The Arkansas Board of Education on Thursday approved the virtual education plans of 20 of 152 school systems that have submitted proposals and requested exemptions from certain laws and state rules to implement them.
The school districts of Springdale, Benton Town, Rogers, Fort Smith and West Memphis are among the districts that have received approval for online academies to operate in the next school year 2021-22 and for up to two years. after.
Some of the other districts that got approval Thursday for online options that will allow students to receive education in public homes at home included the districts of Bryant, Russellville, Texarkana and Jacksonville / North Pulaski.
The dozens of digital academy proposals that have been submitted to the state come after many school systems in Arkansas rushed over the current school year to offer students an option to teach online. as a way to combat the spread of the contagious and potentially fatal covid-19 virus.
States and school districts across the country are now considering whether to continue with e-learning options for the next 2021-22 school year.
New York City public schools are eliminating the option of distance education, the city’s mayor said this week.
In New Jersey, the governor announced last week that there would be no option for distance learning during the new school year.
Massachusetts, Illinois and Florida have strict limits on distance education, The New York Times reported earlier this week.
But California, along with the cities of Philadelphia and Houston, are planning to make virtual distance education an option. The Portland, Ore., School board ordered earlier this week that a virtual education option must be available in this system until there are covid-19 vaccines for children under 12 years old.
In January, the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education and the State Board of Education invited school districts to submit virtual education plans for the upcoming school year.
With that invitation came the offer of exemptions from state rules and laws that limit maximum class size to a maximum of 30 students, limit teachers’ workload to a maximum of 150 students, require 120 teaching hours per course and six-hour teaching days, set attendance requirements for students and require a minimum number of recess minutes.
Not all newly approved plans incorporate all exemptions.
Members of the state Board of Education on Thursday approved all of the proposals put forward and recommended by the heads of state education agencies, but not before asking most of the school district officials about details of their plans.
“We have to be very careful… as we get into something that we just don’t have a lot of data on,” Education Council President Charisse Dean of Little Rock said of the process. review and approval.
“There are safeguards in place,” Dean also said. “We don’t blindly venture into nature. We are [taking] sharp and directed steps ”to enable districts to serve students in new ways.
Some of the questions from board members centered on how reading would be effectively taught to virtual students in the early grades of elementary school and how many times per week virtual students would interact with their teachers or other district staff. Most virtual teaching plans include both live or synchronous teaching as well as asynchronous teaching in which a teacher records a lesson for later viewing by students.
Sarah Moore, a member of the Stuttgart Board of Education, said the state has worked so hard to improve reading instruction and reading performance in recent years, and that she wants these efforts to continue. .
“I have thought long and hard about the advisability of approving the primary grades [for virtual instruction] because it demands so much from families and schools, ”Moore said just before the board approved the Trumann School District Virtual School.
“I want to make sure that all of the districts that are here today take all grades very seriously, but especially the lower elementary grades,” Moore said, “and that the [division] monitor and follow up with these districts, especially in these lower levels. Moore also said she was reluctant to endorse any plan in which the size of a virtual elementary class exceeds state education standards for maximum class size.
“Maybe in a year or two if they are successful,” she said. “We should start more closely and relax as we go,” she said, comparing forming virtual academies to building an airplane in flight.
Stacy Smith, the state’s deputy education commissioner, said the state division has assigned degrees of risk to digital learning plans and those that include kindergarten to grade two are programs to higher risk that will benefit from increased state oversight.
Other questions from Education Council members included whether the proposals would result in a single teacher being responsible for teaching children in multiple classes.
The Westside School District in Johnson County is part of a consortium of small school systems that will rely on the Guy Fenter Education Service Cooperative to provide online education to students. The plan, at least initially, envisions a teacher for grades kindergarten to grade two and a teacher for grades three to six.
The member of the board of directors Ouida Newton de Leola opposed it.
Westside Superintendent Brad Kent and Angela Miller of the co-op said they were ready to reassign existing staff or hire additional staff when needed.
Smith, who praised education co-ops for their help in reviewing digital academy plans, said the Westside / Guy Fenter plan would be a good idea for the Education Council to recall at the start of the new school year for an online program progress report.
State council members called for assurance that distance learning plans would not cause teachers to teach students online and on-site simultaneously, which has been fairly common practice over the course of the year. school year 2020-21.
Board members asked school districts about their policies to force students who are struggling in a virtual program to return to on-site teaching. They also asked if districts provide their own curriculum or buy it from a vendor. At the high school level, several districts rely at least in part on the courses and even the teachers provided by Virtual Arkansas, a long-standing online course provider.
WAIVER OF STATE RULES
A handful of digital academies approved on Thursday have applied for and received waivers of state rules and laws for just one year. The board granted three-year waivers to the other plans, including adding two years to the one-year waiver that the state council approved earlier for the Siloam Springs School District Virtual Plan.
Tiffany Bone, deputy district superintendent of Jacksonville / North Pulaski, said the one-year plan for that district would give the new district administrative team – starting July 1 – time to assess the digital agenda and make adjustments for years to come.
Jon Collins, superintendent of the West Memphis School District, said his district had proposed a plan for just one year because he hopes all students will return to teaching on campus after the 2021-2022 school year.
Eighty-seven percent of West Memphis students started this school year as virtual students and better than a third finished this year as distance students, Collins said.
“Our intention is to use it for a year,” he said of the digital plan. “We hope to get our children back as soon as possible and we won’t need them after this.” Digital Learning Plans and accompanying waivers have been approved for: Beebe School District, Grades 7 to 12.
Bentonville School District, Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Bergman School District, grades 9 to 12.
Berryville School District, Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Bryant School District for sixth to twelfth grade.
Fort Smith School District, Kindergarten to Grade 8.
Gentry School District, grades 7 to 12.
Hamburg School District, from 7th to 12th grade.
Harrison School District, Grades 3 to 12.
Jacksonville / North Pulaski County School District, Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Jasper School District, grades 9 to 12.
Pea Ridge School District, Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Rogers School District for Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Russellville School District, Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Springdale School District, Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Texarkana School District, Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Trumann School District, Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Valley Springs School District, grades 7 to 12.
Westside Johnson County School District, Kindergarten to Grade 12.
West Memphis School District, Kindergarten to Grade 12.