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. 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.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson reported there are 1,011 new cases of COVID-19 since Thursday. The cumulative number of positive cases in the state is at 48,039, of these, 7,158 are active cases. COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas are at 521, and 40,360 have recovered. Five hundred twenty-three (523) persons are hospitalized with COVID-19. There were 14 counties with more than 20 new cases. The counties with the highest number of new cases were:
- 182 in Pulaski County (100 in correctional facility at Wrightsville)
- 61 in Jefferson County
- 53 in Craighead County
- 44 in Mississippi County
- 43 in Sebastian County
- 41 in Washington County
- 40 in Independence County
- 32 in Benton County
The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) map of all cases can be viewed by clicking on the link below:
The Governor attributed some of today’s increase in new cases to the higher number of test reports received. ADH received 6,224 test reports in the last 24-hours.
Governor Hutchinson expressed his strong support for the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) COVID-19 Emergency Leave for School Employees Proposal. This proposal will be considered by the CARES Act Steering Group next week. If approved, $20 million from CARES Act funding will be used to provide teachers and support staff with up to two weeks of paid leave in the event the school employee has to quarantine or isolate for COVID-19 related reasons.
It’s important to note that this proposed leave is in addition to leave available through the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) which provides employees of up to 2 weeks (up to 80) hours of paid sick leave in specificied circumstances related to COVID-19, and the Emergency Family and Medical Expansion Leave (EFMLEA). APSRC will provide more details about these three options soon.
Education Secretary Johnny Key shared that one of the most common topics teachers have indicated was a group was in regards to leave in the event they have to quarantine or isolate.
“We have taken that to heart and looked at developing a COVID-19 Emergency Leave for school employees that would be available to them first. This is important because they can access this leave first before they have to start taking any of their other sick days or any of the other leave options that are available under FMLA. The $20 million is an estimate. We tried to estimate high because we certainly do not know what levels of outbreaks we could have, but we want to be prepared when and if it does happen,” Secretary Key said.
Secretary Key also emphasized that this is available to teachers and support staff, including classified employees such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
The Governor announced he has signed an executive order that clearly defines that if you have a COVID-related health concern affecting your ability to go to the polls in November, you will be able to receive an absentee ballot. In addition, this executive order allows County Clerk to be able to prepare ballots in advance before counting them but defines that absentee ballots cannot be opened prior to 8:30 am on election day.
Signing an executive order follows up on Secretary of state John Thurston clearly defining if you have a Covid-related concern going to the polls in November, you will get an absentee ballot.
Secretary Key provided clarification regarding the expectation for onsite learning.
“That has been interpreted as the Department is expecting schools to have every student on campus every day, and that is not at all the expectation. The expectation is that the campuses will be open for those students and those families who do need that instruction, who need those therapies, or need that intensive support that is only available to them on campus. For instance, a district that wants to have some alternative scheduling for some students, they can still offer that for those students whom it works; but they need to have the campus open for the other students that need that five-day a week opportunity,” Secretary Key said.
Jacksonville-North Pulaski Superintendent Dr. Bryan Duffie provided an update on the plans and activities his district has made to prepare for the return to school.
“We are ready to offer in-class instruction and virtual instruction as needed for students and families. For many of our kids and families there is just not a substitute for in-class instruction,” Dr. Duffie said.
Secretary Key was asked if reports that some people who have called the Ready for School Resource Center were unable to get answers to their questions indicate a lack of sufficient plan for school, communication, etc.
“Any time you set up a hotline like that, it’s very possible those answering the call are not going to have the answer right at that moment. Where we can, we provide the answers, but where we can’t we also take the information and we seek to find the right resources and connect the caller with those resources. I would also point out that there has been overwhelming number of calls over the last few days, and the team that’s there is doing the best they can to answer the calls as they come in, take down the information and then follow back up with the callers once they get the information for them,” Secretary Key said.
Secretary Key was also asked how the calculation was made for the request of $20 million for the school staff paid leave fund, and if that fund is depleted is there a plan to request more funds.
