The Arkansas Public School Resource Center (APSRC) is continually monitoring COVID-19 guidance issued by the Governor’s Office, the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) and Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). In an effort to keep our members informed, we will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available. To view past Governor’s Office and ADH press conferences, visit the Governor’s YouTube Channel.
On March 11, Governor Asa Hutchinson issued Executive Order 20-03 to declare an emergency and issue directives to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Since March 11, the Governor has extended the public health emergency through additional Executive Orders:
- May 5, 2020 – Executive Order 20-25
- June 18, 2020 – Executive Order 20-37
- August 14, 2020 – Executive Order 20-45
- October 13, 2020 – Executive Order 20-48
As a result, the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) issued Commissioner’s Memo LS-20-089 Guidance for Schools Regarding COVID-19. This memo is updated frequently as new information becomes available.
Important Resources from Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Arkansas Department of Health (ADE) and Arkansas Centers for Health Improvement (ACHI)
- COVID-19 Educational Institution Reports (ADE, Educational Institutions with 5 or more active cases)
- COVID-19: Local Data (ACHI, select “By School District” tab)
- Response Levels for Onsite Learning
- District P.O.C. COVID Hotline: 833-504-0155
- Ready for School Resource Call Center: 1-833-353-6050 (English) 1-501-218-4015 (Spanish)
Available Monday-Friday, 8 am to 4 pm
- MAIN COVID-19 Hotline: 1-800-803-7847
- DESE COVID-19 Resource Page
Arkansas Ready for Learning Model Waivers
The link below provides the list of waivers approved for LEAs to implement the Arkansas Ready for Learning Model. These waivers are designed to continue the flexibility LEAs need in order to respond to the COVID-19 emergency, to plan for re-entry to onsite instruction, and to have the flexibility needed to implement blended learning systems.
This Act responds to the coronavirus outbreak by providing paid sick leave and free coronavirus testing, expanding food assistance and unemployment benefits, and requiring employers to provide additional protections for health care workers. To view the full CARES Act, click here.
Specific to Elementary and Secondary Education:
- $13.5 billion is available for formula grants to states base on the same proportion that each state receives under ESEA Title I-A.
- Nintey percent of fund to local educational agencies (LEAs) based on their proportional allocation of ESEA Title I-A funds.
- State education agencies can reserve up to 10% of funds for emergency needs as determined by the state.
- Funds to LEAs can be used for coronavirus-response activities, such as planning for and coordinating during long-term school closures; purchasing educational technology to support online learning for all students served by the local educational agency; and additional activities authorized by federal elementary and secondary education laws.
Below are sections of the Act that are applicable to schools and their students:
Supplemental SNAP Benefits
The Act allows for relaxed eligibility standards for SNAP benefits for families that have a child enrolled in a school that has been closed for at least 5 consecutive days. The level of benefits shall be determined by the Secretary in an amount not less than the value of meal at the free rate over the course of 5 school days for each eligible child in the household.
Maintaining Essential Access to Meals for Students
There is now a waiver exception for school closures due to COVID-19, so all schools can provide meals during the current school closure. The Secretary of Agriculture may also grant a waiver that increases Federal costs. The nutritional content of meals served may not need to meet Federal guidelines if the Secretary determines that such waiver is necessary to provide meals and meal supplements, and there is a supply chain disruption with respect to foods served under a qualified program and such disruption is due to COVID-19.
Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency FMLA
There was a breakdown of this section in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (see image below). There is one important caveat for school districts. The tax credits in the right-hand column do not apply to the Government of the United States, the government of any State or political subdivision thereof, or any agency or instrumentality of any of the foregoing. So, they would not be available to school districts. The requirements do apply.
Flexibility Guidelines from Department of Education
The US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced a streamlined process for providing states funding flexibilities to best meet the needs of students and educators during the COVID-19 national emergency. The new flexibilities, authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, allow schools to repurpose existing K-12 education funds to move resources to areas of highest need during the emergency.
In a letter sent to Chief State School Officers, US DOE Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Frank Brogran invited states to request waivers of the following provisions:
- Carryover limitation for Federal fiscal year (FY) 2019 Title I, Part A funds (i.e., the Title I, Part A funds that will become carryover funds on October 1, 2020): the requirement that limits an SEA’s ability to grant to its LEAs a waiver of the 15 percent Title I, Part A carryover more than once every three years.
- Period of availability of funds in the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA): to extend the period of availability of FY 2018 funds for programs in which the SEA participates under its approved consolidated State plan until Septemer 30, 2021. The programs are:
- Improving Basic Programs Operated by LEAs
- State Assessment Formula Grants
- Education of Migratory Children
- Prevention and Intervention Programs for Children and Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At Risk
- Supporting Effective Instruction
- English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement
- Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants
- 21st Century Community Learning Centers
- Rural and Low-Income School Program
- McKinney-Vento Education for Homeles Children and youth Program
- The following requirements in Title IV, Part A of the ESEA. These requirements are only applicable to LEAs that received $30,000 or more in Title IV, Part A funds:
- Needs assessment requirements for the 2019-2020 school year
- Content area spending requirements: the requirements to use a minimum percentage of Title IV, Part A funds for activities for FY 2019 funds and any available FY 2018 carryover funds
- Spending limitation: the 15 percent limit on the use of funds to purchase technology infrastructure for FY 2019 funds and any available FY 2018 carryover funds
- The definition of professional development for the 2019-2020 school year.
