NEA’s largest school district sets sights on August return; COVID-19 rises in region

by George Jared ([email protected]) 383 views 

The Jonesboro School District, the largest in Northeast Arkansas, has tentatively decided to open its doors to students starting Aug. 13, according to a release from the school. The announcement comes even as the number of those infected with COVID-19 continues to rise in the region and the number of deaths ticks upward.

St. Francis County still had the most cases in the region with 778 and two deaths. Crittenden County is next with 537 cases and nine deaths. Craighead County has at least 363 cases with two deaths, while Lawrence County has 91 cases and nine deaths. Sharp County has 50 cases and three deaths, while Mississippi County has 96 cases and two deaths.

Nearly all reported deaths in the region have been tied to nursing homes. Even as the virus appears to be spreading, school administrators are formulating plans for students to return to the classroom in the fall.

The Jonesboro School District is the largest district in Northeast Arkansas and one of the largest in the state. Founded in 1899, the district has more than 6,600 students. The district is landlocked, but that’s not stunting its growth. The district is projected to grow by 18% (1,159 students) during the next 10 years.

There will be several provisions that students will have to adhere too when the district reopens. Students and adults will complete a daily screening before entering. Other changes include:

  • If a student comes to school sick with a temperature over the ADH guidance, they will be sent home.
  • Strongly recommending students age 10 and up, as well as adults, wear face coverings when physical distancing cannot be achieved, particularly on school buses.
  • The district will provide one mask for every student.
  • Social distancing guidelines will be observed as much as feasibly possible. Classrooms and cafeteria spaces will be redesigned to increase the space between students.
  • Classrooms will be sanitized before a new group of students enter a space.
  • Elementary students will continue to have outdoor playtime with limits on the number of students they come in contact with. Playground equipment will be sanitized between groups of students.

If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, the district will follow guidance from the ADH. “This could result in a brief closure of a single school within the district to provide time for additional cleaning and sanitation,” the release said.

The district is surveying parents to determine interest in a digital option for students not wishing to return to a traditional classroom. Parents and students will be required to commit to the Virtual Education option no later than July 17.

Students who commit to full-time virtual learning will not be able to participate in any on-campus or extra-curricular activities.

Depending on guidance from ADH, arrival and dismissal times may be varied in order to increase social distancing and to decrease the number of students in the cafeteria and gym before school starts.