Gov. Asa Hutchinson plans to reveal Monday (April 6) how he will adjust his April 17 deadline to reopen Arkansas schools that have been physically closed since the outbreak of the coronavirus in state.
The governor originally closed schools on March 15 for two weeks due to the outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Arkansas. He extended that closure deadline to April 17 nearly a week later. The governor and education officials said there would be off-site instruction during this time and that the issue would be re-evaluated at a later date.
In an exclusive interview with Talk Business & Politics on Friday (April 3), Hutchinson said he plans to speak to the timetable on school closures this coming Monday.
“I talked to Secretary Key today and we talked about the schools. We intend to make an announcement on Monday as to what’s ahead. He wants to put some plans together as to exactly how we address that in our schools,” said Hutchinson. “Obviously, we’re not going to reopen the schools when you’re continuing to go up in your cases, but we also want to make sure that we have all of our facts together before we make a formal decision next Monday.”
Arkansas has seen its COVID-19 cases grow in the last three weeks from its first case to 738 cases as of Friday evening.
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump recommended that states continue federal social distancing guidelines until April 30, after he initially expressed hope to return to normal routines by Easter Sunday, April 12.
Those social distancing guidelines include avoiding social gatherings of 10 or more people, staying away from public spaces including restaurants and bars, limiting travel, and staying home for work, if possible.
Hutchinson’s most likely options for schools are to set another deadline to reopen before the school year ends, to continue off-site instruction until the end of the school year, or to end the school year early.
In the Talk Business & Politics interview, Hutchinson also revealed that Arkansas did get approval for its federal disaster declaration for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the state.
“We received word from the federal government that we have been declared a major disaster area, which will open up the doors for federal assistance in Arkansas. That was a response to my request and our federal delegation,” he said.
Hutchinson’s interview will air Sunday morning on Talk Business & Politics, which airs on KATV (9:30 a.m.), KAIT-NBC (10 a.m.), and KFSM (10:30 a.m.). In the interview, Hutchinson discusses the state’s early planning stages of the coronavirus in Arkansas, defends his position to not declare a shelter-in-place order, and offers thoughts on the upcoming fiscal session that starts next week.