Students returning to Faulkner County schools on Aug. 24 will be entering a learning environment considerably different than the one they left in the spring. Gov. Asa Hutchinson closed schools in the state on March 16 due to the coronavirus pandemic. While schools and students scrambled to finish their school years virtually, plans began for potentially significant changes when students returned to class in the fall.
To help schools and teachers plan for the changes to the learning environment, the governor delayed the start of school in the state by two weeks, to Aug. 24, on July 9. And despite concerns surrounding rising case numbers in Arkansas and potential outbreaks of COVID-19 due to the physical proximity of a school environment, the state has moved forward with plans to reopen schools for learning. However, to protect students and staff, school districts across the state and in Faulkner County are putting significant policies and procedures in place for the Fall 2020 semester, and potentially beyond.
Conway Public Schools
Conway Public Schools began implementing their Fall semester plans on June 10 in a message sent to parents in the district. Through three different announcements, the district laid out the plans for their 16 schools, including requiring face masks for students from the fifth through twelfth grades, decreased capacity and social distancing on buses and in classrooms and enhanced cleaning procedures.
While only students from grades 5-12 are required to wear face masks, students in grades K-4 are highly recommended to wear them as well. Additionally, the district will require all staff to wear face masks, regularly disinfect and sanitize frequently touched surfaces and use electrostatic fogging machines, more commonly known as “foggers,” to sanitize school buildings on a nightly basis.
For students and families uncomfortable or unable to enter into the school environment, the district has also offered a virtual learning option which was sent to parents last month. The virtual option will be student-paced with teachers monitoring progress on a regular basis. Additionally, all course offerings will be the same for both on-site and virtual options and students in the virtual option will be issued a Chromebook and internet connectivity if needed.
Conway Christian School
Conway Christian has also issued a robust reopening plan with similar guidelines as Conway Public Schools. Students will go through a temperature check every morning and be seated socially distanced from each other in classrooms. Additionally, teachers will maintain charts of seating arrangements to help in contact tracing should any positive cases of coronavirus occur.
Students from the 7th-12th grades will be required to wear facemasks as will all faculty, staff and visitors. Students K-6th grades will be asked to wear face masks when social distancing isn’t possible in the classroom, during activities and while in hallways.
Unlike Conway Public Schools, Conway Christian will not offer a virtual learning option. However, the school is prepared to pivot to a virtual learning environment if necessary. The school has streamlined their potential virtual learning environment to be more personalized this year.
Greenbrier Public Schools
In a letter to parents on July 16, Greenbrier Public Schools Superintendent Scott Spainhour laid out his district’s reopening plans. Students from grades 4-12 will be required to wear face masks, as will staff members, who will be provided three facemasks by the district. Younger children will not be required to wear masks.
School lunch schedules will be adjusted and expanded to accommodate social distancing in cafeterias, while parents who want to eat lunch with their children may by sitting in an outdoor seating area.
The district will work to ensure any learning gaps from the previous schoolyear are filled in students’ curriculum, while desks will be socially distanced. The district will sanitize desks and other classroom areas throughout the school day. One-way hallways will be common at district buildings, while schedules have been adjusted to prevent multiple grade levels from being hallways at the same time.
Parents will be expected to screen their children before coming into school, while visitors, who only include those who must enter the building, must answer Arkansas Department of Health screening questions before entering.
Recesses will be partitioned so students can only play with members of their homeroom. Further, playground equipment will be sanitized between recess periods. Like Conway Public Schools, Greenbrier purchased foggers to sanitize surfaces nightly.
They also will offer a virtual option, known as the Greenbrier Academy. The virtual learning option will include an entirely virtual environment, as well as a blended one in which students can attend some on campus classes. Parents who commit to the virtual option must commit for a 9-week period.
Guy-Perkins SchoolsGuy-Perkins Schools will reopen on Aug. 24 and screen students and adults daily with screening questions from the state Department of Health. Additionally, all staff and students grades 4-12 will be required to wear face masks, while younger students will not be required to wear them. Visitors to campus must wear facemasks as well, while only essential visitors will be allowed into hallways, classrooms and other district facilities.
