Arkansas school systems continue to grapple with widespread illness and quarantines of covid-19 among employees and students, with several schools and entire districts turning to the use of distance learning for one or more of the next few days.
State universities, as they enter their spring semesters, are also monitoring covid-19 numbers and reviewing strategies to minimize the spread of the virus which has reached a record number of new cases in recent days.
The Kindergarten to Grade 12 school systems in Texarkana, Newport, Sheridan, Mansfield, Lee County and Helena-West Helena are among those recorded Monday by the State Division of Elementary and Secondary Education as turning this week towards the use of AMI. – alternative teaching methods – days instead of traditional on-campus teaching.
Additionally, the Cabot School District posted on its website and social media Monday evening that while onsite classes are taking place today, the district will switch to online teaching Wednesday through Friday. The district cited expected staffing challenges and the increase in student illnesses as the week progresses.
The Texarkana District announced earlier Monday that all campuses will close on-site education today until Jan. 17, and that all Kindergarten to Grade 12 students will be doing schoolwork from their homes.
Teaching on the Texarkana campus will resume on January 18, following Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday break next Monday.
Texarkana district leaders told the state agency that student absenteeism fell from 26.7% absent on Thursday to 38% on Monday, or about 1,550 students. About 20% of the staff were also absent.
“Great care and research has gone into this decision and we regret the hardship this will cause some of our families,” Texarkana district leaders said in a press release. “However, we believe this is the right step to take for the health and safety of our families, employees and the community.”
The six Pulaski County campuses of the LISA Academy charter school system, Arkansas School for the Blind, West Wind School for Performing Arts, Clarendon School District, Harmony Grove School District (Ouachita County), the Midland School District and the Woodlawn School districts are other systems that are turning to online education for at least a day, if not longer, this week.
Other school districts – Springdale, Hot Springs, Farmington, and Lavaca for example – are sending students to particular schools or classes at home for instruction due to covid outbreaks among students or due to staff shortages and lack of replacements caused by illness or quarantines.
Districts are allocated up to 10 days during which school campuses can be closed and students assigned to home schoolwork. These alternative teaching day methods count towards the minimum 178 school days that districts are required to offer each year. Days should not be made up later in the school year.
Alternative methods of training days were originally intended for use in inclement weather or disruptions to public services on campuses, but are now also used when covid-19 causes widespread illness or quarantines.
Districts that choose this week to go to distance education – which can include both online and paper-based courses – join districts such as Little Rock, Pulaski County Special, and North Little Rock that have moved on. to online education last week and continue to do so. till today.
Last week was the first week of school after the Christmas / New Years vacation.
The North Little Rock School District announced last week that distance education across the district would continue until Monday. On Monday, Superintendent Greg Pilewski extended this until today.
“Our administrators and nurses continue to monitor our covid-19 data across the district to make the best decisions for the health and safety of our students and employees,” Pilewski wrote to parents. “We know that our decisions have a direct impact on our students, our employees, our families and our community. We thank everyone for understanding the situation we find ourselves in and for realizing that COVID-19 is in. constant evolution. “
Pilewski also noted that state guidelines for covid-19 and exposures have changed.
“In summary, the main change for staff and students testing positive for covid-19 has decreased the number of days required for isolation, regardless of vaccination status,” he wrote. “If a student or employee has no symptoms or if their symptoms improve after five days and are fever-free for 24 hours without the help of medication, the student or employee may return to work or school on the sixth day. “
Little Rock, North Little Rock and Jacksonville / North Pulaski school districts in Pulaski County all currently require students and employees to wear masks in schools to reduce the spread of covid-19.
The Pulaski County Special School District has made wearing a mask optional. However, the school board will meet at 6:00 p.m. this evening for its regular monthly business meeting. On the agenda, a motion for a resolution that would condition the wearing of a face covering depending on the number of cases of covid 19 in the community.
Arkansas State University Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said Monday the Jonesboro campus “must return to tighter compliance” with covid-19 protocols, as cases continued to rise at ASU, the state’s second-largest university, and University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, the state’s largest, according to data released online by schools on Monday.
ASU enrolled around 12,800 students last fall, not counting students at its Mexican campus, a spokesperson said in September.
The Jonesboro campus on its website on Monday listed 84 active cases of covid-19 among students and staff, up from 53 active cases listed as of Friday, January 7.
Spring semester classes will begin today with in-person instruction, spokesman Bill Smith said.
The ASU demanded the masking indoors last fall. Damphousse, in a message written to campus, referred to an effort last year to limit the spread of covid-19 “through social distancing, masking and vaccinations.”
“Towards the end of the fall semester 2021, we know that compliance has declined along with the total number of active COVID cases on campus. To start our spring 2022, we need to return to more rigorous compliance,” said Damphousse, also noting that the omicron covid-19 variant “spreads much more easily than previous variants”.
MASKS ARE NOT EQUAL
Damphousse also referred to information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on masks.
“Using a disposable surgical-style mask, a multi-layered fabric mask (cleaned frequently and appropriately), or medical-style ’95’ masks (N-95 or KN-95) are more effective than simple gaiters with a single ply, bandanas or scarves, ”Damphousse said in his message to campus.
A CDC webpage on covid-19 masking states that face covers made from “single-layered or thin fabric that do not block light” should not be worn.
ASU announced on Dec. 31 that effective Jan. 1, it would follow revised U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for isolation and quarantine, and the university’s website now says that people who test positive for covid-19 should stay home for five days. Then, if there is no fever, individuals should wear a mask around others for five days.
Damphousse, in his message on Monday, however clarified that each case is different.
“We are waiting soon for new directives which could be specifically aimed at higher education,” said Damphousse. “The need to self-isolate after a positive COVID test and for how long, and how long the quarantine lasts for people exposed to positive cases, remains dependent on individual circumstances.”
Bill Smith, an ASU spokesperson, said in an email Monday that students who recently tested positive for covid-19 must “follow the same procedures they used in the fall of isolation in place in their residence, and [to] contact their teachers. “
Not all colleges have revised their isolation guidelines.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville continues to tell students and workers who test positive for covid-19 to self-isolate for 10 days, with isolation only ending if there is no fever, AU spokesman Mark Rushing said on Monday.
Active cases of the coronavirus among the University of Arkansas Fayetteville students have reached a high not seen since September, according to campus data released Monday.
UA continues with in-person instruction in its current intersessional classes and a scheduled Jan. 18 start for spring term classes, when the majority of students return to class.
Cases of students considered active totaled 156, up from 21 a week earlier, according to UA’s Monday update.
Monday’s update listed the campus as having 215 active covid-19 cases among students, staff and others, with the total taking into account new cases during a weekly reporting period that s’ ended Sunday.
In addition to the 156 students, the total active cases included 49 infections among staff – a new high for the 2021-22 academic year, three faculty members with covid-19 and a graduate assistant, as well as six more infections. a group that includes suppliers and contractors.
On Saturday, Southern Arkansas University at Magnolia announced that it will begin its spring semester as scheduled Wednesday, with in-person instruction. The campus will have a mask mandate in place “for classrooms, shared offices and when in transit through buildings,” according to the announcement.