Riverview students will only have the option to attend classes on campus two days a week when school starts Aug. 24, which drew some reservations from School Board members Thursday night before they approved the district’s plan.
Superintendent Stan Stratton promised the board members that they could look at how the plan they approved was working and reevaluate it at the Sept. 10 board meeting.
“We are living in a unique time and no plan is going to please everybody and we know that,” Stratton said. “This plan probably would have been different two weeks ago before the mask mandate from the governor.”
Before the plan was approved, Stratton explained the district’s two options. The first is that parents have the option of having their children going totally virtual. He said the district would like to give students and parents two weeks to decide if the virtual option was the right one for them. If they like the virtual plan, Stratton said the district would like to have a commitment for the semester so it could plan accordingly.
The second plan is blended learning, and the state has put out a document called response levels for on-site Learning that Stratton said the district will use for guidance.
“We kind of planned for the level of COVID that we have in our community because it’s probably not if we are going to have a positive case but it’s probably when we have a positive case, so we just need to be planning and preparing for that,” he said.
The limited response level is that students in fourth through 12th grades will be strongly encouraged to wear a face mask. Grades kindergarten through 12th on the bus would be strongly encouraged to wear a mask.
The moderate response level divides the student body into an A and a B group, with the A group attending Mondays and Wednesdays and the B group attending Tuesdays and Thursdays and everyone virtual on Friday. The days that students aren’t in class will be virtual days for them.
The administrative team during discussions “really felt like governor’s mask requirement put them in the moderate response,” according to Stratton. The Riverview staff was surveyed and Stratton said the district gave them four options of how they should start the school year. Option 1 was that they start virtual for everybody. Option 2 was that they use the A and B groups. Option 3 was that everybody starts going for five days a week, but masks are required for grades 4 through 12 with a warning received if they don’t wear a mask.
“We have to be realistic,“ Stratton said. “We live in a real world. We have to think about how we are going to handle when kids don’t wear a mask. We all know that we have some parents who are strongly against masks and we have parents that are strongly for masks, so we are trying to come up with a plan that is best for everybody.”
If students don’t wear a mask, “it is handled as a dress code violation and also if a kid gets insubordinate, then it’s handled as insubordination; all those steps in the discipline code,” he said.
Option 2 was the choice of the staff, with the A and B days. Option 1 was their second choice.
Stratton said taking this information into consideration, they decided to start out with the A, B days.
He said there were a couple of advantages to that.
“We think in most classrooms – there may be some that we can’t – we can socially distance students, meaning we can get them 6 feet apart. The other thing is, school buses, the cafeteria … now we are only dealing with half the students on a day so we are able to better spread that out,” he said. “Also, when we have that positive, instead of that classroom of 25 students that are possible close contact, it’s now only 12 or 13 students.
“The guidance we are getting from the state is if a person is within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period, regardless of whether they are wearing a mask or not wearing a mask, they are going to be identified as a possible close contact and immediately our point of contact person is going to have to notify those parents and they are going to have to go into a 14-day quarantine and then the Department of Health will follow up with them.”
Board member Jeremy Ramsey asked Stratton how the students in quarantine would handle learning during that time, and Stratton said they would go virtual.
Board member Darren Gordon said his concern about splitting into groups is that “we’re really focusing on the masks when there is other things like where are these kids going to stay three days of the week?
“There’s no option if my wife and I both work and my mother in-law can’t keep them and I feel inappropriate that she’s already had them since March,” Gordon said. “How long does she have to keep them and do I tie somebody down?
“I have called three that I can think of that are the biggest day cares and when school starts, they take zero school-aged children. ... There is no day care option.”
Gordon said he has also talked to teachers and they are apprehensive.
“I feel like I’m speaking for a lot of them that for a child to learn they have to have a set schedule,” he said. “They have to have some kind of standard . ...”
He said the district relies on the parents year after year to help the students at home, but “now we’re going to rely on them for three days, teaching them new material on technology that they probably never used.”
Board President Robyn Roach said, “We may not have a choice.”
Gordon agreed, but pointed out that Searcy, Bald Knob,White County Central and Rose Bud are doing five days a week for school.
Ramsey agreed with Gordon the kids having to learn from home three days a week would be challenging. “So we’re asking our kids to get theirselves up when their parents have gone to work for the day, get theirselves up and get to that computer and want to learn for three days a week,” Ramsey said.
Board member Owen Mobley said, “a lot of students are going to get behind in this I’m afraid. There’s no easy solution, I know that.”
Roach said, “What I would like to see every kid come to school and every one of them wear a face mask but I know that would be hard for us to enforce. If the whole nation would of wore a face mask like they should of to start with, the stuff would have gone away.”
“We will have some students whose parents will adamantly refuse they wear a mask and so that is a discussion we will have to have,” Stratton said.
Gordon mentioned that the district have virtual to fall back on. Gordon said if students didn’t wear the mask, “the virtual is there for them.”
Christy Bremer, principal of the district’s Kensett Elementary, said if you have less students at school, “you have less exposure to everyone.”
“If you have everyone there, you might go into virtual faster,” she said.
“This plan is fluid,” Bremer said. “ ... If the state changes or improves or regresses, we have an option to go in a certain direction. ... We want our students at our school but we want them safe so we are trying to look at a safe way. It’s not a long term hopefully plan, it is our current reality.”
On Friday, Riverview put a notice out to parents and guardians asking them to respond to the Parent Commitment Form for the fall semester, due back by Aug. 5. The notice reminds parents that students will have a two-week trial period to make their choice on what kind of learning they will choose.