Universities

Arkansas school systems, colleges and universities walk a tightrope across covid-19 cases

School districts across the state are adjusting school calendars to deal with the growing number of covid-19 cases and quarantines.

Universities and colleges, facing challenges similar to covid, evaluate in-person courses against online sessions and make a series of decisions.

In Pulaski County, the three school districts closed to on-site education since last week are reopening most campuses – with the exception of nine in Little Rock – as of today.

The school day changes come in a week in which the Arkansas Department of Health on Monday reported a record 6,294 active cases of covid-19 among students and employees of public schools. This is an increase from the 3,923 active cases reported Thursday.

There have been 300 active cases reported in private schools across the state – up from 171 on Thursday and 650 active cases on college and university campuses, up from 509 cases last week, according to the state report released on Tuesday.

Across the state, dozens of districts have notified the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education of their intention to temporarily switch to virtual instruction for two, three or four days this week.

These virtual training days, coupled with next Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day vacation, are meant to give affected students and staff time to recover from covid or reach the end of their terms. quarantine, district leaders told the state.

“I can’t staff my classes,” Hazen superintendent Donnie Boothe told the state agency.

“Three days of AMI will give us a five-day reset, and we hope more infections don’t happen by Monday, Caddo Hills School District superintendent Deric Owens reported to the state about. from his Norman-based district in Montgomery County.

Conway, Arkadelphia, Lonoke, Stuttgart, Blytheville, DeWitt, Magazine, White Hall, Prairie Grove and Hamburg are among the other districts that notified the state on Tuesday of their intention to use some of their 10 days of alternative investigative measures. (AMI) this week. Some of the others were the school districts of Clinton, Greenland, Cave City, Rose Bud, Star City and Hope.

The districts of Cabot, Texarkana and Helena-West Helena were among those who submitted their plans to use the MAI the day before.

AMI Days – originally designed for inclement weather and utility outages – allow school campuses to close and students to do homework from home using online or paper-based courses. The days count towards the minimum 178 school days that districts are required to offer each year, and they do not have to be made up at some later point in the school year, such as spring break or school break. end of the year.

As of Jan. 1, about 77 of the state’s 261 school districts and charter systems have or are about to transition temporarily to virtual education due to covid-19 reasons, Kimberly Mundell, spokesperson for the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Tuesday. In the same period a year ago, 21 systems had switched to virtual education due to covid-19.

PULASKI COUNTY

Most schools in the Little Rock, Pulaski County Special and North Little Rock districts will resume on-site teaching today, but with some notable adjustments. The three districts of central Arkansas were closed to on-site instructions Thursday and Friday of last week, as well as Monday and today due to increased cases of exposure to covid-19 and covid- 19.

The Little Rock School District, which has 21,000 students and had 325 active cases among students and employees on Monday, is now resuming on-site teaching on all but nine of its campuses.

These nine campuses that will continue to provide virtual education to their students for the remainder of the week are Southwest High, Mabelvale Middle, Pulaski Heights Middle, JA Fair Kindergarten at Eighth Grade School, Don Roberts Elementary, Booker Elementary, Washington Elementary, Chicot Elementary and Rockefeller Early Childhood Center.

Little Rock Superintendent Mike Poore said in a Facebook Live video message and letter posted to the district website that schools closed to on-site teaching are those with significant numbers of administrators and members. absent staff. Schools in which 10% or more of staff are sick or in quarantine are challenged to provide quality education, he said.

Poore said successful in-person learning requires full mask compliance, the use of disinfectant, and limits on group size. He urged those who are sick to stay home and get tested. He also called for masks to be worn in public places, that large crowds be avoided and that individuals receive full vaccines and reminders.

“We will continue to assess our numbers every day,” Poore wrote. “We know that switching from an in-person presentation to a virtual presentation is a challenge for parents. We hope to make changes to the delivery by 3:00 p.m. each day, where possible.”

The Pulaski County Special School District, which had 200 active covid cases on Monday, will resume on-site teaching on each campus today.

