LRSD Supt. Mike Poore Brian Chilson

The Little Rock School District has released a list of frequently asked questions about the 2020/2021 school year on its website. Parents were outraged last week when the district gave parents five days to complete a “survey” indicating whether their children would attend school in-person or only participate virtually. The LRSD had provided scant details on what either option would look like. The district heard the complaints and extended the deadline to July 6 and today released a long FAQ.

It’s a start, but I suspect it will only inspire further questions from most parents.

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Perhaps the most crucial question for in-person instruction:

Will masks be required?

It is the expectation that students and staff will wear masks where social distancing may be a challenge.  This includes buses, hallways, and potentially, classrooms.  This is an area where we wish we could be more definitive, but as has been demonstrated over the last week the “mask” issue continues to evolve.   The use of masks is strongly recommended, especially when social distancing cannot be achieved.  However, the District is still awaiting additional guidance from the State and the Arkansas Department of Health and will provide an update as soon as we get clarification.

Meanwhile, LRSD encourages parents/guardians to send a face mask with their student to school that their child feels comfortable wearing.  The District will have 3 ply disposable masks available along with hand sanitizer on campuses, as well.    

Will my student be sanctioned for not wearing a mask? 

We are still working to determine the best response to this potential concern and will be gathering input from stakeholder groups consisting of parents, staff and students.

What does “mask issue continues to evolve” mean? Perhaps that, while the cities of Fayetteville and Little Rock have taken steps to require masks in public spaces, Governor Hutchinson has not only refused to do the same, he’s undermined the Fayetteville ordinance by saying it’s preempted by his executive order and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s executive order by saying (perhaps correctly) that’s it’s merely encouragement. Will Hutchinson’s education department prevent school districts from imposing mask requirements?

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UPDATE: Hutchinson, asked today whether he would block districts from mandating masks, said no. He said districts had flexibility to determine the best course for its students, educators and community.

Later in the FAQ, the district is more definitive about requiring masks on buses, which seems sensible, but doesn’t logically follow the ambiguity above. If a district requires masks on school buses, why wouldn’t it also require them in the classroom? Along the same lines, the LRSD says all adult employees will be required to wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible.

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What about social distancing? The district says it will be observed “to the extent possible” and that it is “exploring the potential use of underutilized spaces.” Individual schools will develop social distancing plans for times of transition, including the time between classes, during recess and during lunch.

How will the district deal with students or employees who test positive for COVID-19? The LRSD has provided a flow chart from the state departments of health and education that lays out guidelines. It’s hard to follow. I’ve asked the state agencies for clarification.

But I think it’s in line with what the health department has described as standard practice in occupational outbreaks: If someone who has been in a school building tests positive for COVID-19, schools will work with the health department to assess the risk level to determine whether the building should be closed or cleaned and develop a plan for contact tracing. Those who have had “close contact,” defined on the flow chart as “anyone around a positive case within six feet for longer than 15 minutes during the infectious period,” who test negative for the virus will still be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Those who get tested because of COVID-19 signs or symptoms, test negative and have not had close contact with a positive case can return to school if they’re fever free after 24 hours. (And regarding temperature checks, the district says it will develop a procedure for daily temperature checks based on health department guidelines.)

As cases in Arkansas rise, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where, at least in more populous school districts and other hot spots in the state, significant chunks of schools are constantly going in and out of quarantine. If one person tests positive in a classroom, everyone in that classroom would almost certainly be subject to a 14-day quarantine.

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What will instruction look like? Part of the district’s challenge is that only has a fuzzy sense of how many parents and educators are unwilling to return to in-person instruction. That makes the logistics of pulling all this off exceedingly complicated. But according to the FAQ, there will be teachers solely devoted to in-person instruction and teachers only focused on virtual education. Those teachers providing the virtual instruction will come from students’ school “to the extent possible.”

From the FAQ: “Children who are fully virtual will receive their instruction in a variety of formats – pre-recorded videos from their assigned teacher, videos from other sources that are selected by their assigned teacher, or through live video conferencing with their assigned teacher.”

Students and teachers hated the one-size-fits-all online platforms the district used this spring. But through Schoology, the new learning management system the LRSD plans to use this fall, teachers will have more autonomy and will be able to provide students with “individualized lessons and activities” to meet their needs, according to the district.

A warning to parents considering virtual learning:  “If you are choosing the fully virtual option, it is recommended the student have adult support at some point during the day or evening to assist with completing their work.  Students will be required to complete work in Schoology daily.  All live lessons will be recorded and accessible via Schoology.   Students will access their lessons and assignments via Schoology.  Parents should be aware that students might need assistance in completing their work and becoming familiar with the online platform.  Students will not be in direct instruction all day, however, they will have to complete assignments or tasks independently throughout the day.”

But perhaps owing to the likelihood of students potentially facing quarantine, in-person students will also receive some instruction via Schoology, which the district hopes will make it easier for students and teachers to transition from in-person to virtual education if needed.

The district promises a Schoology demo soon.

Can students switch between in-person and virtual education? The district says that the survey from parents, due Monday, July 6, is “for initial planning purposes.” Parents can change their minds before the start of school. The LRSD wants parents to choose virtual or on-site learning for an entire semester, but if a family’s situation changes, parents can request a change to their child’s principal.

What about families who want to do virtual education but don’t have internet access? The district says it’s working on it.

What about pre-K? The LRSD says it’s waiting for guidance from the Arkansas Department of Human Services, which oversees the pre-K program in Arkansas.

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The LRSD says the FAQ is a fluid document. There’s a place on it to submit additional questions.