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How Arkansas school districts are trying to ensure safety in the fall

While hospitalizations and cases continue to rise in Arkansas, worry is starting to sink in for school administrators for when students head back in the fall.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — While hospitalizations and cases continue to rise here in our state, worry is starting to sink in for when kids head back to school.

Both administrators and doctors said they are concerned about the start of the school year, but there are steps they (and you) can take at home before that bell rings in August. 

Dr. Janice Warren, the Pulaski County Special School District Assistant Superintendent for Equity and Pupil Services, said she does have some apprehension. 

"We do have some concerns at this point, but we are going to do everything we can do to make sure our students and our staff are safe," she said. 

For Warren, most of that worry stems from Act 1002, which prohibits schools from requiring face masks.

"We're getting a little pushback because some parents think we ought to require it and they can't quite understand, well, we can't," she said.

Warren said the school is highly recommending that students and staff wear masks. 

The district will also continue doing temperature checks every morning and keep classrooms heavily sanitized. 

"We also will do the physical and social distancing if possible because we anticipate our classrooms are going to be full, and we can't spread the kids out three feet or six feet," she said. 

Dr. Joe Thompson, President and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, has closely watched the cases go from one hundred a day to one thousand a day, which raises red flags for him heading into the fall.

"Parents, teenagers, college students, they need to move from unprotected to protected before they go back to school and congregate together," he said.

For those kids who are eligible, Thompson said parents need to take action now.

"If they've not started the vaccine series, they need to start this week to have optimal protection as school resumes this fall," he said.

For those kids who can't be vaccinated, Thompson said parents should model good behavior and encourage their kids to wear masks at school at all times.

"When we have larger groups of unprotected people, that's where the virus is going to spread quickly and cause harm," he said.

PCSSD will be hosting vaccine clinics for their students at all four middle schools next week, starting Monday, July 19.

They are also allowing students, who were originally signed up to be in-person, to make the switch to virtual learning.