Bill to overturn Arkansas’ ban on school mask mandates fails


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A bill that would’ve overturned Arkansas’s ban on school mask mandates failed in a special session vote Thursday.

The bill, titled HB1003 and sponsored by Republican representative Julie Mayberry, would’ve amended Act 1002, a law that bans state and local mask mandates.

The bill originally stated schools would be allowed to issue a mask mandate if the county where the school district is located had a 14-day infection rate of at least 50 new cases per 10,000 residents. The bill also stated the mandate could not exceed 60 days.

A motion to amend the bill to change the requirements to a 21-day mandate if 30 new cases per 10,000 arose also failed.

Tuesday, Governor Asa Hutchinson called a special session to amend the mask mandate ban. Hutchinson asked lawmakers for an exception that would’ve allow Arkansas schools to make their own mask policies.

“I am asking lawmakers to simply allow public school boards and open-enrollment charter schools to make their own decision to implement masking protocols to protect children younger than 12 in a school building, school bus, or other educational settings where several students are in close proximity,” Hutchinson said.

Thursday was day two of that special session. Lawmakers listened for hours to public comments from those for and against changes to the mask mandate law.

This comes as the number of COVID-19 cases rise in the state. Hutchinson recently said he regrets signing the law a few months ago.

“Everything has changed now,” Hutchinson said. “Yes, in hindsight I wish it had not become law.”

This week, the Marion School District reported 839 students and 10 staff members are in quarantine after 46 students and 10 staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Marion superintendent Glen Fenter appeared at both days of the special session. He again asked state leaders for the mandate option.

“We’re just simply asking for whatever tools can be provided to us so that we can keep our students safe and in school,” Fenter said.

Thursday, the Marion School District and the Little Rock School District filed a lawsuit challenging’s the state’s ban on mask mandates.

Hutchinson released a statement Thursday evening, saying he was “disappointed by the actions of the House Public Health Committee.”

“The cases and quarantines at the Marion School District during the last week illustrate the urgency of action,” Hutchinson said.

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