A big question parents have right now is how students can go back to school safely during COVID-19. Some parents are deeply split over whether they can safely send their children back to school amid the ongoing coronavirus surge, but some educators are also experiencing uncertainty and anxiety.
Local school leaders are working with health experts, educators and parents to decide how and when to reopen schools. The Paris School District created a Reopen/Relearn Committee that meets every Thursday to bring children back to the classrooms safely. Superintendent Dr. Wayne Facwett said the committee's point is to have additional voices for input on reopening the campus.
"I am still having conversations with school administration on what we need to do."
The committee comprises four Paris High School students, six Paris School District teachers, two from each school, seven administration, and twelve community members. The committee meets to discuss recent changes by state officials, the Arkansas Department of Health and the Arkansas Department of Education, the best policy for safely bringing the children back on campus, extra safety precautions on campus, and the new blended learning curriculum.
Issues that have been recently discussed is the screening of children by a parent before sending them to school, fogging school buses before children load to ensure sanitation and required masks on buses, additional lunchtimes so social distancing can take place, adding dividers to elementary tables, fogging hallways when children are in class for sanitation, additional sanitation in the restrooms, the no visitors allowed inside the schools policy and sanitizing the high school rooms between classes.
Issues that have not yet been resolved are whether or not elementary children will be required to wear masks and if athletics and extracurricular activities will take place and how to maintain safety precautions if they do.
Even with precautions being taken, some parents are still split on sending their child/children back to school. In a recent Paris Express Facebook post, parents and educators voiced their concerns on why they would or would not be sending their child/children back to school. A vast majority of community members said they were comfortable sending their children to school and it was time to reopen.
"I will be sending my kids back to school. I have a senior this year that has had so much already taken from her because of her battle with cancer in middle school that I feel she deserves this and she wants to spend her last year at school with her classmates. I mean, they are already talking about taking sports and band and all away because of a virus that while I believe it's bad, I feel it is being blown way out of proportion. I also have a 5th grader with a learning disability and he learns better in a classroom where there are licensed teachers who know how to get him to understand and pick up better. I say we need to quit taking away from our kids," said one reader.
Another reader had the opposite opinion on sending their children back to the classroom, "I would rather them have their chrome books and stream classes with tutoring available to them. I don't want to risk my child's health and safety. Especially when so many people are being selfish and don't want to take simple precautions like wearing a mask, staying home as much as possible, or social distancing to help slow the spread."
But it is not just parents who are feeling the cause of alarm and anxiety about returning to the classrooms this fall; educators are also split on the decision, "As a teacher, I am terrified. My mom is immuno-compromised, so I won't be able to see her for as long as I'm in school or until we have a vaccine, and she depends on me for a lot. I love my job, but I don't want to lose students, have students lose family members, or get sick myself. I believe safety should be the first consideration because if you're not safe, you can't effectively learn."
Even with the doubts and uncertainty that many are facing, some parents do not have the option of keeping their children at home, "Mine are going back. I don't have the option to stay at home with them. I am confident in the school district to use all safety they can for all students. My only concern is the face masks all day."
Families that will be sending their children to the classroom this fall should also be prepared to go back to virtual learning if COVID cases increase. The Paris School District will be following a flow chart developed by the ADH and the ADE.
"The district will not necessarily be closed because of one positive case," said Fawcett.
Any decision to alter school attendance will be made by the Superintendent of Schools with the possibility of individual students, a class of students, a grade level, the entire building, or district as the whole going to off-site learning. The district is working hard to ensure the best safety decisions are being made for the students and staff.
As of Monday, Logan County had a total of 122 positive cases; 27 active cases; 95 recovered cases; 2,933 negative tests and 0 deaths. Arkansas had a total of 38,623 positive cases; 6,600 active cases; 31,622 recoveries and 401 deaths.