“It was very difficult to come up with a formula for that. We estimated that based on an overestimation of the number of community cases, and the daily rates the Governor reports. So, we extremely overestimated that by double and even in some cases it’s close to triple what the daily case numbers are. Then we took that percentage by population across the state and applied that at the school level, and then taking the average salary across all positions in a school. We used that to calculate the number, and then in consultation with other stakeholders, the initial number we looked at was around $15 million and there was a very valid concern that maybe that wasn’t enough. So that’s where we landed on the final $20 million. The reason that we’re looking at through the end of the calendar year is because right now the CARES Act funds have to be expended by the end of the calendar year. So without any type of Congressional action, we have that restriction on those funds,” Secretary Key said.
To view today’s press briefing, visit the Governor’s YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/c/GovernorAsaHutchinson/live.
On Sunday, July 26, Riverside School District graduated 55 seniors. Within the 2020 Senior Class, 21 seniors are the first to complete the district’s R.E.A.D. Incentive which stands for Rebels Earn Associates Degree. This means for those 21 seniors, they not only received their high school diploma but also an associates degree free of charge as the district covers all cost for the classes.
Riverside School District partners with ASU-Newport for the concurrent credit, but all classes are taught by Riverside staff with masters degrees in their content area. The degree requires 60 hours and students take these classes from 9th through 12 grade.
“This is something our faculty, students, and community are extremely proud of,” Riverside School District Superintendent Jeff Priest said.
If you have innovative programs being implemented at your district that you would like to see highlighted in our School Spotlight, please contact Christina Fowler, APSRC Director of Communications, at email@example.com.
Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) Secretary José Romero reported there are 735 new cases of COVID-19 since Wednesday, of these, 44 are from correctional facilities. The cumulative number of positive cases in the state is at 47,028, of these, 6,958 are active cases. COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas are at 515, and 39,555 have recovered. Five hundred fourteen (514) persons are hospitalized with COVID-19. The counties with the highest number of new cases were:
- 73 in Pulaski County
- 69 in Craighead County
- 62 in Sebastian County
- 27 in Poinsett County
- 24 in Benton County
- 24 in Garland County
- 23 in Crittenden County
- 23 in Mississippi County
- 22 in Greene County
- 21 in Saline County
The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) map of all cases can be viewed by clicking on the link below:
Today’s COVID-19 briefing was hosted by ADH Secretary Dr. José Romero. Governor Asa Hutchinson is out of town today chairing the Council of Governors meeting.
Dr. Romero announced 4,514 test reports were received in the past 24 hours, and 27,998 tests have been completed since August 1.
ADH Medical Director of Immunizations Dr. Jennifer Dillaha highlighted how important it will be for Arkansans to get their flu shot when the flu vaccine becomes available.
“You don’t want to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. The flu vaccination can go a long way to keeping people out of the hospital, and we want to decrease the number of people hospitalized as much as possible during this pandemic,” Dr. Dillaha said.
Dr. Dillaha said the flu vaccine is encouraged for anyone who does not have a contraindication and is 6 months or older. The vaccine should be available next month and ADH plans to host drive through vaccination clinics the week of September 1. The vaccine will be made available at schools the following week. She also encouraged Arkansans to check with their local clinic or pharmacy who may receive the vaccine earlier so they can get the shot even earlier.
Dr. Romero was asked what the rationale is for requiring schools to have an outbreak before shifting to remote instruction.
“I think we’re fine to push forward with the plan to have onsite classes. We are monitoring this daily and weekly, and we will make a decision if the numbers rise significantly. We are hopeful that our use of the mask mandate that the Governor has put in place will drive this downward. It was originally stated we thought it would take about two weeks to do that, now the projections are that it will take another two weeks. So, in about two more weeks we should have a better idea. The idea of starting school and waiting for an outbreak really is that we want students in the classroom. We want to try to start school in a safe environment with the ability to test appropriately, and that’s why we’re deploying these rapid antigen tests across the state. I think at this time, we are not going to change that. We’re going to see whether there are significant outbreaks in schools. There will be cases sporadically in classes, because in some cases one of these children are going to acquire the disease from the community. So we have to watch this very carefully,” Dr. Romero said.
When asked if ADH has a protocol for testing students when they return to school, DR. Romero said, “We are not planning to test children as they go to school. Testing will be based on symptoms and exposure if appropriate. There is no set program to test all students entering into the class.”
District Point of Contact Training Sessions
Every district must have a District Point of Contact who will be responsible for communicating with ADH. District Points of Contact should plan to attend the following training session dates. Note: Most sessions will be virtual, but some will be held at Coops.
