Start of Ark. school year pushed back due to COVID-19 worries

Start of Ark. school year pushed back due to COVID-19 worries
Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday announced that the start of the 2020-21 school year will be Aug. 24 around the state. (Source: KARK-TV)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT) - The start of the 2020-21 school year in Arkansas is now moved back to Aug. 24, to no later than Aug. 26.

Gov. Hutchinson said the change in date, with schools scheduled to start Aug. 13, was to give school districts an opportunity to get more prepared on the issue.

Jonesboro Public School District reacted to the announcement Thursday, with officials saying they were caught off guard.

Director of Curriculum for Jonesboro Public Schools Misty Doyle said while they wish this had been a local decision and not a state decision, the district is ready to make adjustments quickly.

“We will be ready no matter when school starts, we’ve been planning, meeting with our school principals, meeting with district leadership, about to meet with teachers soon. So we’ve been really planning and we’re going to be ready,” said Doyle.

Doyle said she understands any parent frustration that comes with this announcement as well.

Doyle has a son in elementary school, and she said he was looking forward to going back to school to learn and spend time with friends.

“I’m already thinking about childcare during that time and trying to adjust our childcare during that time, and I’m disappointed, I wanted him to start back on the 13th,” said Doyle.

Doyle said the district hopes to work out a new plan for the board to vote on and approve by next week.

Education Secretary Johnny Key said state education officials will work with local districts on the issue, including health and safety in dealing with COVID-19.

Key said the state will not change the contract days for school teachers and will work with districts on making sure there is a full school year. Key said state officials have not considered whether or not to close schools between Thanksgiving and the beginning of 2021, while the school year is expected to end in late May-early June 2021, depending on the district’s calendar.

Gov. Hutchinson also said work will be done to be flexible with districts, especially when it comes to social distancing concerns and dealing with masks and busing students to school.

Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said physical distancing is key, plus officials want to protect the teacher to avoid getting sick and to avoid spreading COVID-19 in the community.

Dr. Smith said masks and physical distancing are helpful in avoiding the spread.

Gov. Hutchinson said districts will be coordinating with the Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas Department of Health on ways to avoid spreading COVID-19.

Asked about sports, Gov. Hutchinson said he is hopeful that athletes will be able to play and that schools must follow the model from ADH, the Department of Education, plus use the flexibility for local districts.

Gov. Hutchinson also reported 806 new COVID-19 cases in the state, with 26,052 cumulative cases.

Officials said 394 people are currently hospitalized, up 36 from Wednesday.

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