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story.lead_photo.caption Marlin Berry, superintendent of Rogers Public Schools, (left) speaks Friday to Sen. John Boozman R-Ark. at Northside Elementary School in Rogers. Rogers Public Schools officials welcomed Sen. Boozman in order to share back-to-school plans with him. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

ROGERS -- Leadership shared a glimpse of the Rogers School District's fall opening plan with U.S. Sen. John Boozman during his visit Friday to Northside Elementary.

The school was chosen to give Boozman, R-Ark., an opportunity to see the building's major renovation, said Ashley Kelley Siwiec, district communications director.

The renovation cost about $6.7 million, said Charles Lee, assistant superintendent for general administration.

Superintendent Marlin Berry said the project was comprehensive and included new flooring, ceilings, cabinetry and a heating and cooling system.

Boozman's toured the cafeteria, halls and a classroom to see how the spaces will be configured to help prevent the spread of covid-19.

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The district's Ready for Learning opening plan is scheduled to go before the school board Aug. 18 for approval, Siwiec said.

The district is following Arkansas Department of Health guidelines, Berry said.

The district's approximately 15,600 students will attend school virtually or through a blended learning model that includes on-site and online instruction starting Aug. 24, he said.

"We're working with staff to do the very best we can," Berry said. "We're trying to accommodate as many people as we can."

All staff and students 2 years and older will be required to wear a mask in district buildings and on buses, according to the plan.

Social distancing will be observed, Berry said, and 6 feet of space will be maintained between students and staff members whenever possible.

Less furniture in classrooms will allow students to spread out, according to the plan. Plastic divider shields will be used when necessary.

Staff will schedule the movement of classes within the building and signs will be posted in the halls, according to the plan.

One staff member will be dedicated to only cleaning the school throughout the day, Berry said.

Disinfectant sprays will be used to sanitize rooms between uses, and time will be provided for hand washing and hand sanitation throughout all campuses, according to the plan. Students will be required to sanitize their hands each time they enter and leave a space.

"The bottom line is we just have to think outside the box," Boozman said, adding it's clear the district is doing so. "You've thought of everything."

Boozman said the school year will have to be addressed on a day-to-day basis.

"I feel very strongly that we can make something work," he said.

Berry said the district is prepared to pivot to online instruction in the event schools have to close after the school year begins.

"We don't know when that may happen," he said, noting schools could be forced to close for days or weeks at a time during the pandemic. "It's all about keeping our students and staff safe."

Sen. John Boozman R-Ark. speaks to Friday with members of the media while touring Northside Elementary School in Rogers. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Rogers school board members take a photograph Friday with Sen. John Boozman R-Ark. at Northside Elementary School in Rogers. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

Mary Jordan can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAMaryJ.

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