Following a unanimous vote of its school board Thursday, October 21, the Marion School District updated its mask mandate policy, easing restrictions during times outside of normal school hours.

This change will not affect mask-wearing during the regular school day, when all students and staff are required to wear masks while indoors and when riding district transportation. However, for school functions held outside of normal school hours, including sporting events and other extracurricular activities, masks will be encouraged, but not required.

The policy applies to all students (grade K-12), staff, and campus visitors, regardless of vaccination status. All masks and face coverings should cover the nose and mouth of each individual. Students are allowed to remove their masks while eating and drinking. The full text of the policy can be found here. Anyone who does not comply with the requirement will be subject to disciplinary action consistent with district policies.

“The health and safety of our students remain our top priority,” said Kelly Fogleman, school health coordinator for the Marion School District. “We know that masks are one of the best defenses we have against the spread of Covid-19, and our mask mandate has been incredibly effective at reducing the number of positive cases and quarantines among our students since we implemented the rule in August.”

In the two weeks prior to the district’s mask mandate taking effect, the district averaged 12.70 positive cases and 131.70 quarantines per day. Since the mask mandate has been in effect, the district has averaged 4.72 positive cases and 21.87 quarantines a day. Since fall break, those numbers have fallen even more sharply, with an average of 0.44 positive cases and 1.89 quarantines a day over the past two weeks.  

The district will also be following new guidance issued this week by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson regarding how quarantines are handled. Under the new guidance, schools will be able to use a distance of 3 feet, instead of 6 feet, when determining who is identified as a close contact with an infected individual, triggering a quarantine.

Though mask-wearing will continue in Marion schools, Fogleman said the district is continuing to urge all eligible individuals to get vaccinated.

"Masks help, but the best defense against Covid-19 is still vaccination,” she said. “With booster shots now available, and with approval of vaccines for children under 12 coming soon, we will have some new tools to combat this virus. We encourage everyone to take advantage of this.”