FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — This week, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) announced the 2020-21 school year will begin later than usual in Arkansas. Some teachers said they favor the extra time to prepare but still have questions that remain unanswered.
Schools will start back the week of August 24, Hutchinson announced Thursday, marking a delay from the original start date as the state works to give teachers more time to prepare for a semester clouded by COVID-19.
“This buys us time to get more procedures in place,” said Anna Beaulieu, the president of Fayetteville’s Education Association and a French teacher at Fayetteville High School. “There are a lot of decisions that go into making a school safe.”
Beaulieu and more than 7,000 others joined a Facebook group titled, “Arkansans For Safe Public Schools,” that was created late last month. Andrea Jenkins, a Farmington teacher and page administrator, said the group grew to more than 6,000 members in just over a week. She said it’s made up of, “like-minded parents, educators [and] staff concerned about reopening schools and concerned about necessity for increased support for public education.”
The majority of members is made up of educators, according to a poll Jenkins posted in the group, and they’ve shared tips on how they’re handling the expected workload and voiced concerns with the way the state is handling this.
“So we as teachers need to demand that we and our family members get extended insurance coverage to protect us from the medical bills that we will invite as a result of Covid 19 [sic],” one teacher posted. “I have been seeing $100,000 plus bills after insurance due to the virus! That’s not acceptable!”
“What I would really want is that a Teacher would go into empty classroom and talk to camera as if camera was the student,” another posted. “Then, such recorded or live videos will be accessed by students sitting in their homes. Then teachers will schedule a Zoom Office Hour where students could go and ask questions face to face via zoom This is how the Virtual Learning should be in schools.”
Some older teachers expressed fear of returning to schools because they risk a dangerous COVID-19 infection. The Springdale School District offers a program where teachers can take a year off and still keep their jobs, said spokesperson Rick Schaeffer.
“Certainly, when you’re looking at the 60-and-up age group, if they determine that they’re not comfortable coming, then they can take a year’s leave of absence,” Schaeffer said. “It is unpaid, but they will know that they’ve got their job.”
Springdale is also offering a flexible plan to students, but many of the questions as to how it’ll be carried out under a potential teacher shortage haven’t yet been determined by the district.
“Students can either come full-time five days a week, they can do full virtual five days a week, or they can do a blend,” Schaeffer said. “That goes from K-12.”
Beaulieu said the Fayetteville School District’s administrators allow instructors to have tangible input into major decisions, which breeds well-thought outcomes in classrooms. She said the state’s Dept. of Education should do the same thing in figuring out guidance on daily routines, standardized testing requirements and potential waivers for student contact days.
“I think everyone is craving more direction and more decisions,” Beaulieu said. “We’re in this time frame where there are really more questions than answers, and that really contributes to the unease that the educators in this area are feeling.”