Based on new guidance issued by the CDC on Friday, the Marion School District is ending its mask mandate, effective Tuesday, March 1.

With this move, students and staff will have the option of whether or not to wear facemasks while on school campuses.

Last week, the district announced plans to lift the mask mandate following spring break. Dr. Glen Fenter, Marion superintendent, said the expedited shift is a result of new public policy being put into place.

“From the beginning of this pandemic, and every step of the way, we have followed the advice of experts on public health policy,” Fenter said. “When we announced plans last week to ease our mask rules after spring break, it was based on information we had at the moment, including rapidly declining cases and wide availability of the Covid vaccine. With the CDC’s new guidance issued on Friday, we felt it was important to remain aligned with their guidance.”

In the guidance issued Friday, the CDC relaxed mask recommendations for approximately 63% of U.S. counties, including Crittenden County. The CDC is using a color-coded map to show where people should continue masking indoors. Counties are shaded green, for “low” risk; yellow, for “medium” risk; and orange for “high” risk. Crittenden County is considered “medium” risk. Under this risk level, individuals who are at high risk for illness should talk to their healthcare provider about whether or not they need to wear a mask or take other precautions.

Regardless of each county’s risk level, the CDC is continuing its guidance for all individuals to stay up-to-date with Covid vaccines and get tested if they have symptoms. More information about the CDC’s new guidance can be found here.

Fenter has credited the district’s mask mandate, originally implemented in August, with effectively saving the school year.

The district started the school year on July 26 with no ability to require masks under state law. By the second week of the school year, more than 1,000 students had been forced into quarantine. At that point, the district joined a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on mask mandates. In response to that lawsuit, Circuit Judge Tim Fox issued an injunction on the mask ban, paving the way for Marion and districts across the state to implement masking rules. The Marion School District implemented its mask mandate on August 11. 

Following the implementation of the mask mandate, both positive cases and quarantines for students and staff dropped dramatically. After seeing more than 1,000 students quarantined in the first three weeks of the school year, the district only had a few dozen quarantined by Week 5. By Week 10 in October, fewer than 10 students were forced into quarantine.

“Our mask mandate has had everything to do with the successes we’ve had this school year,” Fenter said. “There are many schools across the state that have had to shut down at various points of the school year because of Covid cases. We never had to. We know our students learn best when they are in the classroom, being taught in person by one of our great teachers. Our mask mandate allowed that to happen this year.”

Fenter said the district will be watching local Covid numbers closely in the weeks and months ahead and will keep the option of reinstating mask rules if the situation warrants. He also emphasized that students and staff still have the option to wear masks, and he encouraged those who want to keep masking to do so.

“Nothing is more important than providing every opportunity for our students and staff to be safe,” Fenter said. “We want to recognize the importance of our board, staff, students, parents, and the Patriot community for their work in keeping our schools safe. This has been a challenging situation for everyone for almost two years. We pray that we continue to identify additional paths back to normalcy.