AR Dept. of Education announces aid for rural schools that run out of online learning supplies


DECATUR, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — As the coronavirus pandemic continues, online education will be the way schools across Arkansas finish out the year. The state’s Dept. of Education Secretary said rural schools that don’t have the resources to make it to the end will receive help.

Decatur Principal Toby Conrad said administrators at his district could see the outcome before Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced Monday that schools wouldn’t resume in-class learning.

“We knew at a minimum it’d probably be April 30, but we were really planning on the full school year,” Conrad said. “We started putting things in place to try to stay on top of things.”

Conrad and Decatur’s teachers are quite familiar with alternative means of instruction (AMI), the way students do their lessons from home through digital means. The school first started using its 2020 AMI days in January when a flu outbreak shut things down. To best utilize the somewhat-limited education methods offered online, Decatur instructors are making sure students simply have the necessary skill sets required to advance.

“The things that we’ve taught, we’re reemphasizing that,” Conrad said. “If we do introduce anything new, it’s on a very limited basis and getting a little introduction to maybe something.”

The state will step in and provide additional materials to rural schools that run out of AMI instructions, Dept. of Education Secretary Johnny Key announced Monday.

“I’m sure that after this announcement this afternoon, my email and phone has probably started ringing already over at the office from some of those districts seeking that support,” Key said.

Conrad said his teachers embody the Bulldog mascot plastered on school walls. Their virtual lesson plans still have a lot of bite, meaning additional state aid won’t be needed.

“They’re just on top of things and doing a great job,” Conrad said. “They’re well ahead and have material.”

One problem Decatur experiences is some students not having internet access, a problem also seen in other more-rural districts. Administrators are working on their end to make sure that material is supplemented in physical form, Conrad said.

“If the parents will call us, we are printing documents out, but we’ve also got six places in the city of Decatur or surrounding areas where we have internet [hotspots],” Conrad said. “They can sit in the parking lots and get the services they need.”

Conrad says students need to stay sharp while they’re out of classes and be ready for school when it reopens in the fall.

“Don’t fall behind,” Conrad said. “Don’t quit learning because you don’t have access to us, because we’re all available at least Monday through Friday, and some of us seven days a week.”

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