- August 10
- August 13
- August 14
- August 17
- August 18
Registration for these sessions is available at https://www.escweb.net/ar_esc/catalog/session.aspx?session_id=422181
For more information, please contact Gina Babbitt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Choir and Music Guidelines for Elementary
The guidelines issued by ADH for school-sponsored music, band and choir also apply to elementary students. Schools should think about plans on how to restructure or reorganize their classes to comply with these guidelines.
Metrics for Closing School
There are no hard and clear data points on closing schools at this time. The District Point of Contact is to keep track of local data and maintain communication with ADH. Superintendents and the District Point of Contact should be sure to review and follow the Response Levels for On-Site Learning for guidance.
Resources for Significantly Cognitively Challenged Students
DESE is going to make digital resources and content available for students who are significantly cognitively challenged. More information will be shared as it becomes available.
New Code to Identify Students as Virtual, Onsite or Blended
DESE has created a new code within eSchool on a SIS screen that will allow students to be identified as either the student participating in instruction virtually, onsite or blended. The first data pull for this will occur in the Cycle 2 report.
Governor Asa Hutchinson reported there are 912 new cases of COVID-19 since Tuesday, of these, 158 are from correctional facilities. The cumulative number of positive cases in the state is at 46,293, of these, 6,937 are active cases. COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas are at 508, and 38,848 have recovered. Five hundred sixteen (516) persons are hospitalized with COVID-19. The counties with the highest number of new cases were:
- 149 in Chicot County (most were from a correctional facility)
- 79 in Pulaski County
- 51 in Sebastian County
- 42 in Washington County
- 35 in Mississippi County
- 29 in Garland County
- 28 in Craighead County
- 26 in Saline County
- 24 in Pope County
- 21 in Ashley County
- 21 in Crittenden County
- 20 in Benton County
The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) map of all cases can be viewed by clicking on the link below:
The Governor announced he has named Dr. Jose Romero to the cabinet level position of Arkansas Department of Health Secretary.
Governor Hutchinson shared a few highlights from the most recent UAMS modeling. UAMS models project 55,000 cumulative cases by August 10, as well as 3,686 cumulative hospitalizations and 543 deaths by August 15.
“This shows what could happen and what we want to make sure doesn’t happen,” Governor Hutchinson said.
The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has posted new directives and guidelines for school-sponsored music, band and choir.
“This gives them an opportunity to mitigate and work through this, and to also share the music they enjoy and love,” Governor Hutchinson said.
Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key announced the opening of the Ready for School Call Center on Monday. The purpose of this call center is to provide a readily accessible resource for parents and teachers to call if they have questions. Call center operators will either get callers the resources they need or direct them to the right place.
“This is something very important as we get closer to the start of school. We are going to have more questions. Obviously, many of those questions will be dependent upon the work that is happening in their local school districts, but we will work to make sure that we get those answers for them,” Secretary Key said.
The Arkansas Department of Education is partnering with UAMS, ADH, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the Republic of the Marshall Islands Consulate, the Arkansas Bilingual Bicultural Education Support Network and the Office of Coordinated Support and Service. The call center will be open from 8 am to 4 pm, Monday through Friday. The number is 1-833-353-6050.
Secretary Key was asked about the onsite instruction requirement that schools be available five days a week.
“This is not a change in our stance at all since March when the Governor made the announcement to close schools for onsite instruction. We have said since day one that the plan for the fall is to come back and have school onsite. So, we had been made aware that some districts were making plans that were fewer than five days, and we felt like that clarification was needed today to make sure that districts understood we do have a state responsibility. We have given flexibility for districts to provide virtual options, blended options and onsite options, and parents need that and students need that. We just clarified the stance that we believe has been our stance all along,” Secretary Key said.
