LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — During his regular COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Governor Asa Hutchinson reiterated that schools will resume in-classroom education the week of August 24.
“We need to have school this year,” Hutchinson said. “Absolutely. I'm firm on that. The educators are firm on that. Public health is firm on [that]. We need to have school.”
Hutchinson spoke with school administrators on Tuesday morning and said he has heard from “hundreds and hundreds” of educators regarding the return to class.
“We’re going to use this time effectively over the next three weeks because we want everyone to be able to go back to in-classroom instruction in a safe way that best protects the students – gives them an opportunity to learn – as well as the teachers and the staff,” Hutchinson said.
Dr. Richard Abernathy, the executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators (AAEA), said the days leading up to the new school year will be “tough” for administrators.
“It’s going to be stressful,” he said.
AAEA hosted a meeting on July 30 between Arkansas school superintendents and Interim State Health Secretary Dr. Jose Romero, allowing them to ask questions and hear directly from Romero ahead of the new school year.
During that conversation, West Memphis School District Superintendent Jon Collins asked Romero: “What's the science behind the assumption that we can start school without creating a huge increase in cases?”
“You've asked a very good question,” Romero responded. “We don't have the science because we haven’t ever tried this before. The theory is that if we maintain good contact precautions – that is the masking, the social distancing, the handwashing – we may be able to go forward with in-class education."
“We think it’s possible, and I think it’s worth trying,” Romero later said about the return to in-classroom instruction.
Abernathy acknowledged the uncertainties but agreed that a return to school is necessary.
“All of us are in a difficult situation,” he said. “We do need to get people back to work. We need to get our teachers back to work safely. We need to get kids there safely.”
Schools are implementing social distancing guidelines, mask mandates, hand sanitizing stations, and staggered schedules, among other measures, to prevent outbreaks, according to Abernathy.
He said having adequate personal protective equipment on-hand is also a priority across the state.
“We learn more and more every day,” Abernathy said.
“From the time the Department of Health put out guidance to where the guidance is now has changed multiple times, and I think it’ll change again before the start of school.”
In that event, he said schools will be ready to adjust their plans.
State Education Secretary Johnny Key will address the start of school during Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing.