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Arkansas schools consider options for virtual learning

June 22, 2020 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Some Arkansas school districts are finalizing virtual learning options for students in kindergarten through 12th grades because officials are uncertain if schools can safely operate on a traditional schedule amid the pandemic.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key have repeatedly said that they want schools to reopen since closing in mid-March, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. But schools have been warned that they may have to pivot among traditional and virtual educational programs.

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Last week, Hutchinson said districts want to teach in the classroom. But if someone tests positive for coronavirus or there are students with preexisting conditions, then districts need to be ready to have online instruction.

“That’s the key: We are going to have to have a school year where we have the maximum amount of flexibility with the intent to have as normal a school year as possible -- that gives students the best education as possible.”

Superintendent Mike Poore, of Little Rock school district, said they intend to roll out their 2020-21 school year plan no later then the first week of July. It may change depending on guidance from state officials, but it calls for a virtual instruction and a more traditional learning option for its more than 20,000 students, Poore added.

“We’ll do everything that is humanly possible to follow recommendations ... and requirements,” Poore said of safely reopening schools.

Poore said students that choose to learn from home can’t decide mid-semester to transition to classroom learning.

Keith McGee, the interim superintendent at North Little Rock School District, said they have not made a final decision about school structure this coming year. But there are some ideas that are being considered, which include a virtual academy and a traditional learning environment that would require following safety directives.

McGee noted another schedule option where students would be split up into two groups, and one group would physically attend classes on Monday and Tuesday and the second group would attend on Thursday and Friday. The building would be sanitized on Wednesdays.

More information will be available to parents during the “Virtual Cupcake and Conversations” event on July 9.

Fort Smith School District, which has more than 14,000 students, announced on its website last week that it will offer a full-time virtual learning academy for kindergarten through eighth-grade students. There will also be three virtual and blended options through the School of Innovation at Southside High School for ninth through 12th graders.