On his 100th daily COVID-19 briefing Thursday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state is pushing back the start date for the 2020-2021 school year.

Hutchinson said that after consulting with Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key, the decision was made to move the start date forward from Aug. 13 to start no sooner than Aug. 24 and no later than Aug. 26.

“The reason for this … is to give the school districts more time in order to make the adjustments necessary to make sure their campus is ready, to make sure the teachers are prepared for the blended learning environment that we’re going to be able to go through this year,” the governor said.

Key said that while many school districts would be ready to go Aug. 13, feedback from administrators, educators, parents and legislators “has indicated urgent but reasonable concerns about the readiness of some districts to return to instruction on that date.”

“It is vital that when school starts, all districts are ready to meet the needs of all students,” Key said. “This modification of the start date is responsive to those concerns, and will allow districts more time for collaborative conversations, planning and preparation.”

The governor said the state is “fully committed to school, fully committed to on-site instruction.”

“We are going to be having school next year,” Hutchinson, adding it would be “flexible, practical, adaptable, inclusive and accessible.”

The announcement came on the same day the governor announced the state’s second-highest day of new cases with 806 people testing positive for the virus since Wednesday. Of the new cases, 51 were from Faulkner County. Arkansas Department of Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said Conway is in the top 10 cities per capita of positive cases.

The state also saw a jump in coronavirus-related hospitalizations to nearly 400. Since Wednesday, 36 more Arkansans have been hospitalized with COVID-19 for a total of 394.

Four more Arkansans have died with the virus since Wednesday, bringing the state’s death toll to 309.

The governor said the overall positivity rate in the state was 7.2 percent as of Thursday, which is below the 10 percent threshold set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but not as low as the 5 percent rate the governor has aimed for. He once again urged Arkansans to do their part to meet that goal.

“We want to get that down, and the only way you do that is control the spread. Wear your protective mask so you don’t contribute to it,” he said.

Jeanette Anderton can be reached at janderton@thecabin.net

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