Decision in wings for North Little Rock schooling

The North Little Rock School Board will decide Thursday whether to move forward with a phased-in approach to the coming school year that will include an alternate-days schedule.

Interim Superintendent Keith McGee told members of the Reopening School Task Force on Monday that he will present a proposal to the School Board that will include an alternate-days schedule for all students except prekindergarteners, who are to attend classes in person five days a week.

Under the proposal, students would be split into A and B groups. The A group would physically attend classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the B group would attend classes on Thursdays and Fridays. The building will be cleaned every day, and teachers must be present in the building every day.

McGee said he is hopeful the alternate-days schedule will last until January, when a more traditional schedule could begin.

“This is subject to change. This needs to be fluid,” McGee said. “The board could do two things. They could oppose my recommendation, or they could amend it.”

The alternate-days schedule has been a topic of discussion for many weeks, with the concept consistently being removed and brought back up by task force members.

The plan was voted down early in July, but the option was brought back to the forefront during a later meeting after task force members said the public seemed to be in favor of the idea.

Some of the challenges that task force members have raised about the alternate-days schedule include parental challenges for those who work, internet access and teacher concerns.

“I work for the district and my wife is a teacher at the middle school, so we are both having to go to work five days a week, and I have a third-grade son? What am I supposed to do with him three days a week?” Michael Holmes, a task force member and elementary instructional technology specialist, asked during Monday’s meeting.

McGee said there is a plan in place that allows staff members to take their children to work on the designated virtual days under the alternate-days schedule. He said there also is talk about creating a room where faculty parents can drop off their children with a paraprofessional where they will learn virtually.

“We are kind of thinking outside of the box for employees who have children,” McGee said.

The interim superintendent said he believes this is the best option when considering the health and safety of students and staff members.

“I do think this proposal is the best proposal to provide that safety,” McGee said. “This doesn’t mean we will use it for the whole semester. Parents, we do value what you think and we understand, but nothing is concrete right now, and it will have to be a local board decision.”

The district is also moving forward with a virtual academy for the 8,000-student school district.

Brouke Reynolds, the school’s new virtual learning director, said a little more than 3,000 students have committed to the virtual academy. She said 1,200 elementary school students have signed up for the academy, and 865 high school students have signed up.

McGee said the number of students who have chosen the virtual academy should cut down on the number of students in classrooms. He said the alternate days schedule also should cut in half the remaining students who participate daily in in-person classes, which will make it easier to social distance.

Parents who originally chose the virtual academy but now want to do the alternate-days option must contact Reynolds to be removed from the virtual academy. She said virtual academy sign-up closes at noon Friday.

“We can’t move back and forth after that because we have to figure out staffing,” Reynolds said.

Robert Birch, the task force chairman and the city’s development director, said the hope is the virtual academy and the alternate-days schedule is a one-semester plan.

“We hate this is coming at the last minute, but we have dealt with a bunch of different options that were out of our control as far as statewide that has caused us to run this in a bit of a short time frame,” he said.

McGee said if the number of covid-19 cases remains high, the virtual academy will be reevaluated to see if it needs to continue for the second semester.

School officials ordered earlier this year three washable cloth masks for every staff member and student in the school district. The district also ordered 1,000 boxes of gloves, N95 masks for staff members who need them, more than 30,000 disposable masks, face shields, disposable barrier gowns, protective eyewear and sanitizing equipment.

Amanda Stuckey, a registered nurse who is the supervisor of school nurses, told the task force that the district currently has cloth face masks for only half the students. The rest of the orders placed in May hadn’t come in as of Monday afternoon. Stuckey said group thermometers and face-to-face thermometers came in this week, but no hand-held thermometers.

McGee said the school district has 40,000 disposal masks it can use as well.

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