BACK TO SCHOOL IN ARKANSAS: A recap of what we know so far

KNWA

"We have a lot of confidence in regard to having kids show up on campus day one," Springdale Public Schools Superintendent Jared Cleveland said.

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Over the last month, KNWA/FOX 24 News has heard your concerns and we’ve asked your questions about what to expect for the highly anticipated first day back to school.

We have spoken with teachers, parents, students, and even doctors about Arkansas schools reopening.

It’s not that we don’t want to be with our kids, I mean, I’m dying to see my students, I want to see them. We’re just worried about our community, for ourselves, and for our students.

KELLY RILEY, FAYETTEVILLE HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER

Governor Asa Hutchinson has been adamant about the August 24 back to school start date.

Nobody wants to get back to what was normal more than educators.

ALAN WILBOURN, FAYETTEVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

All summer school districts in our area have been trying to determine and best plan how school will function this fall.

We have a lot of confidence in regard to having kids show up on campus day one.

JARED CLEVELAND, SPRINGDALE PUBLIC SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT

In Springdale, Superintendent Jared Cleveland, said the district is implementing many changes like requiring masks, providing thermometers to teachers, and placing hand sanitizer all over the campuses.

“We are trying to limit class sizes as much as we can with the three options of our curriculum delivery,” Cleveland said. “We also have additional custodians that will be spread out across all the buildings.”

In Fayetteville, the first day back will look pretty similar.

We’re definitely going to have a very ramped up cleaning protocol.

ALAN WILBOURN, FAYETTEVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Alan Wilbourn, with Fayetteville Public Schools, said the district is as prepared for the unknowns of COVID-19 as it can be.

“We’re working to be ready to make whatever the situation might be and try to look through the scenarios at what could possibly happen and can we be ready for it,” Wilbourn said. “This is such a rapidly changing situation.”

In Rogers, Assistant Superintendent Charles Lee said the school system has hired additional staff whose sole purpose will be to clean high traffic areas throughout the schools.

“We’re going to start with at least one in every building, we may look at assigning additional duties to other custodial staff during high traffic times, but there’s still going to be that one individual who does nothing but that throughout the school day,” Lee said.

The school district will also be monitoring the flow of hallway traffic, spacing out desks, and removing any non-essential items from classrooms, among other safety measures.

In Bentonville, the district will be altering bus routes this fall due to a shortage of school bus drivers.

The announcement was made in an email to parents and guardians and specific route information was shared with parents Wednesday, August 19.

Bentonville Schools Superintendent Dr. Debbie Jones said the district has a plan in place to make sure kids with allergies are protected — including thorough cleaning.

“Those kids with identified food allergies will have identified tables within the cafeteria, where they will eat safely everyday,” she said. “There will be tables identified within the classrooms that will never have food on them.”

Dr. Jones said she understands each student has different needs, but she’s confident everyone can work together to make sure all of them are met.

The word for the year is “flexibility” because we don’t know what this virus will bring, but we do know that we can pivot as we need to continue to provide education to all the students in our area.

DR. DEBBIE JONES, SUPERINTENDENT, BENTONVILLE SCHOOLS

If there’s a positive case within a school, Kimberly Mundell, with the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the state will offer guidance directly — which will vary by district.

“There’s not a set threshold that we at the state can provide if you have X number of cases you must shut down,” Mundell said. “Those decisions are going to have to be determined as things go.”

“Pivot” has been the state’s go-to word when discussing the transition to complete online learning.

One viewer asked KNWA/FOX 24, “what will it take to pivot, someone dying?”

We asked Mundell to clarify.

“I think pivot is not tied specifically to deaths,” she said. “Pivot means when does a school change from in-person instruction to fully remote instruction.”

That’s going to be made depending on the outbreak of COVID-19 on a school campus or in a school building. That’s when learning would pivot to remote learning

KIMBERLY MUNDELL, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, DIVISION OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION

Mundell said the Department of Education is aware of the concerns parents and teachers have.

“We have those same concerns as well here,” she said. “We want to make sure that we are doing the best that we can to help districts in any way that we can to mintage the risk associated with COVID-19.”

She said the department works closely with the Arkansas Department of Health and Governor Asa Hutchinson when making back-to-school guidelines and decisions during this pandemic.

“We’ve gotten feedback from a lot of educators,” she said. “There’s a whole group of stakeholders that we have worked with since day one on this.”

The department has also been working with other departments of education across the country.

Districts know best what their needs are because what may work well in a larger district in Northwest Arkansas may not be what would work well in a smaller district that may be located in Eastern Arkansas or Southwest Arkansas.

KIMBERLY MUNDELL, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, DIVISION OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION
KELLY RILEY, FAYETTEVILLE HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER

Even with these plans in place, many educators like Kelly Riley, a local high school teacher, fear Arkansas isn’t ready to reopen schools yet.

Earlier this month, she started a silent protest to get the governor’s attention — by leaving rocks with the word “NO” on them in front of the Washington County Courthouse.

We’re going to make sure everyone thoroughly infected and exposed and then we have to close for virtual? That’s the thing I want to avoid.

KELLY RILEY, FAYETTEVILLE HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER

She isn’t alone in feeling this way.

On Monday, August 10, nearly 100 people stood in solidarity, requesting Governor Asa Hutchinson to push back the date for students returning to classes.

I myself wrote my will. I wrote letters to my family to say goodbye.

CHARICE HANDFORD, SCIENCE TEACHER, FARMINGTON JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL 

At the end of the day, it’s lives that matter the most, and we need to be alive to be able to teach them we can’t teach them if we’re not.

MEME HAGERS, MUSIC TEACHER, FAYETTEVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

That’s not the case for everyone.

As you can see below, many people have shared their thoughts on our Facebook page, saying they’re ready for schools to open and are glad to have some sort of normalcy again.

Stay with KNWA/FOX 24 News as we continue to cover this story.

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