Providing our students with the best chance at success, especially amid these challenging circumstances, is of the utmost importance.
As we head into the fall, parents and educators want assurances that schools can safely reopen as children return to onsite learning. We know that even with the significant efforts of parents and teachers, many students were unable to keep up with distanced learning and were left behind, which is not an option for the 2020-21 school year.
That is why this week I introduced the Helping Educators with Learning Preparation, or HELP, Act.
This legislation would assist elementary, middle, and high school students to safely and successfully transition to distance learning or socially distanced, in-classroom instruction by creating a grant program to provide state and local school entities with the resources that they need going into the fall.
I am grateful for the assistance of local educators and parents including those from Guy-Perkins School District, Jacksonville North Pulaski School District, the Arkansas State Teachers Association, and the Arkansas PTA in crafting a bill that would have a meaningful impact on our students this coming school year.
Read more about this important legislation below, in my op-ed which was featured in the Log Cabin Democrat.
Returning to School This Fall:
As a parent myself, I understand the importance of keeping our children safe –at home, in child care, and at school. I also know the critical importance of giving our children an education that is consistent and effective. As we soon will head into a new school year, many parents have questions about what schools will do to help keep our children, educators, and administrators healthy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help answer some of those questions, I held a Facebook Live session with Dr. Joe Fisher, Superintendent of Guy-Perkins School District in Faulkner County, and Dr. Bryan Duffie, Superintendent of Jacksonville North Pulaski School District who provided the most current information about what schools in their districts will look like this fall.
To watch our entire discussion, click HERE or on the image below.
Here are some of the questions that were answered during the call:
Has there been an increase in children not having access to proper nutrition since schools have closed due to COVID-19?
Many local governments and communities have stepped up to provide for students while schools are closed.
Through the CARES Act which I supported in March, families of school-aged children who qualify for free or reduced-price meals received special assistance through the Pandemic Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the form of a one-time amount of $319 per child to help cover the costs of food normally received in school. Also, the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) is expediting SNAP applications for those affected by COVID-19. Apply here: access.arkansas.gov.
Here are some other resources to help bridge the gap during these challenging times:
- The Arkansas Food Bank: (501) 565-8121
- Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance: (501) 399-9999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition, reach out to your local school district for their plan to get free breakfast and/or lunches to students. As well, Women, Infants, & Children (WIC) assistance for moms with children is available, and more information can be found HERE.
Has there been an increase in children being exposed to abusive situations?
Sadly, it is very likely. With schools and most summer camps canceled, it is easier for abuse to go undetected, and with social distancing, many children are now in unsafe homes, lacking access to adults who can help.
You can do something. Report suspected child maltreatment at 1 (844) SAVE-A-CHILD (728-3224) or 1-800-482-5964. Lines are open 24 hours per day, seven days per week. You also may visit the Administrative Office of the Courts HERE.
What are the signs of child abuse?
The Mayo Clinic lists these red flags for child abuse or maltreatment:
- Withdrawal from friends or usual activities
- Changes in behavior such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity.
- Depression, anxiety or unusual fears, or a sudden loss of self-confidence
- Attempts at running away
- Rebellious or defiant behavior
- Self-harm or attempts at suicide
- An apparent lack of supervision
- Changes in school performance
- Frequent absences from school
- Reluctance to leave school activities, as if he or she doesn't want to go home
What if I suspect mental health issues including the threat of suicide – in children or adults?
Mental Health & Addiction Services Support Line at 1 (844) 763-0198 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255 are available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, to anyone who may need help.
How will missed instruction time and loss of learning in the spring compounded with summer break be addressed?
Dr. Fisher said that they are calling this the “COVID gap” and the “summer gap”. When you put those two gaps together you have a larger than normal challenge and loss of instruction. What his district is doing to meet this challenge is asking teachers to plan the first quarter of the school year with more assessments than usual to determine where students are because it is especially important to have a baseline of what knowledge has been retained over this period of time. The second thing is to re-cover lessons from the previous semester that will be especially important in future classes for students. A lot of review and ensuring that students are prepared looking forward will be essential as students return to a new school year.
Will parents have the option of keeping their kids home from school if they choose?
Dr. Brian Duffie, the Superintendent of Jacksonville North Pulaski School District, and Dr. Joe Fisher, Superintendent of Guy-Perkins School District confirmed that for their districts, that is an option, and that it will be for most districts across the state. Jacksonville North Pulaski School District and Guy-Perkins School District are offering multiple options which include a virtual school option for parents and students who would prefer to continue distance learning.