DESE continues to seek additional waivers regarding accountability and federal funds. To view a summary of the requested waivers, visit DESE’s Accountability and Federal Funds Waivers Summary Document.
DOE COVID-19 Fiscal FAQs
DOE released the fact sheet Select Questions Related to Use of Department of Education Grant Funds During the Novel Coronavirus Disease of 2019. The fact sheet includes frequently asked questions with respect to compensation, travel and conference costs.
There is a possibility that schools will have an opportunity to be reimbursed for expenses to sanitize their schools.
Eligible emergency protective measures taken to respond to the COVID-19 emergency at the direction or guidance of public health officials may be reimbursed under Category B of FEMA’s Public Assistance Program. FEMA assistance may be provided at a 75% federal cost share. This assistance will require execution of a FEMA-State/Tribal/Territory Agreement, as appropriate, and execution of an applicable emergency plan. Local governments and other eligible PA applicants will apply from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM). FEMA may provide assistance for emergency protective measures including the disinfection of eligible public facilities.
For more information, review the documents below:
APSRC Finance Team
The APSRC Finance Team will be available by phone for bookkeeping or finance questions throughout the mandated school closure. In addition, we are capable of offering efinancePLUS/bookkeeping training or support via Zoomchat. You can contact any member of the APSRC Finance Team by calling 501-492-4300 or contact team members directly:
- Ken Rich 870-371-0104
- Kathy Hanlon 479-621-3348
- Scott McRae 501-589-5670
- Bonnie Colville 479-325-0611
Special Education Services
There are currently no waivers issued regarding special education services. Federal guidance has been that states should extend flexibility, but they have not stated that they can waive timelines. DESE has created an executive summary to provide additional special education guidance. DESE’s special education website is also continually updated.
Districts are required to follow their approved AMI Plan which should address how the district serves students with an Individual Education Plan. Review the DESE Guidance Document by clicking on the link below:
The U.S. Department of Education has issued a questions and answers document outlining states’ responsibilities to infants, toddlers, and children with disabilities and their families, and to the staff serving these children.
The U.S. Department of Education of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services also issued a fact sheet addressing the risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary, and Secondary Schools while serving children with disabilities. This document includes valuable guidance regarding compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
- Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary, and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities
Districts are encouraged to maintain frequent and open lines of communication with parents and work with them to address any concerns. Annual review discussions should occur as scheduled and can be conducted by phone. If you are unable to meet a specified timeline, be sure to document why you were not able to meet the timeline.
Districts will also need to identify if there is any significant regression in their special education students, and if so, offer an amended IEP and/or compensatory services when onsite instruction resumes.
We have compiled a list of online resources educators can use to support and enrich learning. When possible, we have sorted these links by subject area and grade level.
The Arkansas Department of Health released COVID-19 Guidance for Emergency Meal Service and Distribution that includes guidelines for food service workers and volunteers to follow to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As of March 26, the Child Nutrition Unit (CNU), DESE, has approval to participate in six USDA waivers. All superintendents and child nutrition directors are emailed when CNU receives approval for a waiver. Included in the email are step-by-step instructions on how to opt into the approved waivers. Districts closed due to COVID-19 must have an approved site through Seamless Summer Option (SSO) site.
Below is the list of approved waivers:
- Waiver to Allow Non-Congregate Feeding
- Nationwide Waiver to Allow Meal Time Flexibility
- Nationwide Waiver of the Activity Requirement in Afterschool Snack
- Nationwide Waiver to Allow Meal Pattern Flexibility
- Nationwide Waiver for Parent/Guardian Pickup for Meals
- Nationwide Waiver of Community Eligibility Provision Deadlines
On March 14, 2020, the United States Department of Agriculture approved a wavier for the Child Nutrition Unit, Division of Elementary and Secondary Education. The waiver is for non-congregate feeding in the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) due to unanticipated school closures due to the novel coronavirus. The approved waiver granted the following:
- Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) granted a waiver of the congregate feeding requirement for approved SSO sponsors in good standing through June 30, 2020, or upon expiration of the federally declared public health emergency, whichever is earlier.
- This flexibility allows, for approved Districts, to provide meals to be taken and consumed offsite, allowing for social distancing during the novel coronavirus.
- FNS also granted a waiver of the requirement that SSO meals be served at non-school sites during unanticipated school closures due to the novel coronavirus.
All Superintendents and Child Nutrition Directors were emailed on March 15, 2020, with step by step instructions. Districts closed due to COVID-19, must have an approved SSO site and complete the non-congregate feeding waiver, if needed. Contact the Child Nutrition Unit at 501-324-9502 if there are questions.