Governor Asa Hutchinson reported there are 784 new cases of COVID-19 since Monday, of these, 10 are from correctional facilities. The cumulative number of positive cases in the state is at 44,597, of these, 6,891 are active cases. COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas are at 490, and 38,000 have recovered. Five hundred twenty-six (526) persons are hospitalized with COVID-19. The counties with the highest number of new cases were:
- 149 in Pulaski County
- 56 in Sebastian County
- 55 in Mississippi County
- 45 in Washington County
- 35 in Benton County
- 25 in Saline County
- 24 in Crittenden County
- 23 in Jefferson County
“Reflecting on where we are with our schools opening, I want everybody to know we are working hard on this every day from discussions with the Department of Health and our preparations, but also with the Department of Education. This morning I got to speak with school administrators, but also hearing from literally hundreds and hundreds of teachers out there both supporting and excited about going back to the classroom, others are nervous about that. I look back and I am pleased that we did postpone school for two weeks, and the reason is it gives us an opportunity to study what’s happening in other states that have started earlier. It gives us an opportunity to learn from the experiences that we see in the sports world as well. It gives us an opportunity to better prepare in every respect. So we are going to utilize this time effectively over the next three weeks because we want everybody to be able to go back to in-classroom instruction in a safe way that best protects the students and gives them an opportunity to learn, as well as the teachers and the staff,” Governor Hutchinson said.
The state received reports for 5,840 tests over the last 24 hours. Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) Interim Secretary Jose Romero reminded Arkansans that they should enter quarantine when they undergo testing, not wait until their test results come back.
The Governor announced that there are a number of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Unemployment Insurance claims on hold due to potential fraud. Governor Hutchinson shared how over the weekend, he personally received a letter notifying him that he is eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Arkansas Department of Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said fraud could happen to anyone.
“We’ve learned this is part of a national, and even an international ring, trying to defraud the system, and unfortunately we are having to flag more claims than we normally would,” Secretary Preston said.
There are currently 27,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and 10,000 Unemployment Insurance claims on hold. The Division of Workforce Services (DWS) is working to get through the backlog, but they must do their due diligence in order to not only prevent providing payment to fraudsters, but also prevent having to reimburse the federal government for any fraudulent payments.
If you receive a fraudulent letter citing that you are eligible or have filed a claim, notify DWS immediately so a hold can be placed on the account. Report the fraud via email to email@example.com, call 501-682-1058, or submit a secure form online at www.dws.arkansas.gov. Individuals should also file a police report, get a copy of the report and provide it to DWS.
DWS continues to see continued claims go down with them down to around 90,000. They continue to see a high level of initial claims, but part of that is due to the fraudulent claims.
The Governor was asked whether he should keep schools closed until next year or open school districts on a case by case basis due to the fear of spikes of COVID.
“No, we should not cancel school for this school year. Kids need school. Everyone needs to have that opportunity for education, for the interaction even with the extracurricular activities that are so important to our students. We need to have school this year, absolutely. I am firm on that. The educators are firm on that. Public Health is firm on that. We need to have school,” Governor Hutchinson said.
When asked if there are plans to ramp up incentives for substitute teachers, the Governor said, “That is something left to the individual school districts, to line up substitutes, and that comes out of their budget.”
The Governor was asked about the fact that the public keeps hearing from public health experts that the opening of schools should be tied to a level of virus in a particular community.
“I hear three different messages from three different doctors in reference to standards for schools. So these are guidelines they suggest. You look at the CDC guidelines. They look at 10 percent positivity rate as a good thing. Everybody has a different opinion on schools. What they are united about is that these are local decisions that have to be made based upon the circumstances in your state, and that is what we are acting on,” Governor Hutchinson said.
ADH Interim Secretary Dr. Jose Romero was asked if students and teachers are to self-report, and what the role of contact tracers play in preventing the spread of the virus.
“The school will notify the health department of the case. The school is being asked to put together a list of individuals that are contacts, and the health department will do the contact tracing. So the contact tracing is not being done by the school. It’s still being done by the health department, but we are asking the school to give us a list of those individuals who could have been exposed,” Dr. Romero said. “If you are concerned enough to be tested, then that is a report in itself. If you’ve reported yourself to the health department, we will have that information, we will go forward. Within the school, if there is concern an individual could have COVID, then we would not want them to go to school at that time. Of course, it would be nice if they would let the school know about that so then we can go ahead and follow up if necessary. If there is concern about infection, testing is indicated and we will make that available through our local health units or other sites.”
The Governor announced Education Secretary Johnny Key will join him for tomorrow’s briefing to provide additional education updates.
To view the Governor’s briefing, please visit https://www.youtube.com/c/GovernorAsaHutchinson/.
