During his daily COVID-19 press briefing on Thursday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the school start date for the 2020-21 school year in Arkansas will be pushed from Aug. 13 to the week of Aug. 24.
Hutchinson then presented a plan of response if a case shows up in the classroom. This plan ranges from a limited response that is restricted to the school to a critical response that impacts the entire community.
These plans will implement the option of remote learning and hybrid classes while the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) and Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) will work together.
Education Secretary Johnny Key stated there had previously been a waiver for schools to start as early as Aug. 13, but he has asked for that wavier to be rescinded in light of the fact that many schools have expressed concern that they do not yet have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) or necessary technology for the students.
The delay of start date will allow schools to start between Aug. 24 and Aug. 26, which gives nearly two additional weeks to acquire these items.
Fort Smith Public Schools respond
Fort Smith Public Schools responded to the announcement with a statement saying, "We anticipated that the beginning of the school year would be fluid and so we are ready to work on the modifications that will need to be made following this announcement. We will continue to work with our stakeholders to provide for the best and most appropriate environment for children and their teachers in these circumstances."
Each school district will need a point of contact to coordinate necessary response efforts with the ADH should a case of COVID-19 occur in any of the schools.
There is currently no plan to test incoming students, but the testing will take place on an as needed basis.
Schools will need to follow ADH guidelines with the flexibility available depending on the space within a classroom.
Key stated that if teachers get COVID-19, it will be up to the school district to handle it with their substitutes and usual plans for sickness.
This new start date only applies to K-12 schools as colleges and other higher education facilities run separate from the ADE.
The announcement comes on a day with 806 new cases in the state of Arkansas. According to Hutchinson, this increase was predicted from the increase of testing and he previously noted the possibility of a result of the holiday weekend.
There was a sharp increase of hospitalizations to a new high of 394 and four additional deaths for a total of 309.
Sebastian County was the third highest in the state with 56 new COVID-19 cases. Fort Smith was the fourth highest city in the state with 255 active cases.