Meal Service Options
As time passes, districts may find it more difficult to keep the same level of service. Districts may want to consider the Baylor University Emergency Meals-to-You Program as an option. The USDA has partnered with Baylor University to offer this alternative method of delivering meals to your students. This program is focused toward rural families, for whom traditional meal service options are a challenge.
The program is provided at no cost to the district. Baylor’s Meals-to-You is responsible for all program operating expenses, including food and distribution costs, and will claim reimbursement for the meals directly from USDA. The district will not be financially responsible and will not receive reimbursement. There is no paperwork after the initial enrollment and eligibility verification. If you need more information, contact Baylor at www.mealstoyou.org.
Other Policies, Procedures and Regulations
Employee Hiring & Licensure Exceptions
Hiring staff for the 2020-2021 school year as a result of COVID-19.
Maximum flexibility will be given to ensure candidates are eligible for employment.
Traditional Educator Preparation Graduates
Institutions of higher education will recommend candidates from their educator preparation programs for licensure. In the event that a graduate is missing one or more required components for a standard license, DESE will exercise options to issue a Provisional License or an Emergency Teaching Permit as applicable.
Alternative Preparation Programs
- Admitted into an approved program, met testing requirements: provisional license issued upon employment in an Arkansas school district.
- Conditional admission into an approved program, missing testing requirements: Emergency Teaching Permit may be issued. If teaching in a core area, must be an Arkansas Qualified Teacher (AQT). If not, Long-Term Substitute (LTS) upon employment in an Arkansas school district.
- Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Special Education: Upon employment, Long-Term Substitute (LTS) until requirements are met.
Additional Licensure Plans (ALP), Administrator Licensure Completion Plans (ALCP), Emergency Teaching Permits (ETP), and Long-Term Substitute (LTS) will be approved or denied on a case-by-case basis using maximum flexibility due to COVID-19. Current documentation procedures still apply.
Email email@example.com for any questions regarding ALPs and ALCPs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What will a candidate have to present to a hiring Arkansas school district?
DESE will give letters of employment eligibility for the Emergency Teaching Permits (ETP) upon recommendation from an Institution of Higher Education. Letters of eligibility can be submitted to an Arkansas school district upon graduation. Districts will need to follow current application procedures for ETPs upon employment of the educator.
What happens if a graduate has not taken the Foundation of Reading exam?
If a traditional graduate is lacking on the Foundation of Reading exam, a one-year provisional license is available upon recommendation from an Institution of Higher Education.
Will flexibility also apply to educators adding an endorsement?
Those enrolled in endorsement programs have a standard license and may work under an Additional Licensure Plan (ALP) or Administrator Licensure Completion Plan (ALCP) if needed.
Some teachers and administrators have asked about contracts being issued and signed. There are many digital signature options available for free, and they can always mail them if needed. Adobe Sign: E-Signatures is a good option and contracts can be pulled from eFinance and dropped into the program for electronic signature.
End-of-Year Employee Evaluations
Because ADE Rules Governing Educator Support and Development, Sections 6.01 through 6.05.1, and 7.01 through 7.03 have been suspended, local districts must determine the process for completing end-of-year ratings for educators who were scheduled for a summative-year evaluation. Certified staff currently in a summative-year may be moved to the 2020-2021 reporting cycle.
DESE recognizes that hours of work have been conducted regarding evaluations. Schools choosing to complete summative ratings of educators in a summative year will complete the process as outlined in Commissioner’s Memo LIC-20-020. Flexibility may be given to certified staff who request to have their summative rating waived for the 2019-2020 school year.
Additional details can be found in Commissioner’s Memo LIC-20-034.
Commissioner’s Memo LIC-03-036 provides guidance regarding Arkansas’ background check process for certified and classified employees, as well as new hires.
US DOE FERPA Update
The U.S. Department of Education (US DOE) has issued up an updated Frequently Asked Document regarding the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as it relates to the COVID-19 disease.
To view the full document, click here.
Due to the extraordinary circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures, states have been provided flexibility regarding the assessment and accountability requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Given the widespread, extended school closures and the interruption in school operations and on-site classroom education, Arkansas will cancel the administration of state testing for the spring of 2020. This includes the ACT Aspire, the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM), and the K-2 assessments. Arkansas will participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s expedited waiver process and will be seeking broad flexibility from both assessment and accountability provisions. Through these waivers, Arkansas would not need to administer its statewide assessments to all students, to make annual accountability determinations, to identify schools for support and improvement, or to provide data on its State and local report cards for assessment and accountability information.
Betsy DeVos issued a policy letter to states that will allow flexibility to DESE regarding the assessment and accountability requirements under ESSA.
During this difficult time, we could all use some positive news. Schools across Arkansas have shared stories of the great things they are doing to support their communities, whether it’s helping to provide PPE for healthcare workers, ensuring kids have access to nutritious meals or innovative ways their educators are reaching students.
To view the schools we have highlighted, click here.
If you have a story you would like to share with us, email firstname.lastname@example.org.