After Tuesday night's school board meeting, Camden Fairview Superintendent Johnny Embry spoke with concerned parents about the district's mask mandate, as well as other decisions related to COVID-19 safety at schools, which he said are guided by information from the Arkansas Department of Education.
Embry noted that school board members left because per state law, any gathering of two or more board member could be considered a school board meeting.
"I want so state this up front, just so you all know -- a lot of board members left, (and) there's a state law that says board members, more than two, in any activity could be considered a board meeting. For the purpose of questions and answers, it could be seen as a board meeting, so they've left, "
Parents in attendance spoke about the district's mask mandate.
Cory Bostic, a parent with children in the seventh and fourth grades read a letter he wrote. The letter began with Bostic recalling volunteer work he has done for the school district, including participating in career days, delivering Smokey the Bear programs and teaching students about ecology.
"With that I would like to say that I 100% realize that COVID-19 is real. I have known people who have had the virus, known people that have died from the virus, and know people who are currently fighting the virus. No doubt that is real and is here to stay. I am not here to make light of COVID 19," Bostic said. "Last school year COVID took the parents ability to enter the building and engage in our children's education face to face. This came out of nowhere and I feel the teachers, administrators, students and parents did the best we could to adapt to unprecedented circumstances. I trust we can all agree it was not perfect and as a result our children are behind in their education. Which brings us to the present."
The letter went on to state that Bostic believed that two weeks before the start of school was not an appropriate time to decide to not hold an open house, sentiment echoed by many parents in the audience, as well as on Facebook. Embry said the decision to not hold on an in person open house was made at the last minute due to rising COVID cases.
In 2020, Camden Fairview also did not hold an open house for students due to the amount of COVID cases in Ouachita County.
Bostic continued, "Communication between parents, students, and all faculty and staff are paramount. The last 18 months parents felt like we were out of the loop. We can't come into the building, we are denied meetings with teachers, and we find out things like the changing of the grading scale and disciplinary policy second hand. As parents, we have to take the blame in some of this for not showing up to board meetings. I say to you now we are here. We are watching and we will not be silenced because you want to leave in 45 minutes."
When asked by parents about the mask mandate, Embry stated that the decision to go to a mask mandate was partially prompted because children exposed to COVID that are masked do not have to quarantine, while children that are not masked must quarantine regardless of their test status, meaning that if children are masked, they will be more likely to be able to stay in school.
The Camden Fairview School Board voted to allow a mask mandate in a 6-1 vote in a special called meeting at the end of July.
Act 1002 of 2021, which bans local government entities from mandating masks, is currently being litigated after a Pulaski County judge blocked the law in late July.