School Board Reviews “New Normal”

Ken MClemore

HOPE – The embrace of the “new normal” in public education in the era of COVID-19 has been shocking but not debilitating to the Hope Public Schools, the Hope School Board learned Monday night as it continued to conduct business by virtual session.

HPS Superintendent Dr. Bobby Hart presented summary reports from each department in the district illustrating the point.

“I don’t think we could have predicted the good start to the year we had,” Dr. Hart said. “Everybody had a piece of the puzzle and they worked very hard to put it together.”

Collectively, the pivot to a bifurcated system of on-campus and online instruction has been the greatest concern and challenge, he noted.

With an enrollment of 2,295 students on Sept. 18, Hart said that breaks down into 845 online students and 1,450 on-campus students.

“My biggest concern is whether some students are going to fall through the cracks,” he said.

Hart said every department in the district has worked to prevent that from occurring.

–Every campus has produced tutorial videos which address various aspects of the online instruction platform and its usage from Frequently Asked Questions encountered through parents and students.

–Every campus has maintained COVID-19 protocols for face mask usage, social distancing, and antiseptic hygiene.

–Every campus has maintained on-site temperature screenings daily.

–Federal programs and budgeted CARES Act funding has been coordinated for best usage.

–Standardized testing planning has followed state and federal guidance to prevent disruption.

–Dolly Parton Imagination Library and Arkansas SOAR grants have been secured totaling more than $100,000 this year to continue early literacy initiatives.

–All HPS buses are treated twice daily to maintain antiseptic hygiene.

–The district has a “point of contact” liaison with the Arkansas Department of Health to initiate and follow-up with any COVID-19 case reporting and investigation.

Zone 8 Representative David “Bubba” Powers said he was impressed with the anecdotal feedback he has received.

“I haven’t heard anything negative regarding feedback,” Powers said. “I’m very appreciative that things have gone as smoothly as they have.”

That brought Zone 7 Representative Alvis Hamilton to inquire about case impact announcements, and whether the HPS should follow the practice of districts that release such information.

Hart said ADH regulations prevent public reporting of any information regarding COVID-19 where fewer than five active cases exist. He said Bobcat Clinic Director Gretchen Carlton, the district point of contact with ADH, works directly with parents of students suspected or confirmed to have been infected and with the ADH.

Hart said that is the only contact with the public which federal health law allows where students are concerned.

“There is a seating chart in every class, everywhere a student goes; we know who they sat by and who may be affected,” he said. “Rolling out numbers every time there is a positive case is not what we want to do.”

He said such practices elsewhere have only served to confuse the public.

Carlton said every suspected instance of infection/exposure is investigated directly in “contact tracing” by the ADH working with the family.

“It makes the transition smoother for them,” she said.

Hart said he understands parental concerns are real, but does not want to inflame them.

“People have trusted us to know we have done all the contact tracing,” he said. “I understand the parents’ concern; and, most that I have spoken to understand.”

Board President Linda Haynes commended HPS teachers and staff with “a big hats off.”

“They have made this a truly easy transition,” Haynes said.

In conjunction with maintaining essential information between the district and parents, the board approved the creation of a Virtual Academy Call Center Attendant position.

Hart said with over 800 online students, the district needs a central point of information for parents and students that is adjunct to the district’s technology department, and can relieve some pressure on teachers.

“Our teachers are sometimes inundated with phone calls at inappropriate times,” he said.

The position will be funded through CARES Act monies, and the individual employed will work in the technology offices at the HPS Administration Building.
The board also approved a COVID-19 leave policy for both classified and certified personnel recommended by the Arkansas School Boards Association which follows both state and federal requirements and is funded both by state and federal monies.

In other matters Monday, the board:

–Approved a request from the Hope Wildcat Youth Football League to play its game schedule at Hammons Stadium.

–Approved an annual resolution regarding Act 1120 salary modifications districtwide.

–Approved an annual minority recruitment plan.

–Approved the purchase of new band instruments for the growing instrumental music program.

–Approved Community Service Learning Partnership applications for community service programs.

–Approved personnel recommendations.

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