Unlike the districts of Little Rock and North Little Rock, the Pulaski Special District School Board made masks optional in November. District staff this week proposed a mask policy that would make masks mandatory to the point that there is a minimum of 30 cases of covid per 10,000 people living within district boundaries.

The board of directors voted 5-2 on Tuesday evening against the proposal and maintaining the practice of masks being optional.

“We’re going to be in school,” Superintendent Charles McNulty said Tuesday night. “We’re going to be student-centered. We’re going to push the teaching. We’re going to follow our established protocols. I’m excited for the second semester of our job.”

He also said masks are available for students and teachers if they choose to wear them.

“We will stay with optional masks,” he said. “This will be how the district moves.”

The North Little Rock School District announced Tuesday that it is opening all campuses for on-site education today, but has offered parents the option of virtual education until next Tuesday.

“We recognize that the number of active cases and quarantines is increasing; however, we appreciate the importance and benefits of on-site education for our students,” Superintendent Greg Pilewski wrote to parents in a post on the website. of the district. “With this in mind, we will implement a phased approach that will offer the choice of asynchronous on-site or online instruction to meet the needs of our students and families.

“As a reminder, virtual and asynchronous education allows students to get and complete homework on a daily basis, but does not include live instruction,” he said. “A student’s choice of teaching service will be documented by their presence on site or by logging into Google Classroom.”

Pilewski released the letter at a time when the Arkansas Department of Health reported that there were 170 active cases of covid-19 among students and district employees on Monday. This is an increase from the 119 active cases reported in the district on Thursday, according to the state agency.

Pilewski said that since all campuses will be offering on-site classes, starting today, all extracurricular activities, sports practices and events will also resume today.

“All students will return to campus for on-site instruction on Wednesday, January 19, 2022,” he said.

UALR

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock plans to start its spring semester “as scheduled” on Tuesday, Chancellor Christina Drale said in a message to campus Monday.

“UA Little Rock has had relatively few cases of coronavirus on campus and will continue to follow health guidelines to mitigate exposure to coronavirus on campus. If it becomes necessary, UA Little Rock has contingency plans to switch to virtual learning for a short period of time, “Drale says.

Little Rock Campus spokeswoman Angie Faller said in an email to the Democrat-Gazette on Tuesday that “it is not certain that we will have face-to-face classes on Tuesday,” a course decision being expected today.

The university’s online covid-19 case report listed 29 active cases as of Monday, including 15 student cases and 14 employee cases.

Data from the University of Little Rock for on-campus covid-19 tests show that for the period January 3-7, a total of 48 campus covid-19 tests were performed with 15 tests returning positive, for a positivity rate of about 31%.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, describing the statewide test results, noted on Tuesday how the statewide positivity rate had reached 30%, based on a moving average of seven days.

“So that’s very high in terms of the positivity rate,” he said.

OTHER CAMPUSES

Some other universities in central Arkansas have chosen to begin their spring semesters with virtual education, including the University of Central Arkansas and Philander Smith College.

UALR’s William H. Bowen Law School began classes this week with virtual instruction, the university announced last week.

Drale, in his post, described efforts to reduce the spread of covid-19 on campus, including the requirement to cover the face in classrooms and board spaces, as well as indoors. when physical distancing cannot be ensured.

All campuses in the Arkansas State University system are starting their spring semesters with continued interior face covering requirements, ASU system spokesman Jeff Hankins said on Tuesday.

The ASU system includes Arkansas State University and Henderson State University, as well as five two-year colleges.

For each campus, chancellors have been authorized by the ASU system board to make decisions about face coverings, Hankins said.

Hankins said that one campus in the system, ASU Mid-South, chose to delay its start of spring until Tuesday, pushing it back from the scheduled start date of January 10. ASU Mid-South is in western Memphis and last fall, according to state data, there was a total enrollment of around 1,100 students, including double-enrolled high school students.

The ASU system is the second largest university system in the state.

In August, administrators of the University of Arkansas system – the state’s largest university system – called on campuses to implement face coverage policies “regardless of vaccination status” for venues. indoor audiences where physical distancing cannot be provided “in accordance with CDC guidelines for the covid -19 Delta variant.”