Objections to opening schools with in-class instruction from Arkansas teachers of the year and the Arkansas Education Association are not moving Gov. Asa Hutchinson from his stance on the Aug. 24 opening of all public schools.
Arkansas Education Association President Carol Fleming on Monday (Aug. 10) told state lawmakers she believes it is not safe for schools to open to in-class instruction. She said schools should open the 2020-2021 school year with virtual learning only.
Fleming said the association organized a Return to Learn Committee that developed a “reopening matrix” on which to base decisions. Matrix points include requirements that decisions must be based on scientific evidence, educators must be “fully engaged” in decisions to open schools, students and teachers must have access to personal protective equipment, and all schools must have the funding to equitably respond to the virus.
“While we agree in-person education is the best thing for students, moving kids and educators in and out of school based on isolation and quarantine protocols will be too risky and too disruptive to the teaching and learning environment,” Fleming said in a statement. “Let’s work together to maximize the next two weeks to ensure that we keep students and educators safe, and prepare for a new way to deliver education and support until we can get this virus under control.”
The AEA committee report also noted that the state’s inability to obtain timely test results does not allow the state to do enough to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“Arkansas still has widespread community transmission of this deadly virus. We also know that the testing capacity and turnaround time on results has been too low and too slow to be an effective mitigation strategy. In addition, we have a positivity rate that is far too high. We have also learned that virus transmission increases in places where people are together in close proximity for prolonged amounts of time,” according to the committee report.
Randi House, a kindergarten teacher in Conway and the 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, joined 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year Stacey James McAdoo in chastising the governor for proceeding with plans to open schools with in-class instruction. McAdoo accused Gov. Hutchinson of making economic decisions rather than considering the health of students, teachers and others. In a letter, House asked the governor to “not dismiss our concerns,” and “do not ask us to sacrifice our lives.”
“I assure you that the decision to open schools in person before it is safe to do so will cost you teachers, one way or another. You have acknowledged that it is expected for some teachers to get sick. Therefore, you may lose some to Covid19. However, I also hope you acknowledge that you will also lose some to the lack of respect and regard for our lives and lives of our families that is being shown at the state level currently,” House wrote.
When asked about the AEA objection to his school opening plan, Gov. Hutchinson said his plan will be good for students.
“We’re having the opposite approach, which is, let’s start school in-classroom instruction. Let’s do everything we can to be successful, and if we have to adjust down the road in individual school districts, we will do that. It’s a difference of approach. I think the approach we are taking as a state is good for the students. We’re trying to put in all the measures necessary to give teachers confidence. … I know the schools are doing everything they can to make it a safe environment, and that’s the direction we need to continue to go,” Gov. Hutchinson said Monday during his daily COVID-19 briefing.
NEW COVID CASES
Known COVID-19 cases in Arkansas totaled 50,028 on Monday, up from 49,383 on Sunday. Of the 645 new cases, 13 were from correctional facilities. There are 7,343 active cases. The number of deaths rose from 544 to 555. The number of COVID patients hospitalized in Arkansas was 508 on Monday, down from 514 on Sunday. There are 117 patients on ventilators, up from 115 on Sunday. There are 42,139 cumulative recovered cases.
The top six counties with new community cases reported were: Pulaski (61), Sebastian (52), Garland (50), Saline (43), and Jefferson (40). The counties accounted for 39% of the 632 new community cases reported Monday.
As of Monday at 1 p.m., there were 5,063,770 U.S. cases and 163,156 deaths. Globally, there were 19,936,547 cases and 732,284 deaths.
Gov. Hutchinson said the past few days of new known COVID cases being below the trend of recent weeks is a good sign, but not where the state needs to be.
“This is not the place to flatten it out. You don’t want to flatten out at 700 cases a day or 800 cases a day. You’ve got to continue that decline. So even though we’ve had some recent success over the last week, this is still too high of new-cases-every-day type load,” he said.