Response Level Resource
DESE has updated the Response Levels for Onsite Learning Document and made a few changes to definitions and an updated link of restrictions for the critical response level (see page 5). The definitions were modified to provide additional clarifications:
- Probable Close Contact – District identified individuals that have likely been within 6 feet for 15 cumulative minutes or longer within a 24-hour period to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, during the infectious period. This person(s) will be expected to self-quarantine immediately for 14 days from the last date of contact with the positive case and await their Close Contact status to be confirmed by ADH Contact Tracing. A quick response to identify and quarantine will slow the possible transmission of the virus. The POC will notify probable close contacts initially.
- Secondary Contact – An individual who has had contact with someone identified as a Close Contact to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. In most instances, these individuals will not require quarantine, but are encouraged to monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19
- Contact Tracing – ADH Case Investigators and Contact Tracers reach out to COVID-19 patients after a positive test result is confirmed in order to identify the patient’s close contacts. The POC will not be responsible for contact tracing, but will work with other school personnel to identify Probable Close Contacts within the district and share that information with ADH for the purpose of Contact Tracing.
- Infectious Period – The two days prior to the onset of symptoms or the two days prior to the test date, if asymptomatic, until the individual is released from isolation by ADH.
- Asymptomatic – Testing positive, but not exhibiting any symptoms. COVID-19 transmission in the absence of symptoms reinforces the value of measures that may prevent the spread by infected persons who may not exhibit symptoms despite being infectious.
After school starts, if a Critical Response becomes necessary, this additional resource can help guide decisions about limited onsite instruction as allowed by ADH. These limitations are similar to what DESE has followed for the summer months. If necessary, minimal small group on-site instruction and special services may be provided following restrictions:
Special Education Resources
The DESE Special Education Unit (SEU) has developed three resources to help guide districts as they plan for reentry this month.
- The Special Education Reentry Guidance document provides guiding questions for leadership teams to consider as they plan for providing services to students with disabilities.
- The Sample Remote Learning Plan is an optional example of a contingency plan for students with disabilities in case students return to remote learning.
- The Playbook Companions are aligned to the grade level Playbooks and were designed for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. The SEU hopes that these documents extend upon the resources already provided by DESE to insure high levels of learning for all.
Ready for School Resource Call Center
Commisioner’s Memo LIC-21-005 was issued yesterday announcing the establishment of the Arkansas Department of Education’s (ADE) Ready for School Resource Call Center at 1-833-353-6050. Operating hours are 8 am to 4 pm, Monday through Friday.
The purpose of the call center is to provide educators and parents with information and resources regarding the reopening of schools. With the support of partners from UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, and the Arkansas Bilingual Resource Network, the call center will be staffed by education and health professionals, as well as community partners.
The ADH Education Hotline (833-504-0155) will continue to field COVID calls for school-related cases and exposures. This hotline is for school administrators, school nurses, and district designated Points of Contact (POC). ADH is tasked with keeping track of community spread among the state. This includes local schools. In order to reduce the spread, it is necessary to identify positive cases and probable close contacts as quickly as possible. To do this, it is required that the POC call the Arkansas Department of Health Education Hotline (833-504-0155) to report all positive cases and close contacts as soon as possible. The POC trainings (this week and next week) will be important and helpful in ensuring this communication that will be a foundation for data needed to make school-level decisions.
In response to information provided in the recent survey, DESE will distribute 500 masks and 2 N-95 masks per school nurse to each of the school districts.
COVID-19 Priority Testing
DESE is working with ADH on a process for providing priority COVID-19 testing for school staff and students. An update on timing will be announced in the District Point of Contact meeting next week.
Governor Asa Hutchinson reported there are 787 new cases of COVID-19 since Sunday, of these, six are from correctional facilities. On Saturday, 662 new cases were reported. On Sunday, 637 new cases were reported. The cumulative number of positive cases in the state is at 44,597, of these, 6,882 are active cases. COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas are at 475, and 37,240 have recovered. Five hundred thirteen (513) persons are hospitalized with COVID-19. The counties with the highest number of new cases were:
- 87 in Sebastian County
- 66 in Washington County
- 54 Pulaski County
- 42 Benton County
- 37 Logan County
- 32 Independence County
- 29 in Garland County
- 28 in Crittenden County
- 25 Jefferson County
- 22 in Mississippi County
The Governor announced that the High School Sports Advisory Committee held its first meeting today, and he hopes they will provide their report later this week.
