Fayetteville to add 5-day school week in response to state notice

Owl Creek Elementary / Courtesy photo

Fayetteville Public Schools will alter its schedule for the 2020-21 school year following news that the state won’t allow the district’s original plan to begin.

State officials earlier today said all schools in Arkansas must first offer in-person interaction five days a week if they want to also provide additional options for parents who don’t want to send their children to school at all during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Education Department issued what it called “a clarification” regarding the state’s expectations for how schools should reopen across the state on Aug. 24.

The document (read it here) states that “it is expected that all school districts offer, at a minimum, relevant and engaging onsite learning opportunities each day of the 5-day school week.”

Fayetteville Public Schools publicly announced in mid-July that it would offer a choice between traditional in-person classes and virtual off-site learning, but that the traditional schedule would only include two days of on-campus classes instead of five. The other three days would include online instruction at home for those students.

That plan, according to a state document released Wednesday, is not allowed.

According to the department, restricting access to in-person interaction during the week is not an approved use of the flexibility afforded to schools during a pandemic unless there is also an option for students to be on site.

The document states that a district may only offer alternatives to in-person classes if it also provides an opportunity for on-site student-teacher interaction all week.

For example, if a district wants to only provide four days of in-person classes, then it must at least be open on the fifth day for students to participate as needed or to access resources for instruction, interventions and therapy. Another option is for a district to provide three days of in-person classes as long as the fourth and fifth days are also open for students, if needed.

The Fayetteville district will now include five days of on-campus, face-to-face instruction for the fall semester, according to a message sent to parents Wednesday evening.

“After reviewing the initial Ready for Learning guidance from the state, our district team and Ready for Learning committee developed a hybrid plan that we felt best addressed the safety of our students and staff members while they are on campus,” said Superintendent Dr. John L Colbert. “However, with today’s new directive from Secretary of Education Johnny Key, we will adjust our plan accordingly, continuing to prioritize the safety of our students and staff members to the best of our ability.”

Secretary Key was asked Wednesday why the state has changed its stance, considering it’s been three weeks since the Fayetteville district announced its plan.

“This is not a change in our stance at all,” said Key. “We have said since day one that our plan for the fall and this school year is to come back and have school on site.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson defended the decision and said working parents need schools to offer a five-day school week.

“How do you go to work if for two days a week your kids are at home learning virtually?” Hutchinson said. “You don’t leave them there at the house alone. They have to have some supervision.”

Neither Hutchinson nor Key would say whether there would be any consequences for a district that doesn’t comply with Wednesday’s announcement.

“That’s something we hope we don’t have to explore,” Key said.