New recommendations released for Arkansas schools as some districts reconsider offering a virtual option

Arkansas News

EL DORADO, Ark. KTVE/KARD (7/28/21) — The Arkansas Department of Education has released new guidance for schools this upcoming fall.

“It was a challenging school year last year,” ADE Director of Communications, Kimberly Mundell said. “We’re hoping for the best but we do have to prepare as this new delta variant is making its rounds across the state and as we are seeing more reports of children being impacted.”

The ADE is encouraging unvaccinated individuals to wears masks indoors and outdoors in crowded settings. It has also updated its rules on social distancing and quarantine guidelines.

Individuals exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 will not need to be quarantined if they have no symptoms and both the infected and exposed individual consistently and correctly were wearing a mask.

Schools can’t require masks because of the new act that is now in place. It only allows private businesses, state owned healthcare facilities, facilities operated by the Department of Corrections and facilities operated by the Division of Youth Services at the Department of Health to make its own policies.

Governor Hutchinson issued a statement on how lawmakers are working to address the problem. He issued the following statement:

A special session remains an option as we look for specific ways to assist our schools as we prepare for the next school year.  In the coming days, I will be evaluating options for legislative changes to Act 1002 that will give our schools more local control on meeting the health needs of the students as we enter a new school year in the face of the Delta variant.  I will not make a decision on a special session until legislative leadership has an opportunity to discuss options further with their members.”

We reached out to House Speaker Matthew Shepherd who said conversations are ongoing and will continue in the coming days.

Some schools in the area opted not to offer virtual options this upcoming school year but are now considering it.

Parkers Chapel Superintendent John Gross said the school board voted in May to not offer any of its students a virtual option. As cases have recently increased in the state, the district has submitted a request for an extension on deciding its virtual plans for the school year.

Gross cited the district wanted to continue monitoring the spread of the coronavirus before it pivoted to offering distant learning to students.

The Hamburg School District is also weighing out its options. Currently, only 7th-12 graders have been given an option to learn virtually but students had to be accepted into the virtual program.

“We haven’t made that decision for elementary yet. We are meeting constantly and looking at what best serves our students,” Superintendent Tracy Streeter said. “We know from last year, our students need face to face teaching and learning. Therefore, we are focusing on protection and doing all we can to keep kids in school.”

The Junction City School District is offering a virtual option for its K-12 students. Due to the rise in cases across the state, Superintendent Robbie Lowe said the district has reopened applications to Dragon Virtual School.

The initial deadline for parents to submit applications was July 14.

“It is not the virtual education from last year. Our synchronous learning platform was created and is carried out by members of the school staff,” a staff member wrote on the district’s Facebook page.

The Camden School District voted to not offer a virtual option for its students. We reached out to Superintendent Johnny Embry but he couldn’t be reached for a comment.

Districts that didn’t submit a digital learning plan in May have now been given an extension to submit proposals by August 2.

“With the pandemic everything changes and sometimes it changes more frequently than others,” Mundell said. “Those plans are carefully and thoroughly reviewed by different divisions within the department to make sure it is quality before taken to the state board of education.”

The ADE is encouraging eligible individuals to get vaccinated and are encouraging parents to have conversations on the local school level with their child’s school district if there are concerns with the spread of the virus.

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