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Governor announces on campus start to school in spite of AEA concerns

Governor Asa Hutchinson confirmed that the state’s plan to open the school year with in person instruction will proceed in spite of a call by the Arkansas Education Association (AEA) to open the school year with virtual learning.
AEA President Carol Fleming told state lawmakers Monday, August 10, that it is unsafe for schools to return to in-person learning as Arkansas continues to struggle to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 
Fleming also shared a set of principles and expectations that the AEA feels must be met to keep students, educators and communities safe once conditions allow for a return to in-person learning. The AEA Return to Learn Committee created the school reopening matrix to guide any decisions about the upcoming school year. The committee is made up of educators from across the state who have used their own expertise, along with guidance from health professionals to create the guidance. 
Fleming asked state lawmakers to join the AEA’s call for education officials to make a conscientious decision to keep children, educators and communities safe by beginning the 20-21 school year with virtual only instruction. 
“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. “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.” 
President Fleming’s remarks were made to the Education Caucus of the Arkansas General Assembly. Sen. Alan Clark and Rep. Mark Lowery called the meeting to hear from stakeholders on the topic: COVID-19 School or Not?
Governor Asa Hutchinson was asked about the AEA’s call to open the school year with virtual learning only during his daily COVID press conference Monday. He stated that while he respected their opinions and concerns the state would continue forward with the plan to open the school year with in school instruction.
The opening date for the 2020-21 school year was pushed back to August 24 by the governor recently to allow schools more time to prepare for the return to classrooms. Social distancing protocols will be in place and the use of masks for most students and staff will be required when a distance of six feet can not be assured. Screenings and sanitizing will be a part of the daily routine as well.
Montgomery County schools will offer at least two options which include in school instruction and virtual learning. Limited internet availability in the county makes it difficult for many students in the county to take full advantage of virtual learning. At least one district is offering a blending learning experience in an effort to limit exposure at school.

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