Following the temporary reinstatement of a mask mandate in the Lakeside School District on Monday, the school board is holding a special workshop session today to discuss the district's mask guidelines and the COVID-19 omicron variant.
Prior to students returning to campus Monday from their holiday break, Lakeside Superintendent Shawn Cook sent out a letter to Lakeside families, informing them of the requirement change due to the increase in COVID case numbers within the school district area population.
"In October, we decided to lift the mask requirement as long as we have less than 20 cases of Covid per 10,000 among our school district area population," he said in the letter. "This week the (Arkansas Center for Health Improvement) report shows we have 22 per 10,000, so the mask requirement is back in place at this time starting Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. The school board and administration will be having discussions this week as we look at current information and also information about this new strand to determine any changes we may need to make concerning our mask guidelines."
By the end of the day Monday, the overall case count had dropped to 20, with 12 students and eight staff members out due to testing positive.
Cook said the workshop, being held at 7 a.m. today in the high school safe room cafeteria, will mainly be an informational-type meeting for gaining clearer insight as to the threats posed by omicron.
"We're going to update the board on how things are going in school, and give them any information that we know about the new omicron virus, the newest strand," he said. "Just kind of give the board an opportunity to have some input."
While no voting will take place and no decisions made, Cook said the board will review information submitted by parents from recent surveys sent out regarding the virus and the wearing of masks. Though it is unclear how much of the student population has received the vaccine, Cook noted 87% of the district's employees are now fully vaccinated.
Regarding possible upcoming changes to the mandate or other precautionary measures to be implemented, Cook said Tuesday he did not know at that point. The purpose of the workshop, he said, is to share the information with the board and hear their thoughts on it.
"There will be just discussion, and then if anything does come out of that, the board could always call another board meeting," he said. "I don't know that they will. They haven't really mentioned calling another yet but they wanted just to have a workshop so they'd have an opportunity to discuss everything and see how things are going really."
According to Cook, the main objective is to let everyone know the district is trying to do the very best it can for the students, and that there are "many factors to weigh in." In addition to the medical aspect and keeping students from contracting COVID, there are also the mental, social and emotional aspects of the situation.
"You know, of kids really not being able to gather like they normally would, or visit or play like they normally could," he said. "And all those kind of things have impacts. And the masks -- I know, medically, it's supposed to prevent the spread of the virus, flu, COVID, or whatever, from what we're hearing, if everybody's wearing them properly. But at the same time, when you're wearing the mask, it's really affecting our students with speech."
Cook said it has a significant impact on English Second Language students as they are not able to see the way mouths are moving during conversation.
"You know, some people will say, 'Well, it doesn't hurt anything to wear the mask.' Well, it does too. There's both sides. Right now we're looking at all of it, so it can be of help in some areas and it can hurt in other areas. We just have to weigh all those things out and try to do the very best that we know to do," he said.