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School districts continue adjusting to pandemic

by Jaime Adame | January 22, 2021 at 7:02 a.m.
Kimberly Corbitt, head of customer engagement for Build With Robots, speaks Thursday about Breezy One, a sanitizing robot made by her company, at Har-Ber High School in Springdale. The School District would be the first in the state to employ the robot that works to sanitize a 100,000-square-foot building in less than two hours while it’s unoccupied and is 99 percent affective at eliminating viruses and bacteria according to the manufacturer. School District representatives were given a demonstration of its use as they contemplate its purchase. Go to for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

School districts continued to make adjustments to instruction because of covid-19 as the number of active cases at schools ticked upward slightly.

The number of active cases at public school districts increased to 3,064 on Thursday, up from the 3,029 cases tallied Monday, according to data from the state Department of Health.

Total cases at public schools remain elevated compared with two months earlier, when a Nov. 19 report listed 2,559 cases.

The Smackover-Norphlet School District today began a shift to online instruction extending through next week.

"We have evaluated the situation over the past few days and have seen our percentages of quarantine situations grow from our usual 2-3% of students and staff quarantined or isolated to roughly 20% quarantined or isolated in some areas, with most campuses seeing higher than usual cases," Superintendent Jason Black said in a blog post Thursday addressed to the "Buckaroo Community."

The district in southern Arkansas has about 1,000 students, according to state data.

The Lafayette County School District on Wednesday announced a shift to online instruction through next week.

The change comes "due to a high number of positive covid-19 cases among students and staff," Superintendent Robert Edwards said in a video posted on social media.

In-person classes are set to resume Feb. 1, Edwards said. As of last Friday, the district had three active cases of covid-19 among students and staff, according to its website; the Health Department report Thursday didn't include the district among those with five or more active cases. The district in southwest Arkansas has an enrollment of 521 students, according to state data.

Gentry Public Schools on Wednesday announced the district's high school would shift to online instruction beginning Thursday through all of next week. The district's primary school, which houses grades kindergarten-second, also changed to online teaching through today.

"This decision was not an easy one to make and it comes after careful consideration of the numbers of staff and students who are absent" and consultation with state education officials, the district stated in a post on social media.

Three school districts in Northwest Arkansas topped all others in active cases, according to Thursday's report from the state Department of Health. Springdale School District had 157 active cases, followed by Bentonville School District with 129 and Rogers School District with 126 active cases.

The totals for the Springdale and Bentonville school districts were down compared with Monday, while the total for the Rogers School District was up by one case compared with Monday's report. Active case totals include students and staff.

The Little Rock School District on Thursday reported on its website 19 new positive covid-19 cases among students and staff across the district in a 24-hour period that began on 3 p.m. Wednesday, with the total including three students enrolled in virtual programs. No single school in the district had more than three new cases.

The state Health Department report Thursday listed the Little Rock School District as having 101 active cases, fourth most among all districts in the state. Active cases for the district increased from 82 on Monday, according to Health Department data.

Not all adjustments announced by school districts are because of infections.

The Eureka Springs School District in a post on social media announced it will have an online learning day for students on Wednesdayto provide a vaccine clinic for district staff.

As with multiple other districts who have made similar announcements, the district stated school buildings would remain open for students wanting to come to campus and that lunch service would be provided. No one from the district returned a phone message left Thursday afternoon.

The Lead Hill School District is having a virtual day of instruction on Monday to conduct a vaccination event for employees, Superintendent Tami Richey said.

Richey said 26 workers plan to be vaccinated at the event out of 60 workers notified they could receive the vaccine, or 43%, totals that do not include the district's school nurse who has already been vaccinated.

"It's a personal decision for them," Richey said about workers deciding whether or not to get vaccinated Monday.

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement reported Thursday that 175 school districts as of Monday had seen 50 or more new coronavirus infections per 10,000 residents over the previous 14 days. This is more than 70% of the 235 geographic school districts included in the center's analysis.

A week earlier, the center had reported 201 districts having such elevated levels of new infections.

The state Health Department report also included active case totals for private schools, with active cases increasing to 210 on Thursday compared to 169 on Monday. St. Joseph Catholic School in Conway topped all private schools with 51 active cases.

At all colleges and universities in the state, active cases dipped to 613 on Thursday compared to 645 on Monday, according to the Health Department report. The University of Arkansas topped all colleges with 119 active covid-19 cases, down from Monday's total of 137 cases.


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