Each school district will have a slightly different plan, so be sure to contact your school district’s administrators if you need more information.
Will masks be required in classrooms, in school busses, in the cafeteria and other public spaces for both students and teachers?
Earlier this week, Little Rock School District announced that masks will be required for students and teachers.
Dr. Joe Fisher says that this is still something that his school district needs more clarity on. Currently, the guideline says “recommended” and they are following the recommendation. On the bus, students will be seated by family groups and be required to wear a mask on the bus because they think it is important in that close community for them to wear masks. Those masks will be provided if students do not have one already. He went on to say that once students arrive at school, they will undergo health checks as they come in the door. Past that point, students ten and below may remove their masks when they are not in high-population areas such as cafeterias and restrooms those students who are able and healthy enough to do it will be encouraged to mask up so they can go into those places. Classrooms will be set up in such a way that students can be socially distanced. Outdoor spaces and activities such as recess and PE that lend themselves to not wearing a mask because appropriate social distancing can be achieved will be taken into account.
Dr. Bryan Duffie said that part II of their plan will be coming out soon. While on buses, students will be required to wear face masks. When physical distancing can happen, and students need a break from the masks, as long as it is appropriate and safe, that will be okay in the current guidelines.
If you are not sure of your school district’s plan, please contact your school administrators for more information.
Resources for Parents and Educators During Summer Weeks:
As parents and students are preparing for the new school year, Arkansas PBS is providing parents with positive and creative material to help fill their kids last summer days.
Camp AR PBS provides resources on air and online for students of all ages. Free printables are located on their website HERE, including a Summer Fun Checklist and a Summer Activity Book.
Parents can sign up for the Camp AR PBS newsletter HERE to receive ideas on how to complete their Summer Fun Checklist. Parents also can download the Engage Arkansas PBS app to better stay connected.
Starting Monday, July 24 at 10 a.m., kids can watch an original Arkansas PBS series “Blueberry’s Clubhouse.”
The series allows kids to join “a fun-loving puppet guide to engaging and insightful activities for students out of school for the summer months on adventures across The Natural State.”
For more information about “Blueberry’s Clubhouse” click HERE.
Department of Health School Hotline:
To effectively address concerns related to school closures and student-related concerns of potential positive COVID-19 cases, the Arkansas Department of Health has designated a hotline for school personnel to utilize to report concerns.
School Personnel Designated COVID-19 Hotline: 1-833-504-0155
Additionally, Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) has designated a hotline number to address concerns related to the presumptive positive case of COVID-19 at ACH.
Arkansas Children’s Hospital Hotline: 1-800-743-3616
For all other concerns, individuals should use the main COVID-19 Hotline number at the Arkansas Department of Health.
MAIN COVID-19 Hotline: 1-800-803-7847
Resources for Parents and Educators:
- The Smithsonian offers free, high-quality educational tools to keep students entertained and engaged. Access HERE.
- The Library of Congress provides resources to assist teachers in future lesson planning and provides families with free-books, author talks and more. Access HERE.
- The National Gallery of Art gives families ways to engage with the Gallery's features online. Access HERE.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee has also released a guide with helpful STEM options to keep students engaged. Access HERE.
- The Space Foundation’s team of educators has created a new webinar series now available for free online to help teachers and parents keep students engaged in learning while at home. It covers information like how to use Zoom, write grants, create a scale Play-Doh solar system, map with LIDAR, the basics of telescopes, and making space-themed crafts. Access HERE.
- The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has created a comprehensive list of educational applications and platforms to help parents, teachers, and schools. Access HERE.
For Students with Learning Challenges:
- The Barbara Bush Foundation for Literacy Educational Toolkit for At-Home Learning offers free online resources that can help children continue to build critical literacy skills while schools are closed. Access HERE.
If your child has learning challenges or special needs, learning from home can be even more difficult. The Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities has a wealth of resources focused on making online learning more accessible, engaging, and effective for students with disabilities that can be found HERE.
Free Access to Internet:
Both Comcast and Spectrum are offering free internet for sixty days so that students can use online resources to continue learning during the ongoing pandemic. Find out more information on Comcast HERE
, and find more information on Spectrum HERE
Read With Your Children:
If you are able, experts recommend keeping your children active, sticking to a routine, and reading with your children daily.
The U.S. Department of Education’s "Talk, Read, and Sing Together Every Day!" tip sheets provide families, caregivers and early educators with research-based tips for talking, reading, and singing with young children every day. Access those tip sheets HERE.
As families, communities, and as Americans, we will get through this together.