During a press conference today, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced changes to directives that have been in place. In summary, the directives that have been in place with the exception of the mask mandate are now guidance and are to be used as guidelines in planning events such as prom, graduation, etc.
The Department of Education strongly encourages schools to continue to follow the guidelines provided by the Department of Health, not only for everyday operations, but also for academic and extracurricular activities. We want to emphasize that adherence to the guidance has allowed Arkansas schools to operate onsite safely all year with minimal disruption for school-wide or district-wide modifications to onsite instruction. While districts have discretion and flexibility in determining how to follow the guidelines, there are important considerations and risks when hosting school events or activities that do not require social distancing and capacity limitations. It is important to note that the requirements for identifying close contacts to confirmed cases and requirements for quarantine have not changed.
In planning events and activities for the remainder of the school year, districts should engage their Ready for Learning committees in helping to make important decisions as to how events could be hosted safely, while still providing students with experiences that make school meaningful. All Arkansas Activities Association sanctioned events and activities will continue to follow all previous Department of Health directives. The Division of Career and Technical Education will continue to follow all ADH guidelines when sponsoring or hosting any events that involve student organizations.
Today’s changes do not affect school district’s Ready for Learning plans, which were developed to prioritize onsite learning, student and staff safety, and flexibility to respond to local situations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These plans were based on guidance from the Arkansas Department of Health, and the guidance still remains in effect. As of today (February 26), data show that 80.5 percent of students are learning onsite (either full time or part time), and the percent of students learning virtually continues to decrease. This can be attributed to parents recognizing the importance of in-person learning and is evidence of the confidence that parents have in districts’ abilities to mitigate the spread of the virus.
We anticipate that school will look the same on Monday as it does today, and as we approach the final quarter of the school year, we hope that districts can continue to find creative ways to host important end-of-school events.