Governor Hutchinson also announced the acquisition of 100 new BD Veritor antigen test machines, with 100 more on order. The state has not yet received the testing kits for the machines, but anticipates having it by the middle of the month. The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) plans to distribute this equipment to public health units over the next three weeks with the priority to use this equipment for quick turn-around tests for the K-12 educational system.
The testing goal for the month of August has been set for 190,000 PCR tests and 10,000 antigen tests. In July, 194,836 tests were completed.
ADH Interim Secretary Jose Romero reminded Arkansans of the importance of getting the influenza vaccine, especially this year, because it’s unknown what the combination of influenza and coronavirus might be. In year’s past, influenza season has added pressure to Arkansas emergency rooms which needs to be avoided if at all possible due to the demand COVID-19 is placing on medical facilities.
The Governor was asked if he was considering comments the CDC director made on Friday when he said states considered “hot spots”, especially those with positivity rates over 5%, should consider distance learning.
“The CDC recommendation is 10%. If they are moving it to 5% that is an issue. In terms of starting school, we have indicated that we are going to start with onsite classrooms. We hope we can make a great deal of progress in the next three weeks. We’ll see. That’s our goal, and that’s one of the reasons we’re having a blended learning environment, and we’re giving parents options. Parents have the option of going all virtual this year in the school districts. They have the option of starting in classroom and we hope we’ll be able to continue that, and if we have to go to a blended environment, we will. I think that’s the right plan for Arkansas. I understand that there are different messages coming out nationally, but our educators, they’re ready to start school and I think that’s the right way to do it,” Governor Hutchinson said.
When asked if the costs associated with antigen testing being made available to schools at the ADH Public Health Units would be covered by the state, the Governor responded, “The antigen test we provide will be free of cost. So if you get it through the public health unit, that will be covered. Of course if you go elsewhere, they can charge insurance or otherwise, but we don’t plan on having any charge to the participant that needs that test.”
Governor Hutchinson was as if there is a specific number or threshold that would give him pause with going forward with opening schools as planned.
“We’ve got a good plan that is very specific of what our expectations are in terms of giving flexibility to the local districts, supporting them in the acquisition of PPE. If there are needs out there we want to address those. We are trying to work through all of the issues in terms of ‘what ifs’, and there’s more work to be done there. In terms of the positivity rates, it’s not where I would like it to be and I hope when school starts it’s not there. If you look across the state, it varies county by county. I met with the Academy of Pediatrics, the Arkansas Chapter, this last week, we discussed that. They recognize there are areas with a lower positivity rate and there shouldn’t even be a question about. So it’s difficult for a state like Arkansas to say we’re going to open here and there and others it’s just going to be virtual and then you have a lot of issues that go along with that. So I want our state to be able to move, at least in the beginning, all together in classroom instruction.If we have to adapt and adjust from that down the road, we’ll adjust with the circumstances we find ourselves in. That’s the game plan. Everybody needs to understand that if things do not go as planned, you have to be able to make adjustments along the way, and I’m speaking of whether we put in additional restrictions or whether we have to take other steps to make sure that we are safe,” Governor Hutchinson said.
The Governor was asked about a group of educators in Northwest Arkansas, Arkansas for Safe Opening, who feel they have not been heard when it comes to school’s opening, and whether anyone had solicited input from classroom level teachers when devising plans.
“I get tons of admonitions when it comes to classroom teachers. I get every viewpoint imaginable, and I identify with concerns that they have. Everybody that goes to work in this environment has concerns. Everybody who has to deal with the public has concerns. That’s why we want to put in the safety precautions. We want to listen, and we want to adjust as needed. Yes, I do listen to teachers,” Governor Hutchinson said.
To view the Governor’s briefing, please visit https://www.youtube.com/c/GovernorAsaHutchinson/
Governor Asa Hutchinson reported there are 752 new cases of COVID-19 since Thursday, of these, 33 are from correctional facilities. The cumulative number of positive cases in the state is at 42,511, of these, 6,645 are active cases. COVID-19 deaths in Arkansas are at 453, and 35,413 have recovered. Five hundred seven (507) persons are hospitalized with COVID-19. The counties with the highest number of new cases were:
- 81 in Sebastian County
- 77 in Pulaski County
- 51 in Benton County
- 41 in Washington County
- 31 in Independence County
- 29 in Crittenden County
- 29 in Union County
- 25 in Mississippi County
- 23 in Jefferson County
- 21 in Saline County
- 20 in Craighead County
The Governor said the state had a strong showing of test reports for the last 24 hours with 7,027 tests received.
