With over 700 in quarantine, Marion School District continues to struggle with COVID outbreak

Marion, Ark. — The Marion School District in Arkansas continues to grapple with a COVID outbreak.

So far, over 700 students are in quarantine, with 43 total positive COVID-19 tests less than two weeks after the school year started.

PREVIOUS REPORT: Over 400 students quarantined during first week of school in Marion School District

“I feel like the school district is doing the best they can. They can only do what they are allowed and what they’re told to do. We can’t fault the school district for anything,” Balentina Lacklend, a mother of two 7th graders in the district, said.

Marion School District superintendent Dr. Glen Fenter said the district is doing its best to protect its staff and students. He said the district is working with the state department of education and department of health to get the numbers under control.

“This is one of those things where it only takes a small number of positive cases to generate a significant number of quarantines,” Fenter said.

As other school districts start back, Fenter fears they’ll face similar scenarios.

“The only thing unique about the school district is we started first. I think these experiences are going to be normal not just around our region, but around the country,” he said.

Under Arkansas Act 1002, a school district cannot mandate masks in the classroom.

That’s why Supt. Fenter wants the state legislature to give districts more of a say in the decision.

“I’m spending today with the Arkansas General Assembly about affording us more opportunities to have other tools to protect our students during this second round of the pandemic,” he said.

Fenter said it’s critical in-person learning continues.

He said virtual learning is challenging, especially because a third of Marion students don’t have access to the internet.

“We believe the best place for our students is in the classroom with a great teacher, and we’re adhering to that as best we can,” he said.

Along with wearing masks, the superintendent strongly encourages students who are old enough to get the vaccine.

The district held a vaccination clinic on campus Wednesday.

”I just thought that being safe in school would be the best way,” Marion seventh-grader Lacie Faulkner said.

For Faulkner, the decision to get the COVID vaccine was easy.

“Especially with everyone being quarantined right now, I feel like being vaccinated is the best way to go,” she said.

Balentina Lacklend brought her twin daughters, who are also Marion students, to the clinic.

Her daughters just turned 12. Now that they’re old enough for the vaccine, she let them decide if they wanted to get it.

“I told them you have to do what’s best for you. You have to make the decision for you and your health,” she said.

This is the third pop-up clinic the district has hosted so far.

Supt. Fenter said the goal is to get the shot out to people who may have trouble accessing it.

“We have people in our community that have difficulty traveling to other communities, and their access to clinics may be limited,” he said.

As for students like Faulkner, she’s happy to do her part. She said many of her friends are following her lead.

“At least 98 percent of my homeroom has been vaccinated, so I really encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called a special session to discuss giving local school boards back the authority to put their own mask mandate in place.

State leaders voted in April to take that power from school districts which the law went into effect on July 1.

Stephanie Lane, a mother of three Marion School District students, said her children are currently being quarantined.

”Everyone should be required to wear a mask, everyone,” Lane said.

Hutchinson suggests the mask mandates should only be for students age 12 and under.

Lane said the governor’s suggestion is no good for her middle and high school students who are quarantining.

”Unfortunately, my children are junior high and high school. They are being sent home at alarming rates every day due to COVID,” Lane said.

The Marion School District mentioned on Facebook that if all positive cases were wearing masks, the students and staff would be isolated; thus, there would be no need to quarantine the 700 plus.

”Had they been wearing the mask properly, this would not have happened, but you didn’t have a mandate for them, so how could you blame the students or the teachers when there is no requirement,” Lane said.