, their nurses have learned that a lot of their quarantines and close contacts are actually coming from community spread, not the schools.
Both districts have also been putting on vaccine clinics at the schools and will continue throughout the semester.
PCSSD partnered up with the Arkansas Department of Education and ADH to put on two clinics this week at their football games. One will be Thursday at the Sylvan Hills vs. Maumelle game, and the other will be Friday at the Pulaski Academy vs Robinson High School. They'll also be hosting another round of clinics at the middle school next month.