Guy-Perkins will provide bus transportation to students, assigning seats to students by family and require facemasks while riding the bus.
Like other districts, classrooms have been prepared for social distancing, while the cafeteria has been structured to accommodate distancing with additional lunch periods.
While the on-site learning environment will also include some virtual aspects, parents will have the opportunity to enroll their children in the district’s T-Bird Virtual Academy which will require daily completion of assignments given in classrooms.
Mayflower School District
Mayflower School District, per their guidelines released on July 7, is recommending all adults and students ages 10 and up wear facemasks when social distancing cannot be achieved, while younger children will not be asked to wear them. The district will provide students a mask at the beginning of the year. On buses, children ages 10 and up must wear masks per Arkansas Department of Health guidelines.
Regular sanitation of frequently touched areas will occur throughout the day, while playground equipment will also be sanitized between recess periods. When social distancing isn’t possible students will be expected to wear facemasks. Classrooms, as in other districts, will be configured differently to accommodate distancing.
Students and adults will be screened through a virtual link every day prior to entering school facilities.
Mayflower will offer a virtual learning option known as the Eagle Virtual Academy. It will be entirely online, with attendance and work monitored by the district. Parents interested in the virtual option will have had to make their decision by August 1.
St. Joseph School
In a letter released to parents in late June, St. Joseph School Principal Diane Wolfe outlined their reopening plans which included requiring all faculty, staff and students in grades 7-12 to wear facemasks to school, a guideline which could be expanded as the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop. All students will receive a temperature check before entering school facilities and recesses and student pick-ups will be staggered to accommodate social distancing.
As with other schools, St. Joseph will socially distance classrooms and has purchased sneeze guard barriers to separate students seated at tables. The school will use additional facility space to accommodate lunches.
St. Joseph also bought foggers to use on campuses daily. Hand sanitizer and other cleaning equipment will be readily available for use throughout the day.
While St. Joseph has no plans for a virtual learning option in addition to on-site learning, they have worked to improve their virtual learning systems in case of additional school closures.
Vilonia School District
The Vilonia School District announced additional details of the district’s reopening plans on July 23, including the announcement that all students in grades K-12 will be required to wear facemasks when classes start on Aug. 24.
In a letter to parents, district Superintendent Dr. David Stephens said students are expected to provide their own facemasks, while students who refuse to wear them will be sent home. Additionally, students who lose their masks will be provided one by the school for short term use.
The mask requirement will extend to buses, Stephens said.
“Due to the bus being a confined area where physical distancing is not possible, all riders and drivers are required to wear a face mask while on the bus,” Stephens said.
In addition to the mask requirement, parents and students will notice other changes to regular district policy when classes begin in August. Lunch schedules will be adjusted to accommodate social distancing in cafeterias and water fountains will be unavailable for use. Students are encouraged to bring filled water bottles to campus in lieu of using the water fountains, Stephens said.
For parents, visitors will not be allowed into the district’s facilities and parents will be unable to walk their children into school with one exception. Parents of kindergarteners may walk their children to their classrooms on Aug. 24 only at 9 a.m. Parents will be required to wear facemasks while inside district facilities.
To sanitize the buildings, the district has bought foggers to disinfect classrooms every day.
While many students will be attending school on campus, others will be taking advantage of the district’s virtual school option, which parents must commit to in nine-week increments. Stephens said students involved in the district’s virtual option will still be able to take part in sports and other extracurricular activities, as they are still Vilonia students.
Stephens said he understands the complexity of the situation ahead for staff, parents and students.
“I realize that this is a difficult and confusing season for all of us,” Stephens said. “We at Vilonia Schools are committed to providing the greatest educational experience possible for your child, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.”
For more information on each district’s reopening plans and any potential plan changes, visit their respective websites.