HOT SPOT: This is a shot of a post by the Barton school superintendent highlighting the COVID-19 rate in his area. He was unhappy to learn the KIPP charter school had been given a waiver on in-person school that his district had been denied. The state Education Department is now saying KIPP spoke prematurely.

Looks like we set off a rumble sharing news Sunday that the Kipp Delta Elementary, a much-touted charter school in Helena long supported by the Walton Family Foundation, had announced it would open all-virtual for the first three weeks of the year beginning today.

Brian Chilson
CHECKING IN: It was held outdoors at Central High this morning.

This made a lot of people unhappy. Other school districts, Little Rock included, wanted to open virtually for health concerns, but were denied. A charter school announced it was getting special treatment.

Sometime last night, perhaps about 8 p.m., the Arkansas Department of Education posted this on Twitter:

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Funny. Because you’ll see from KIPP’s original announcement that the all-virtual school opening had been made in “collaboration” with the Education Department and Health Department.

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KIPP is singing a different tune today, one sure to leave parents somewhat confused. From its website:

We have been notified of one positive case of COVID-19 with as many as 27 staff members coming into close contact at our KIPP Delta Elementary Literacy Academy (ELA) campus in Helena, Ark.
Over the next 48 hours, we will work with the Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas Department of Education to work through the close contact tracing process and reassess the situation at ELA.
School will begin as scheduled on Monday, August 24, 2020, for all grade levels preschool – fifth grade virtually. An update regarding resuming in-person and hybrid classes is forthcoming. Parents have already received additional instructions concerning virtual learning from our ELA Team and Family.
Meal service for ELA students will begin as scheduled on Monday, August 24, 2020. Families can pick up free meals for their students at the KIPP Delta Collegiate High School located at 215 Cherry Street in Helena, Arkansas. Each student meal package will include breakfast, lunch, and snacks until in-person learning resumes.
For questions, regarding ELA’s virtual learning and technology distribution, please contact School Director Mr. Cory Washington at 870-714-2306.
For questions, regarding KIPP Delta Public Schools response to this matter, please contact Executive Director Mr. William Hill at 870-714-5355.
We thank you for your flexibility and understanding as we work to ensure the safety of each member of our Team and Family.
Sincerely,
William Hill, Executive Director

 

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A day or two delayed start in the first week is happening all over Arkansas on account of COVID-19 (the Nevada and Woodlawn districts announced setbacks on account of COVID-19 cases). A three-week delay is not.

One wonders how KIPP got the idea it qualified for special status. I have a question for the Education Department about this.

UPDATE: Education Department spokesperson Kimberly Mundell responded to my initial question about the KIPP all-virtual opening:

It was not in collaboration with ADE. It was a miscommunication. We are collaborating with them today.

I said I was skeptical the charter school had communicated with no one at the state Education Department. Mundell replied:

The school thought that by reporting to the Department of Health it had also coordinated with us.

As evidence, she cited an email sent by the head of KIPP Sunday to Ivy Pfeffer, the top deputy in the Education Department. In it, William Hill said a Health Department employee had advised the school to put 27 employees in quarantine immediately because of close contact with an infected. The Education Department now says they believe KIPP thought that was sufficient to comply with state rules that require collaboration with both the Education Department and Health Department if a large loss of staff requires an extended period of all-virtual instruction.

I have requested earlier communications between KIPP and the state.

 

Meanwhile, an interesting comment on the situation arose in the nearby Barton School District, whose superintendent, David Tollett, is a Republican candidate for state representative.

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Whoa! A Republican calling down the Walton junta? I wonder if this might have contributed to the Education Department’s action last night.

Be sure to read through Tollett’s comments to readers of his post. For example:

… our request to start school virtually on August 6th and go in person on the 24th was denied but apparently they can.

I expect confusion to be found in many more places.

One example of a district that IS opening and its level of readiness:

Remember the advice of Governor Hutchinson: Don’t get bent out of shape.

FURTHER UPDATE: It would appear that the eStem charter school system is not offering five-day-a-week classes as Education Secretary Johnny Key has insisted must be offered in Little Rock after the opening week. It is providing a choice of either all-virtual or a “blended” instruction plan with two or three days on campus. From the eStem FAQ for parents:

Families will be asked to choose either 1. a 100% virtual learning experience for the fall 2020 semester, or 2. a blended learning approach including on site/in person learning for at least two days each week and virtual learning for the remaining school days each week.

HOWEVER: The eStem website is currently non-functional. I’m wondering if a change is coming.

The Education Department said this relative to website information on a three-day in-person schedule:

We did not grant any school the option of offering in-person instruction less than five days a week for those students who wish to attend every day. Unless a school is on a four-day school week schedule, every school has to be open five days a week for students who wish to attend in person (barring any changes due to COVID). If eStem’s website does not reflect that, please contact them directly regarding updating their website.

AND STILL FURTHER UPDATE:

From John Bacon, CEO of eStem, who says the school’s plans changed Thursday.

Our original plan was to offer two learning options: 100% virtual or blended (2-3 days per week on site/2-3 days per week virtual) in order to provide for maximum physical distancing in our classrooms/school buildings. We were notified that, in order to provide these options, we had to first offer a full 5-day per week in person learning program to all students. We adjusted our plans to include three options (traditional, blended, or virtual) and communicated with our parents that we would be providing in person instruction 5 days per week for any families who wanted it. About 10% of our students chose this learning plan. Our Ready for Learning Plan, which reflects the three available options, was approved on Thursday and should be on our web site now. We have also developed a COVID-19 Procedural Manual that is on the web site now. The FAQ document was last updated on July 17 and does not reflect the recent changes. I am having that document pulled from the web site so as not to create additional confusion.