Universities

School systems, colleges and universities in Arkansas are walking a tightrope through covid-19 cases

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

Universities and colleges, facing similar covid challenges, are evaluating in-person classes versus online sessions and making a series of decisions.

In Pulaski County, the three school districts that have been closed to on-site instruction since last week are reopening most campuses — except for nine in Little Rock — starting today.

The school day changes come in a week in which the Arkansas Department of Health reported a record 6,294 active cases of covid-19 among public school students and employees Monday. That’s up from the 3,923 active cases reported Thursday.

There were 300 active cases reported at 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 Tuesday.

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

These virtual instruction days, coupled with next Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, are intended to give affected students and staff time to recover from covid or reach the end of their quarantine periods, 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 hopefully no more infections will occur by Monday,” Caddo Hills School District Superintendent Deric Owens told The State at about his district based in Norman in Montgomery County.

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

Cabot, Texarkana and Helena-West Helena districts were among those that submitted their AMI day use plans the day before.

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

As of Jan. 1, approximately 77 of the state’s 261 school districts and charter systems, in whole or in part, have or are about to temporarily transition to virtual instruction for covid-19-related reasons, Kimberly Mundell, spokeswoman for the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Tuesday. For the same period a year ago, 21 systems had moved to virtual teaching due to covid-19.

PULASKI COUNTY

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

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

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

Little Rock Superintendent Mike Poore said in a Facebook Live video message and a letter posted on the district’s website that schools closed to on-site instruction 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 adherence to full face coverings, use of sanitizer and limits on group sizes. He urged sick people to stay home and get tested. He also urged that masks be worn in public places, that large crowds be avoided, and that individuals receive the full range of vaccines and boosters.

“We will continue to assess our numbers daily,” Poore wrote. “We know that moving from an in-person session to a virtual experience is a challenge for parents. We hope to make delivery changes by 3 p.m. each day, if possible.”

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

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

The council voted 5-2 Tuesday night against the proposal and keeping the practice of masks optional.

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

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

“We’re going to stick with masks as an option,” he said. “That’s how the district will move.”

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

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

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

Pilewski released the letter at a time when the Arkansas Department of Health reported there were 170 active cases of covid-19 among students and employees in the district as of Monday. That’s an increase from the 119 active cases reported in the district Thursday, as the state agency reported.

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 onsite instruction on Wednesday, January 19, 2022,” he said.

PSUs

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

“UA Little Rock has had relatively few coronavirus cases on campus and will continue to follow health guidelines to mitigate coronavirus exposure on campus. Should it become necessary, UA Little Rock has contingency plans to transition to virtual learning for a short time,” Drale said.

Little Rock campus spokeswoman Angie Faller said in an email to the Democrat-Gazette on Tuesday that “it’s uncertain if we’ll have in-person classes on Tuesday,” with a decision on classes expected today.

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

Little Rock University data for on-campus covid-19 testing shows that for the period Jan. 3-7, a total of 48 on-campus covid-19 tests were conducted with 15 testing positive, for a positivity rate of about 31%.

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

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

OTHER CAMPUSES

Some other central Arkansas universities have opted to start their spring terms with virtual instruction, including the University of Central Arkansas and Philander Smith College.

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

Drale, in his message, described efforts to reduce the spread of covid-19 on campus, including requiring face coverings in classrooms and counseling spaces, as well as at the indoors when physical distancing cannot be assured.

All campuses in the Arkansas State University System begin their spring semesters with continued face-covering requirements indoors, ASU system spokesman Jeff Hankins said 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 one campus in the system, ASU Mid-South, opted to delay its spring start until Tuesday, pushing it back from the scheduled Jan. 10 class start date. ASU Mid-South is in West Memphis and last fall had a total enrollment of about 1,100 students, including dual-enrolled high schoolers, according to state data.

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

System administrators at the University of Arkansas — the largest university system in the state — in August asked campuses to implement face-covering policies “regardless of vaccination status” for students. indoor public places where physical distancing cannot be maintained “in accordance with CDC guidance for covid-19 Delta Variant.”