State Council Approves School District Online Education

The Arkansas Board of Education voted Thursday to allow around 100 school systems to start the school year Monday with a temporary online and distance education plan for families who don’t want their students in a traditional classroom.

School systems – Bryant, Fayetteville, Hot Springs and Jonesboro, among them – have until September 1 to submit a full plan for state board approval or immediately lose their ability to offer the distance learning plan .

The affected districts, which include Alma, Beebe, Lakeside in Chicot County and Marvell-Elaine, are the ones that accepted the state’s offer last month of a second chance to deliver a digital instructional program outside campus to their students.

The board’s decision on Thursday means that a large majority of the state’s approximately 260 school districts and charter school systems have made arrangements of various kinds to provide public distance education for students.

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The Arkansas Elementary and Secondary Education Division first invited traditional districts and charter schools last January to submit digital learning plans by May 1 for their students who wanted a program. online teaching for the coming year.

More than 150 school systems have responded and many have been batch approved by the state’s Board of Education over the summer – some as recently as the Board of Education meeting on Thursday.

The state division announced on July 24 that it is opening the possibility for districts to propose digital learning plans – and associated waivers to certain state laws and rules – for state review and approval. of the State Board of Education.

The second chance to take distance education programs came as the daily number of new cases of covid-19 in the state reached thousands.

While adults and children 12 and older are eligible to receive covid-19 vaccinations, vaccinations are not approved for children under 12. Vaccinations are not absolute insurance against disease either.

DEMAND IS INCREASING

Education Secretary Johnny Key told the Education Council on Thursday that many school systems did not initially intend to offer distance education, believing in-person instruction to be the best for students and that the number of covid-19 cases was decreasing.

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“As cases started to increase, parents started to demand digital learning options,” Key said, adding, “Districts are happy to have a second chance at what has been an untenable situation in many communities. ” The districts in the second round of applications can only obtain exemptions from state rules and laws regarding the compulsory presence of students on campus, the minimum number of clock hours required for each course and recess time. required for elementary school students, agency lawyer Mary Claire Hyatt said.

The districts in the first round were able to obtain these waivers as well as waivers on class size and teacher workload.

In response to questions from members of the Education Council, Deputy Education Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer pointed out that students will be enrolled full-time in digital academies for a grading period of nine weeks, one semester or one. full school year, according to district requirements.

This contrasts with students in school who may have to pivot or switch to distance learning for a few days due to cases of covid or exposure to cases of covid in their schools. Up to 10 of these days missed by schools or districts can be classified as alternative methods of instructional days and will not have to be made up at the end of the school year.

PIN BLUFF, BAUXITE, CABOT

Also on Thursday, the Board of Education gave final approval to the Friendship Aspire Academy – the Pine Bluff Charter School’s plans to open a new Kindergarten to Grade 3 campus on Main Street and expand the enrollment ceiling for the two campuses from 480 to 880.

The new campus, 700 S. Main St., will allow the existing Friendship Aspire-Pine Bluff campus for K-5 classes at 3911 S. Hazel St. to maintain small class sizes, according to the amendment request. of the charter.

Phong Tran, superintendent of the Friendship Academy system which has schools in Little Rock as well as Pine Bluff, has said in the past that the new downtown campus will provide employees of the Saracen Casino and Resort with convenient access to an elementary school. for their children.

The board also gave final approval to the Bauxite School District’s plans to increase the enrollment cap in its Miner Academy conversion charter school from 250 to 300 and add Kindergarten to Grade 5 to the charter that no. ‘was previously intended only for high school students.

The Cabot School District’s proposal to offer distance education online for grades 7 to 12 students under the umbrella of its Cabot Center of Excellence charter school has received approval from the Board of Education. A change in the enrollment cap from 500 to 2,500 was also approved.


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