HOPE – Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson made it clear in his July 13 daily COVID-19 briefing the “Response Levels for On-Site Learning” plan issued by the Arkansas Department of Education for public schools is guidance he fully expects will be used after students return to school statewide in August.
Asked about a report in the New York Times which claims a Centers for Disease Control internal memo expresses the concern that public schools may become a breeding ground for COVID-19 if allowed to re-open in the fall, Hutchinson stuck to his announced decision to target re-opening of Arkansas schools by Aug. 24.
“I have not seen the report,” Hutchinson said. “In terms of the risk associated with going back to school, I think everybody is aware every time you have people congregated together you have a certain risk.”
That said, Hutchinson pointed to the ADE’s “Response Levels for On-Site Learning” plan, which can be found on the ADE website under the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, as a good safety valve.
“I think you also have a certain risk in not returning,” he said. “In many instances, the school is the safest environment they can have.”
Hutchinson said the inevitability of one or more COVID-19 cases occurring on a school campus is the point of the plan.
“Quite frankly, when we start school, it wouldn’t surprise me that we have six or seven schools with students that test positive,” he said. “It’s not a question of if it happens, but when it happens.”
Hope Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hart said the plan is another tool the HPS can use to help ensure as much normalcy in the year as possible.
“I appreciate the guidance and the levels of response that are listed,” Dr. Hart said. “It provides us with a road map for most situations, and people to contact when there are situations that may not be covered.”
He said the ADE plan is available on the HPS website at www.hpsdistrict.org online under the COVID 19 tab.
The ADE plan offers guidance based upon specific criteria.
“Schools should be prepared for COVID-19 outbreaks in their local communities and for individual exposure events to occur in their facilities,” the document states. “The Overall Level of Community spread (active cases per population) as determined by the Arkansas Department of Health will be an important factor in making response determinations.”
Schools will be required to consult with the ADH in determining which of the three levels of response will be implemented in any given circumstance, according to the document.
“The level of virus transmission within the school will also be an important consideration when determining how to respond to school outbreaks,” the ADE plan states.
The level of school spread is based upon factors, including:
–Student/staff absentees and trends.
–The number of active cases among students/staff relative to campus enrollment.
–Evidence of active transmission within the school setting versus non-campus specific cases among students/staff.
Regardless of the situation on any given campus, fundamental “best practices” such as use of face masks by students ages 10-up; social distancing of all persons on campus; practicing good hand hygiene; and frequently cleaning and disinfecting touched surfaces are stressed by the ADE and will be employed by the HPS.