Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced students and staff would not be returning to public schools on the original April 17 date during his daily COVID-19 briefing on Monday.

Instead, districts will continue to be closed for on-site instruction for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, adhering to the use of AMI (Alternative Methods of Instruction) days to finish out the year.

Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key said Arkansas AMI, a partnership with PBS to create at-home learning for students, will continue to provide AMI content and lessons – originally planned through the original April date.

“We have the capacity to extend that for another two weeks through May 1,” Key said. “That gives school districts – gives them two or three weeks from now – to develop plans to move forward with their AMI in their district.”

He said many of Arkansas’ districts have indicated they have the ability to continue AMI delivery through the rest of the school year but those that need additional support will get it.

Key said the ADE has several upcoming expectations for districts:

1. Be flexible

“Our schools and educators should set reasonable expectations for time-on-task when developing their AMI plans,” Key said. “It is impractical to try and replicate the school experience when children are at home. We need to help parents and students by establishing flexible schedules for learning.

2. Seniors will graduate

“We have previously issued guidance that seniors in good standing as of the third nine weeks will be considered to have met the state requirements for graduation,” Key said. “This does not mean that seniors are done for the year. Local requirements are still in effect and we still expect seniors to continue their work, especially in regards to AP courses [and others].”

Key said in regards to graduation ceremonies, all will be subject to the health department’s guidance on social gatherings. He said he knows there are some districts that are wanting to plan something maybe virtual or on-site when restrictions are loosened but at this point, it’s “very much up in the air.”

3. Focus is on core content

They expect the focus to be on core content – math, literacy, social studies and science – and for teachers to coordinate with each other for the use of the other subjects – physical education, art and music – to create fun, learning activities for students.

He said ADE urges caution in introducing new content to students.

“We suggest focusing on essential standards that had been taught up to the point of the school closure reviewing existing student data to determine where students need support and emphasizing mastery of that content,” Key added.

4. Expect districts to provide clear guidance and expectations for educators

“I’ll stop where I started and that’s encouraging districts to be flexible,” Key said. “Understand that the additional stresses for families created by this current health emergency will impact our students. This is a time for more emphasis on support and learning and less emphasis on compliance.”

He said what’s going on now will have a ripple effect into the 2020-21 school year and officials are currently working to determine what that might actually look like.

At press time Monday, Arkansas’ COVID-19 positive cases had risen to 875. In total, 16 people had died from the virus, at least 102 people had recovered and more than 12,800 tests had been performed.

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

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