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Little Rock middle school moves to virtual classes after 42 students exposed to COVID-19

Dunbar Middle School will move to virtual classes after a total of nine staff members and 42 students were found to need to quarantine after exposure to COVID-19.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Dunbar Middle School will move to full virtual classes after a total of nine staff members and 42 students were found to need to quarantine after exposure to a staff member who tested positive for coronavirus.

The school in Little Rock was closed Tuesday, Sept. 8, after Principal Eunice Thrasher sent a letter out to parents stating that a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.

The number of people forced into quarantine is the most of any school in the district and officials say in-class instruction will not resume until at least Sept. 21. Parents with students abruptly shifted to virtual classes could pick up computers at the school Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m.

The sudden pivot came because the one positive case was detected late on Monday. With no time to sufficient trace contacts, the district canceled in-school activities before the Tuesday afternoon announcement of the additional quarantined numbers.

For parents, the quick shift underscores the need for flexibility every day during the pandemic.

"Our message all along has been flexibility, for schools, for parents, and for students," said Kimberly Mundell, spokesperson for the Arkansas Dept. of Education. She stressed parents statewide need to be prepared for the possibility of a snow day everyday just like they cautiously followed hurricane forecasts two weeks ago.

"Tropical storm Laura that came through here just a couple weeks ago was the primary reason or cause for some of the districts to do some pivoting," Mundell said.

Parents and students in the Cedar Ridge School District also spent Tuesday adjusting to a sudden move online after a substitute teacher shortage brought on by several full-time teachers forced into quarantine in the northwest Arkansas district.

And Jacksonville North Pulaski district announced 21 students from the high school would need to join dozens of others in quarantine, though that school remains open.

The different approaches are signs of why the state says it can't lay down hard and fast rules over when and how a district should close buildings and go online.

"There's just a lot of different variables that we can't issue one set of guidelines, but we have to take each case, case-by-case, and work with districts and also the department of health," said Mundell.

Students and staff who are in need of being quarantined are in the process of being contacted in both Jacksonville and Little Rock. LRSD says they are cleaning and disinfecting the Dunbar campus Tuesday. The security and access system vendor also took advantage of the closed building to perform upgrades.

More important information:

Parents of in-person learners who need a device may check out one from the school at the following times:

• Tuesday (today), September 8th, 5-7 p.m.

• Wednesday, September 9th, 12-2 p.m.

Parents are requested to use the driveway near the east entrance to the building, remain in their car, and a staff person will come out to meet them. Parents will need their student’s ID number in order to check out a device. 

If the times are not convenient, please email Randy.Rutherford@lrsd.org to make arrangements. 

In-person students have already been completing assignments in Schoology and that will continue during virtual instruction.

Dunbar’s certified staff will work from home to provide virtual learning for all students.

We will update this article with more information as it becomes available.