Masks required on school buses
Maumelle Planning Commission to meet, 'Big Boy' to stop in North Little Rock, QuikTrip plans October opening in Morgan plus news and sports headlines
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Entergy complaint update
Last week, Entergy Arkansas filed a complaint with the Public Service Complaint against the City of Maumelle, Mayor Caleb Morris and the City Council. A link to the complaint can be read by clicking here and the city hadn’t filed a response as of Thursday morning. This story will be updated with the City’s response when it is available.
This Monday’s meeting had a light agenda but several important discussion items. Read more by clicking Maumelle: City Council report by Chad Gardner
In the arts, the Sound of Music sets auditions
BASEBALL ON BROADWAY is the weekly newsletter that spotlights the Arkansas Travelers. It is published on Monday and click the link to give it a read.
Neal Moore is taking the week off.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order that requires masks to be worn on public transportation also applies to students on school buses.
School districts in Arkansas are now in the awkward position of enforcing the CDC order while also trying to comply with Act 1002 passed by the Arkansas legislature earlier this year that says no mask mandates are allowed in the state.
Arkansas was one of several states across the country that passed legislation prohibiting mask mandates, but the CDC order supersedes state law.
The Arkansas law reads, “all mandatory face covering requirements, including without limitation requirements imposed by executive order of the Governor and the Department of Health … shall end.”
It doesn’t address federal mandates.
Jade Fulce, a public affairs specialist with the CDC, said in a Thursday morning email to ArkansasNewsroom.com that “the order applies unless the state, locality, or territory has stricter requirements in place for protecting the public’s health.”
That’s clearly not the case in Arkansas.
While public transportation can mean planes, trains, or transit buses, the guidance issued by the CDC clearly states school buses are also considered a “public conveyance.” In the Frequently Asked Questions section of its website, the CDC addresses school buses.
The FAQ section asks, “Are masks required on school buses?”
“Yes, passengers and drivers must wear a mask on school buses, including on buses operated by public and private school systems, subject to the exclusions and exemptions in CDC’s Order,” the answer reads.
In Arkansas, local school districts appear to be unaware of the CDC order and that it applies to them.
Dustin Barnes, the communications coordinator for the North Little Rock School District, said Wednesday when asked how the district would comply with the CDC order, “Masks are optional. The [school] board approved this decision back in June.”
“We will not be able to enforce masks -- in the classroom or on buses -- due to the governor's law he signed,” said Jessica Duff, executive director of communications for the Pulaski County Special School District. “Unfortunately, we can only ‘strongly encourage’ that students and staff continue wearing masks this upcoming school year.”
Duff also noted that the district hasn’t received any guidance from the Arkansas Department of Education for the new school year that starts next month.
The CDC order also covers what’s supposed to happen if masks aren’t being worn.
“Operators of public transportation conveyances must refuse to board anyone not wearing a mask that completely covers the mouth and nose,” the CDC site reads. “Operators must also require that everyone on board wears a mask for the entire duration of travel” and “if a passenger refuses to comply, the operator must disembark the person at the earliest safe opportunity.”
The CDC also said, “people who refuse to wear a mask may be subject to a civil penalty.”
Danyelle McNeill, a public information officer with the Arkansas Department of Health, said Thursday, “We’re still working on finalizing school guidance and this would fall under that.”
The first day of school for local school districts is Aug. 16, but buses will begin running before then, as the first day of high school football practice and the high school golf season both begin on Aug. 2, under two weeks away.
Districts are planning for the school year now.
Duff said by phone on Thursday morning district leadership was having a meeting that day and masks on buses would be discussed.
By Thursday, the state Department of Education and Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office had not responded to requests for comment on the CDC’s mask mandate for school buses. This story will be updated when or if they do.
Not everyone is unaware of the mask mandate for buses.
Becca Green, the director of public engagement for Rock Region Metropolitan Transit Authority, said, “yes” when asked if the public bus and trolley system for Pulaski County was requiring masks for its riders.
“The federal mask mandate is in place until Sept. 13,” she said. “That mandate went in place in February 2021,” and “requiring riders to wear masks is one of several actions [the agency] has taken throughout the pandemic to meet the dual goals of protecting public health … and keeping as much transit service on the roads as possible.”
A new strip mall and two significant voluntary property annexations are among the agenda items for tonight’s Maumelle Planning Commission meeting.
A copy of the agenda can be viewed by clicking here.
The meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. and be held in Council chambers at City Hall.
The five-suite strip mall, as seen above, will be located at 1020 Country Club Parkway and be a 7,128 square feet of building that would include a drive-through for a restaurant or other small business.
The property is currently a vacant lot and zoned as Planned Residential District and would need a conditional use permit to allow for the drive-through.
The agenda notes that the property, “has not had any development requests in the past '' and people in the neighborhood have asked about the project and “several property owners along Cabanel Drive who are opposed to the development of any commercial on the property. “
The city’s planning staff has a “Do-Pass recommendation” but on the condition that business hours are limited from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The two property annexations are for 80 acres at 200 Ridgeland Drive and is the Pinnacle Heights Subdivision, while the other is along Highway 365 North and Old Maumelle Road and is called the Bradley Family Property.
The petition for annexation of Pinnacle Heights, above, was filed July 9 with the Pulaski County County Clerk by owner, Dr. Shabbir Dharamsey. The development there was covered here and would include 186 single-family lots. The agenda notes that five comments have been received from the public and were mostly “general questions” and “some concern over the loss of trees and green space.”
This voluntary annexation has a “Do-Pass” recommendation.
The Bradley property, seen below, is split into two tracts.
Tract A is 9 acres and would be zoned commercial. It faces Hwy. 365 N., as illustrated by the map below, while Tract B is 66 acres and would be zoned Single Family Residential. The property is undeveloped and wooded.
The agenda notes that 13 calls were received, “but mainly concerning general questions. Opposition appears to be due to misinformation or not knowing the general laws concerning voluntary annexation.”
The request for annexation was filed April 28 by Susan Bradley.
This voluntary annexation also has a “Do-Pass” recommendation.
Union Pacific recently announced that Engine No. 4014, better known as "Big Boy", is headed out on tour and one of its overnight stops will be in North Little Rock.
Called "The Big Boy 2021 Tour,'' it will start on Aug. 5 and an interactive map can be viewed by clicking here.
The train engine, seen above, lives up to its name and weighs 1.2 million pounds or about 6,000 tons. Learn more about the 132-foot engine, roughly the length of four school buses, by clicking here.
"Big Boy makes a big impression in communities it visits, reminding us of bygone days and the important role the railroad continues to play in our global economy," said Scott Moore, senior vice president – Corporate Relations and chief administrative officer in a release. "This summer, we are proud to announce that the Big Boy will be back to tour through 10 of the states and hundreds of the communities which Union Pacific serves."
No. 4014 will leave the Steam Shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Aug. 5, making brief whistle-stops in communities across Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming.
"Big Boy" is scheduled to arrive at the UP Yard, 1000 W. 4th St., North Little Rock at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 26 after making the journey from Texas and up the Texas Eagle line that starts in Arkansas at Texarkana and continues through Hope, Prescott, Gurdon, Arkadelphia, Malvern and then North Little Rock.
The engine will leave at 8 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 27 before heading to the northeast and going through Bald Knob, Tuckerman and Walnut Ridge before leaving the state and crossing into Missouri.
The tour will conclude Tuesday, Sept. 7 back in Cheyenne after having passed through Missori, Kansas and Colorado before reaching its final destination in Wyoming.
QuikTrip will open two new locations in Arkansas this October, said a company spokeswoman this week.
The “locations are projected to open in October of ‘21,” said Aisha Jefferson-Smith, who is the Corporate Communications Manager for the QuikTrip Corporation. “I will have more exact dates when we get closer to opening day.”
One is located at 18804 MacArthur Drive, just off the Morgan/Maumelle exit on I-40. The property had previously been storage for a trucking company but was mostly vacant. The other location is at the intersection of Bass Pro Parkway and Otter Creek Road, off of I-30 and near the outlet mall and Bass Pro store.
QuikTrip is a privately-held company based in Tulsa, and currently has 907 locations in 12 states -- Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas -- and that will climb to 13 states in October.
Each location will employ about 25 people and each “will be equipped with QT Kitchens that offer made fresh to order food and drink items,” Smith told ArkansasNewsroom.com previously.
“QT” as the stores are affectionately known are in expansion mode with other locations planned in Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana as the company shifts from its traditional Midwest and Plains footprint to the Southeast.
QuikTrip is accepting applications online for both locations and click here for more.