Conway Public Schools has begun hosting a weekly district update for parents and students across the community to better answer questions during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, Gov. Asa Hutchinson made the call to suspend on-site instruction for school campuses across Arkansas for a two-week time period – an initial return date was set for March 30 – but then extended that to April 20 all students subject to AMI days.

During his daily coronavirus briefing on Monday, though, Hutchinson announced his decision to keep Arkansas schools closed the remainder of the year as a way to decrease the spread of COVID-19.

As of press time Thursday, the Arkansas Department of Health reported 1,119 positive coronavirus cases throughout the state with a total of 21 deaths and 288 recoveries.

While some districts are having more difficulty transitioning to online platforms, officials in Conway said they had a plan in place, anticipating the governor’s overall call.

Superintendent Greg Murry and communication specialist Heather Kendrick went Facebook Live on Wednesday to discuss the many changes Conway and its community is facing.

Murry said he’s never seen anything like this in his entire career, what’s going on across the U.S. hard to fathom.

“It’s changed the way we do business significantly,” he said.

Kendrick said the classroom has been disrupted for several weeks now but with Monday’s announcement, many were left with questions about how to proceed.

She asked Murry what was the most important thing he wanted to get across district-wide.

“First of all, that was an extremely important announcement, obviously, and now we know how to make some decisions moving forward,” he answered.

In unprecedented times, it’s difficult to figure out how to do this but Murry said that’s exactly what they’re doing.

“I think as a parent, you’re great responsibility now is to just take care of your child more than anything else,” he said, addressing listeners. “Don’t get overly concerned, don’t get overly uptight about what’s happening as far as AMI and all those things. Let’s just do the best we can and everything’s going to be just fine.”

Kendrick said the administrative team anticipated the outcome and did have a plan in place to help parents through the rest of the school year.

“Our folks at the central office level and our principals and our building leaders and our teachers have a plan in place to assist kids to stay on grade level as best they can the remainder of this school year,” Murry said.

Kendrick said one of the most addressed topics she’s seen is of the class of 2020 seniors.

“Seniors, if you’re listening, I want you to know we certainly understand the range of emotions that you’re probably feeling right now,” Murry said. “This is not the way it was supposed to end. This is not the way your academic career was supposed to be topped off. You’ve missed so much already.”

Not only did the district have to cancel prom, but Murry also announced on Wednesday that Conway was having to postpone the May 7 graduation ceremony as well.

“We want to have a face-to-face graduation with you but we certainly can’t do that until the governor has lifted his ban on meetings of any significant size but we want [seniors] to know we’re thinking about you in particular,” he said.

There are many hard questions being asked, Kendrick said, and one of Conway’s first priorities is creating a better platform where those can be asked.

Murry thanked everyone for exercising patience at this time and said for everyone to continue as best they can.

“There’s no way at all that a parent can do the work of a teacher,” the superintendent added. “We’re going to make up for that next year as soon as we come back and give you a good plan to make sure your students continue to learn and stay on track for a successful career.”

To tune in to the new weekly update, visit the Conway Public Schools Facebook page every Wednesday.

Staff writer Hilary Andrews can be reached at handrews@thecabin.net

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