Governor Hutchinson announced the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) has presented a schedule for football to have no contact team drills with helmets throughout the week August 3 through August 7. The Governor has asked AAA to submit a plan to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) to allow for football, volleyball and cheerleading this fall. This will allow ADH to review and develop guidelines for mitigating the virus for contact sports.
“I’ve heard from parents, student athletes, coaches and many other educators, and sports, as they make the point, is a very important part of the development of our youth.
If we do not have sports, then many of the student athletes will be traveling out of state to participate in sports which adds another level of risk, and that increases the risk,” Governor Hutchinson said. “We have over three weeks before school starts with students in the classroom, and we’re going to learn from the next three weeks of training and practice in the fields of sports, cheerleading and other activities. We will learn what adjustments need to be made and we will improve our safety protocols. The Department of Health, led by Dr. Jose Romero, will continue its responsibility to provide and issue health guidelines. This group of experts I am convening will serve in an advisory capacity to look specifically at how we can have fall sports in the safest manner possible.”
The Governor announced he is establishing a high school sports advisory group to make recommendations and assist ADH in best practices for protecting student athletes and school personnel.
“My message for the football players for Monday is to grab your helmet and be ready for practice, and then after practice, I want you to grab your mask so you can protect others that you might be around,” Governor Hutchinson said.
The Arkansas Department of Education has partnered with the Arkansas Activities Association for a number of years analyzing the impact sports and activities have on the student. According to Education Secretary Johnny Key, these studies show that students who have participated in these activities have higher levels of academic achievement, higher self-esteem, lower incidences of discipline issues, and higher attendance rates.
“So this is something that is very important as we get prepared to go back to school that we have an expert group now , not just experts in medicine but experts in mental health of students, experts in counseling, experts in dealing with the needs of students on a daily basis, to help guide and provide us and provide the Governor with their best advice and wisdom as we move forward. We look forward to working in conjunction with the Health Department and AAA to make this a successful school year and successful athletic and activities seasons,” Secretary Key said.
The Governor was asked if there was a plan to have contact practice starting after next week.
“That is the plan to have that. Now the advisory group that I have created will meet starting next Monday and there is an urgency as they look at this, they are going to look at the best practices across the country. They are going to work with the Department of Health, listening to them. They will have their [ADH] epidemiologist on the advisory group. We will make decisions as we go on. We’re also going to learn from experience. I hope next week there are zero positive cases among athletes in Arkansas. That might not be the case, and so we are going to learn from the experience as we go along but you have to have a purpose and an intent, and the intent is let’s move on for the season,” Governor Hutchinson said.
During follow up, a reporter asked if next week applied to cheerleading and band members?
Lance Taylor, AAA Executive Director, said cheerleading and volleyball should be able to move forward next week. ADH is working on tweaking the band guidelines and he hopes they will be issued early to middle of next week.
The Governor was asked if there are plans for schools in terms of attending games?
Governor Hutchinson said attending games will be subject to the ADH guidelines regarding large venues which include social distancing and wearing masks. Schools may have to submit additional plans on how they will manage meeting guidelines for larger venues.
The question was raised regarding whether basketball and volleyball would be able to scrimmage this fall, and if there are plans for practicing for spring sports this fall.
“What we are addressing right now with football and band, is what’s right before us at this moment. We needed to address that issue so coaches and other leaders will know how to carry on the activities next week. Also, we wanted the athletes to know that we are planning on and moving towards a season this year,” Governor Hutchinson said.
Governor Hutchinson was asked if he would encourage coaches to add something to helmets that resemble a shield to protect players even further.
“Yes, that is one of the suggestions made by a coach is that they have put in face shields and that provides a level of protection. There is a cost issue there. I’d like to know more about the smaller school districts particularly and the cost associated with that, but that will be one of the things our advisory group will look at to the extent that is effective and the practicality of it as well,” Governor Hutchinson said.
To view the Governor’s briefing, please visit https://www.youtube.com/c/GovernorAsaHutchinson/.
COVID-19 Guidance Updates
DESE recently issued updates to Commissioner’s Memo LS-20-089: Guidance for Schools Regarding COVID-19.
