North Little Rock district to clarify virtual-day rules

Assigned classwork is subject of confusion in schools

FILE — Kids are shown sitting against the glass in the cafeteria between classes at North Little Rock High School in this 2020 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

North Little Rock School District officials said confusion surrounding the district's Virtual Learning Fridays concept will be addressed this week.

The district implemented the virtual learning option in October in an effort to give teachers a break from an increased workload created by the coronavirus pandemic, but officials said last week that there has been confusion about whether teachers are allowed to assign classwork on those days.

Virtual Learning Fridays are online-only days designed to allow teachers and students time to catch up without the stress of dealing with new lessons. The concept, recommended by the North Little Rock Reopening School Task Force, gives students the option of attending class online or in person on Fridays.

School Board member Lizbeth Huggins said during Thursday's board meeting that she had been told some teachers were handing out new assignments on Virtual Learning Fridays.

"I was led to believe there was supposed to be no new material on this day, but there seems to be a wide variety of assignments being given to students," Huggins said. "Parents thought this day was to catch up, but some are being assigned work that doesn't allow them to do that.

"Some parents are happy, and some aren't."

Assistant Superintendent Keith McGee told the board that he and Gregory Pilewski, the district's new superintendent, would provide clarification this week for the district's teachers on how the day is meant to be used.

"There is supposed to be no new assignments on this day," McGee said. "I think there has been some confusion about this at some schools."

School Board member Tracy Steele mentioned that the district might consider making the virtual academy a permanent option even after the pandemic subsides.

"Once people get used to virtual, they might want to keep that option," Steele said. "This is something you might want to think about long-term."

Pilewski and McGee agreed that a permanent virtual academy needs to be discussed.

"I know one of the issues that has risen to the top of the board is [overall] enrollment," said Pilewski, who was introduced to the School Board for the first time by board President Dorothy Williams on Thursday. "For some students, this virtual academy has been great for them. They are learning and progressing, and this works for them and it continues to work for them, so we are looking at options."

McGee also provided board members with an update on how the district has used federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding.

The assistant superintendent said the district has purchased additional Clorox 360 machines and electrostatic disinfectant guns. Clorox 360 machines are at all elementary schools now, with two machines at the middle school and 10 machines at the high school.

Each of the district's campuses also has one electrostatic disinfectant gun, and additional disinfectant guns are now located at the transportation department where they will be used to clean the school district's buses.

McGee said the school district also will continue to release weekly updates every Wednesday on active cases within the district.