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On-site schedule decided by LRSD; phased reentry ends after week

The Little Rock School District will begin a five-day-a-week on-campus instructional program starting Monday for those students who have opted for in-person learning.

Superintendent Mike Poore announced the plan, which affects about 50% of the district’s total enrollees, in a video late Wednesday afternoon. That came at about the same time the district announced the number of students and staff members with covid-19 — just one student — or in quarantine in a 24 hour-period.

“We’ve got to move forward,” Poore said about the schedule. “There are families that need to have their students in an in-person setting all five days. There are students who need in-person learning all five days. We also have families who need the food program to be available all five days, and I think this gives us the best delivery of that.”

The five-day-a-week, on-campus instructional plan is a change from the phased reentry schedule that is being used the first week of school, but it’s one of the two options for instruction — the other being 100% online — that the district initially announced for the opening of schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

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With the exception of prekindergarten children who were supposed to attend on campus every day this week, students whose last names begin with A through M attended school Monday and will do so again today. Those with names starting with N through Z attended in-school classes Tuesday and will do so again Friday. As a result, no more than about 25% to 30% of a school’s enrollees are in the building on the same day, allowing for physical distancing among students and staff members.

The alternate-days plan was quickly formulated last week after teachers balked at all in-person teaching this new school year until there is a significant decline in covid-19 cases in Pulaski County. Teachers said they would teach online only.

“I hope this message comes with everyone willing to keep moving forward and continuing to work together,” Poore said, adding that the beginning of the school year has been good, although there are “holes to fill” in both on-campus and virtual instruction.

Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association union of teachers and support staff employees, said late Wednesday that her group was dismayed.

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“We are not pleased with the decision,” she said in a text message to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “LRSD has reported cases and quarantined every day this week, and it is only Wednesday. We are not satisfied with the safety in schools and believe that this move is premature.”

Gordon said last week that teachers would give the phased reentry plan a chance by teaching on campus, but she also said that if teachers see safety threats to students and teachers or are being treated as dispensable, “we will not hesitate to take the necessary steps to prevent unwarranted exposure and illness from covid-19.”

She said Wednesday that the teachers union will meet to determine “our course of action in light of this announcement.”

Marco Dorfsman, a Little Rock district teacher and parent, earlier Wednesday sent a letter to Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key and a copy to the Democrat-Gazette, urging that the alternate-days schedule be continued another week. Another week is necessary “for us to design and improve both our safety protocols and our instructional methods as we go forward in these extremely difficult circumstances,” Dorfsman said.

He told Key that staff members, students and parents are doing “heroic work to make the school opening viable.”

“Please don’t work against us,” he wrote.

Key acts in place of a locally elected school board in the state-controlled Little Rock district.

The district’s initial plan for the school year — including the first week — was to offer families a choice of either a 100% online education program or a five-day-a-week, traditional on-campus program.

Because about 50% of the district’s more than 20,000 students opted for the virtual-only instruction, the district is in a good position to be able to physically distance students who opted for in-person instruction, Poore said Wednesday.

He said the Little Rock district is better positioned in that regard when compared with districts where the majority of students and families selected on-campus instruction.

While the on-campus schedule is set to change for the coming week, so will the virtual instruction program, Poore said. Students learning online will interact with their teachers more than they have in the first week of school, he said.

He also said the district is in the final stages of getting Chromebook laptop computers to the students who opted for online learning. He said that should be accomplished by the end of this week. That is being done by moving surplus laptops to schools that don’t have adequate numbers. The district continues to wait for the delivery of some 2,000 devices that have been ordered.

The superintendent also said in the video message that district administrators are continuing to work to accommodate teachers who have requested changes to their teaching assignments because of health conditions that put them at particular risk should they contract covid-19.

The district on Wednesday released what has become a daily report on virus cases. For the 24-hour period between 3 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Wednesday, one student at Southwest High tested positive for the coronavirus. Five students and five employees were quarantined because of exposure to someone who had the respiratory virus.

The students are at the Hall, Henderson, Parkview and Romine schools. The staff members are at the Dodd, Mabelvale Elementary, Roberts and Western Hills schools and in the district’s maintenance department.

Little Rock School District Superintendent Mike Poore talks to reporters in this file photo.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)

Teresa Knapp Gordon

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