‘I’ll go, and I’ll be scared.’ Fayetteville teacher expresses concern over unclear state guidelines for reopening school

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Arkansas schools are two weeks away from starting back, and teachers said there are plenty of questions but few answers from the state.

Anna Beaulieu is a French teacher at Fayetteville High School. She said the lack of clarity and guidance from state officials is unacceptable.

“There are still a lot of unanswered questions,” Beaulieu said. “In Arkansas, our families depend on schools for much more than an education.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s consistently said school districts will have authority using guidance issued from the state in addressing COVID-related problems that may arise. Still, some school administrators said the guidance lacks specific information they need to make decisions if there’s an outbreak.

“We have been given very little guidance on what might constitute a significant outbreak and force us to make changes,” said Jody Wiggins, Siloam Springs’ superintendent.

Wiggins said it’ll be impossible to separate desks by six feet and still have space for all the students.

“We will not be able to adequately socially distance in all of our classrooms,” Wiggins said. “Therefore, we will enforce our face coverings policy.”

In Georgia, one school district announced more than 250 employees tested positive or were exposed to COVID-19 a week before the year resumed. Wiggins said Siloam Springs will evaluate how to handle large-scale quarantine situations should they occur.

“You don’t know how to predict anything, so we will just have to deal with the Dept. of Health as it comes up,” Wiggins said.

An Arkansas Dept. of Health (ADH) report lists guidelines for schools to use when cases arise. It lists three categories: limited, moderate and critical.

Limited Response:

Confirmed case(s) in a school building, but limited spread within the
school and/or community, as determined by ADH. At this level, the
percentage of staff and students affected will not alter the delivery of
district-wide on-site instruction and special services. Leadership should
determine whether a grade span, school, department, a single classroom,
etc. needs to briefly pivot to remote operations while contact tracing and
disinfecting take place. Closing the entire district is not needed at this
level of response.

Moderate Response:

Confirmed case(s) within the district, with moderate community spread
and increasing levels of student and staff active cases, including evidence
of linked cases within the school setting, as determined by ADH. At this
level, the percentage of staff and students affected may alter the delivery
of on-site instruction and special services to the extent that school
closure is warranted. District leadership will work in conjunction with
ADH/ADE to determine when it is safe to reopen.

Critical Response:

Multiple cases confirmed within the district due to substantial school
and/or community spread, as determined by ADH. At this level, the
percentage of staff and students affected substantially disrupts the
delivery of on-site instruction and special services to the extent a districtwide closure may be expected for an extended period of time, but will be
determined in collaboration with ADE and ADH. Greater restrictions
must be imposed.

“Schools will consult with the ADH for guidance when determining the level of response,” said Gavin Lesnick, an ADH spokesperson. “Active cases within the community will be considered along with absentee levels within the school, active cases within the school and severity of spread within the school community.”

Lesnick said the guidance will be tailored toward each district, and an overall baseline number isn’t determinable.

“We will work closely with schools and consider these and other metrics before determining a response level,” Lesnick said. “It’s difficult to say absolutely where one to two cases would fall because the number of active cases in the community and evidence of linked cases within the school setting would also come into play.”

Some teachers in Northwest Arkansas are taking leaves of absence or retiring early, citing COVID-19 as the reason for doing so.

“We have had a couple resignations that I believe were due to the current situation with COVID,” Wiggins said.

Beaulieu said all teachers have some level of fear in returning to campuses, but it’s not because they don’t want to work. They simply want reasonable guidelines and better communication from the state on how to pay for PPE, socially distance and screen students, she said.

“Is it worth sacrificing your life?” Beaulieu said. “That’s a really tough position to be in.”

Beaulieu will return for in-person classes, and she said she’ll search for bravery amidst a sea of doubt.

“I’ll go, and I’ll be scared,” Beaulieu said. “I’ll just hope that I can hide it enough for my students so they’ll feel comfortable.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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