Hope School Board Addresses Back to School in COVID-19 Era

HOPE – The Hope Public Schools Board addressed two matters Monday night which represent the face of the academic year opening Aug. 24 in the era of COVID-19.

The board unanimously appointed Bobcat Clinic Director Gretchen Carlton as the district Point of Contact for COVID-19 response to instances of cases which may develop among students, faculty, or staff in the coming year.

Carlton will be the district’s liaison with the Arkansas Department of Health for maintenance of ADH guidance communication, maintenance of case information, implementation of notification of parents, and monitoring of timelines for acceptable returns of COVID-19 cases in consultation with ADH.

“This person is going to be on call 24/7 to answer questions,” HPS Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hart explained. “I think it is important enough to warrant compensation.”

Dr. Hart recommended a $2,000 stipend for the position, which the board approved. He said the stipend will be paid from federal CARES Act funding.

The board also unanimously adopted a final version of “Hope United Plan for Education”, the district’s plan for conducting school beginning Aug. 24.

Hart said modifications to the plan reflect current guidance by the ADH/CDC and Arkansas Department of Education regarding public education in the era of COVID-19.

He said teachers on all campuses have adapted to the changes admirably, and the HPS Technology Department has kept some 200 teachers equipped and informed throughout the summer.

“We would like to pass along our good wishes to all our students and teachers for the first day of school and wish them good luck,” Board President Linda Haynes offered. 

Zone 8 Representative David “Bubba” Powers asked whether schools had been given any “tipping point” guidance regarding continued operations.

“I’m very proud how our administration, teachers, staff and everyone has gotten on board,” Powers said. “Not a single teacher has ever dreamed they signed up for something like this.”

Hart said the question remains unresolved.

“The question has been put to the Governor’s Office and (ADE) Commissioner (Johnny) Key a number of times,” he explained. “We have not been afforded an answer.”

Hart said the appointment of Carlton as Point of Contact with ADH is intended to produce data upon which the district and ADH can make determinations collaboratively based upon “positivity rates”, or the number of active cases proportionate to the population, within the district.

“It’s a little misleading because there are some cases that are countywide,” Hart said. “I wish there was a magic number.”

He said the Bobcat Clinic will remain available to conduct testing for COVID-19, but a 3-5 day return period is typical.

“I think the circumstances after school starts on Aug. 24 will show we are better prepared than most,” Hart said. “If everybody does their job, we will be okay.”

Building safety
Zone 6 Representative Kathryn Dickinson asked whether additional custodial staff will be required to maintain building safety.

“I appreciate all of you working so hard to get a plan in place, and the teachers working so hard,” Dickinson said. “But, will you need more staff to do the deep-cleaning and disinfecting?”

HPS Facilities/Transportation Director Maurice Henry said the district’s custodial contractor, ABM, has said it can handle the load, but the availability of CARES Act funds will allow the district to make temporary hires if needed.

Virtual academy
He said some 1,027 students districtwide, approximately 46 percent of the student enrollment, has elected to begin the school year via the Hope from Home Virtual Academy. Hart said the virtual component and the on-campus curriculum will be the same based upon the Lincoln Learning software application.

“I do believe because of the number of students enrolled in the virtual academy that safety will not be a problem,” he said.

Hart said the ADE has given high school senior students the option to attend only the classes they need to qualify for graduation, whether online or on campus, and Hope High School has elected to participate.

He said state funding will not be affected; but, Hart encouraged HHS seniors to take a full schedule of classes for college applications.

Student transportation
Zone 3 Representative Margaret Moss asked how the district will handle student transportation.

“It’s safe to assume about half of our students won’t be on a bus,” Hart said.

Henry explained the impact of “social distancing” upon bus usage will be reduced.

“We are hoping with 1,000 students going virtual that will help us with our social distancing on buses,” he said. “I feel comfortable with the numbers we have.”

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