The Governor recently issued an Executive Order mandating the wearing of face coverings. Districts need to adopt policies to implement the Arkansas Department of Health’s (ADH) Face Coverings Directive issued on July 18. With some exceptions, the directive requires every person 10 years of age and older to wear a face covering completely over the mouth and nose in both indoor and outdoor settings when distancing of six feet or more cannot be assured.
The directive DOES NOT supersede and decision made by the school district any decision made by the school district to require masks for children younger than 10 years of age while attending school. ADH recommends a face covering for all students and staff including children under the age of 10 when appropriate. Under no circumstances should a mask be placed on a child under the age of 2. If your district will require documentation from a health care provider to support a claim of exemption due to a medical condition or disability that prevents the person from wearing a face covering, that requirement should be set forth in policy.
Secondary Centers and Concurrent Credit
Secondary Career Centers will be operating this fall, and it is expected that students should continue to have opportunities to enhance their career plans. Superintendents and career center directors should be in regular communication about scheduling, logistics, and any changes to plans that might affect students. The centers are planning to implement physical distancing requirements and provide PPE for students and faculty. Superintendents and center directors should work together as situations develop and as details are finalized.
With changes to the school calendar, there may be questions that arise related to concurrent credit courses and the impact on both students and teachers. School districts should be in communication with their partner college(s) to discuss any changes to the planned start date for courses. High school students who are taking courses on college campuses taught by college instructors should adhere to the college schedule, and districts should adhere to previously-planned arrangements for scheduling, transportation, and support. Courses taught on the high school campus by the high school teacher should follow the district’s schedule.
Variations from these scenarios should be worked out between the school district and higher education institution, keeping in mind that each entity may have developed unique schedules. Both institutions should work to provide flexibility for staff and students as the school year starts. The method of instructional delivery (onsite, virtual, hybrid) should be communicated through the MOU and updated if needed. All students should be notified of any changes to courses, schedules, or methods of delivery prior to the start of school.
DESE has received questions related to PreK operations when school starts and how the Response Levels for Onsite Learning apply to PreK.Below is a link to information you will want to review:
All ABC Early Childhood programs, like K-12 schools, will be expected to provide onsite instruction at the beginning of the school year. Virtual learning will not be an option in lieu of onsite learning. If an entire school district or educational cooperative closes as a result of COVID-19 response (guided by ADH/ADE), ABC programs associated with those LEAs may be able to remain open but should also be prepared in case remote learning becomes necessary. ABC programs not affiliated with school districts or educational cooperatives will also remain open. ABC Early Childhood Centers should consult with DESE and ADH when determining the appropriate level of response related to COVID-19.
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
Alternative Methods of Instruction
Schools should follow their Alternative Methods of Instruction (AMI) Plan. If your school does not have an AMI plan, download the document below and apply as soon as possible.
DESE has released Arkansas Instructional Guidance for Extended Year AMI as an added support to schools during the extended closure due to COVID-19. This guidance document was developed by DESE staff with feedback from school superintendents, teachers, and parents, as well as reviews of other states’ guidance around the instructional considerations of continued AMI. This guidance is written as support for consideration and communication of plans, not as a mandate.
We have compiled a list of online resources educators and parents can use to support and enrich learning for their students. When possible, we have sorted these links by subject area and grade level.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Arkansas Department of Education Resources
Districts can email education questions to email@example.com
Division of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Guidance on Addressing Mental Health Needs of Students in the Community
Arkansas Department of Health COVID-19 Resources
We encourage you to regularly visit the Arkansas Department of Health website www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs-services/topics/novel-coronavirus to receive updates on COVID-19 in Arkansas. The site also includes updated guidance for educators, as well as links to Centers for Disease Control resources.
In an effort to effectively field concerns related to school closures and school/student-related concerns of potential positive COVID-19 cases, the Arkansas Department of Health has designated a hotline for school personnel.
School Designated COVID-19 Hotline: 1-833-504-0155
Arkansas Children’s Hospital has a designated a hotline number to field concerns related specifically to the known presumptive positive case at ACH mentioned in the March 12 press conference.
Arkansas Children’s Hospital Hotline: 1-800-743-3616
For all other concerns, individuals should use the MAIN COVID-19 Hotline.
MAIN COVID-19 Hotline: 1-800-803-7847
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.