Plans to double the number of Friendship Aspire Academy-Pine Bluff elementary charter school campuses from one to two received preliminary approval Tuesday from the state's Charter Authorizing Panel.
The panel endorsed the plan for a new kindergarten-through-third-grade campus to be located at 700 S. Main St. in Pine Bluff.
Final approval must come from the state Board of Education, which will act on it later this year.
The new campus for primary grade students would enable the existing Friendship Aspire-Pine Bluff campus for grades kindergarten through five at 3911 S. Hazel St., to retain small class sizes, the application for the charter amendment states.
Phong Tran, superintendent of the Friendship Academy system, which has schools in Little Rock and Pine Bluff, told the panel the new downtown campus is near the Saracen Casino and Resort, giving casino employees convenient access to an elementary school for their children.
The request for a new campus comes with a request for an increase in the enrollment cap for the two campuses, from 480 to 880.
The panel gave its approval to the new enrollment cap and to the school plan for delivery of instruction to remote students.
Also Tuesday, the Charter Authorizing Panel gave its support to remote learning plans proposed by several conversion and open-enrollment charter school operators, including the Cabot School District, which runs the now 17-year-old Cabot Academic Center of Excellence charter school.
Aaron Randolph, Cabot's executive director of curriculum and instruction, said the 12,400-student district intends to offer remote online instruction to students in grades seven through 12 under the umbrella of its charter school.
The Cabot district also asked for and received from the panel preliminary approval for an increase in the Academic Center of Excellence charter school enrollment cap, from 500 to 2,500 students.
Raising the enrollment cap is to accommodate the students who choose to learn online away from the traditional classrooms. Randolph said that, to date, the number of students seeking digital instruction is smaller than initially anticipated. So far, 101 students signed up for online learning -- 77 of them in grades seven through 12.
Because only 24 elementary pupils registered for a digital learning program, the district didn't pursue a digital learning option for the elementary grades, Randolph said.
ELSEWHERE IN STATE
Other charters that received panel approval Tuesday for their remote learning plans were:
• Cross County Elementary
• Cross County High School
• Scholarmade Achievement Place of Arkansas
• Premier High School of Little Rock
• Premier High School of North Little rock
• Batesville High School Charter
In January, the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education and the state Education Board invited school districts and charter systems to submit applications to institute virtual instruction plans for at least the coming 2021-22 school year.
Arkansas school systems had scrambled in the 2020-21 school year to provide students online instruction as a way to combat the spread of the covid-19 virus.
With the invitation to submit plan applications for the new school year came the offer of state waivers of rules and laws that cap class sizes at 30 students, limit teacher workloads to 150 students, require 120 clock hours of instruction per course and six-hour instructional days, set student attendance requirements, and require a minimum number of recess minutes.
Not all of the newly approved plans incorporate all of the waivers.