LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Governor Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday (July 9) that Arkansas' 2020-2021 school year start date will be moved to begin the week of August 24, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He says the school year for K-12 public schools will start no later than August 26, 2020.
The school year was originally set to begin on August 13, 2020.
The governor says this decision gives schools and teachers more time to prepare for a blended learning environment. He says the goal is to have students physically in classrooms.
On a statewide basis, the decision on masks requirements has not been made at this point.
Gov. Hutchinson says there are no plans at this time to do widespread COVID-19 testing in schools as they have done in nursing homes and prisons.
Some school district officials say they feel prepared for the upcoming school year.
“We’re going to provide people with a safe environment, we’re gonna do that, we’re gonna have a blended opportunity, we’re going to do that, we’re going to have a virtual one too, we’re gonna have that, so those things are gonna change," said Jared Cleveland, Superintendent at Springdale Schools.
COVID-19 has changed how school districts function. Administrators are having to increase the number of resources provided to students and teachers.
“We’ve placed a lot of orders for a lot of PPE,” said Doug Brubaker Superintendent of Fort Smith Schools.
Brubaker says they have funding to acquire 2,500 hot spots for students who work remotely.
“One of the biggest stumbling blocks was Internet access for home,” Brubaker said.
The Fort Smith School District has over 14,000 students from Kindergarten through 12th grade. Brubaker says they have spoken with parents who have kids at multiple schools.
“That’s a wide variation in terms of the plans you have to make,” Brubaker said. “Our teachers did a phenomenal job of just being thrown into the deep end of the water and they swam and they did such a great job of helping our kids.”
Fort Smith Public Schools released the following statement regarding the start date of the upcoming school year:
"We are grateful for the work that Governor Hutchinson, Secretary Key and their teams continue to accomplish on behalf of Arkansas children. We anticipated that the beginning of the school year would be fluid and so we are ready to work on the modifications that will need to be made following this announcement. We will continue to work with our stakeholders to provide for the best and most appropriate environment for children and their teachers in these circumstances."
Springdale has had COVID-19 outbreaks related to poultry plants, which impacts parents of students within the school district.
Cleveland says they have plans in place to work with these parents.
“We currently have social workers that are employed by the district and we’re gonna make sure those connections are there and we're also going to make sure that everyone is connected with our nursing staff and our new point of contact with the department of health,” Cleveland said.
As of now, students and staff at Springdale Schools will be asked to wear face coverings on campus, but they will meet about an official mask policy Tuesday (July 14).
The Bentonville School District released the following statement regarding the governor's decision:
"Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson announced today he will delay the start of school until the week of August 24. The exact start date must now be approved by the Bentonville Board of Education, and we will share that with you as soon as we can. However, we can extend the deadline for your family to choose Blended Learning or Virtual School. The new deadline is now 11:59 p.m. on July 22. It’s our hope this extension will allow you to carefully consider your decision knowing whether face coverings will be required while on campus this fall. If you do not wish to change your initial response, no action is needed from you. We will accept the final response we receive from your family. This is an extraordinarily
fluid situation, and we may experience additional changes yet again, but we
continue to move forward planning for 2020. With your partnership, this will be
a wonderful year, and we look forward to welcoming your student."
As of Thursday (July 9), there are 806 new cases of COVID-19 in the state, totaling 26,052 since March. 394 patients are hospitalized (+36), and there are four new deaths, totaling 309 in the state.
New cases by county:
- Washington Co: 78
- Sebastian Co: 56
- Benton Co: 49
According to Arkansas Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith, there are 5,751 active cases in the state, 82 patients on ventilators (+3) and an additional 596 recoveries, totaling 19,992 so far.
Springdale is the top city in Arkansas with the most COVID-19 cases totaling 641.