Arkansans demand action and protection for public school students and employees.

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Covid-19 is spreading in public school districts all over our state. According to the Arkansas Department of Health report of November 16, 2020 there are 2,215 current active cases in public schools, 3,498 faculty/staff cumulative cases, 8,540 student cumulative cases, and a total of 12,340 cumulative cases this school year. 124 districts are listed as having 5 or more active cases. An unknown number of districts have fewer than 5 active cases. We suspect that the actual case count is higher as not everyone is being tested, and contact tracing is lagging behind real time infection rates. Additionally, the exact number of students and staff in quarantine statewide is unknown, but clearly there are many. As Covid cases surge exponentially in Arkansas we know the surge in schools will continue at its alarming rate. In some schools there are staff who have been on quarantine 3 or more times and have used up paid sick leave provided by the CARES Act and Department of Education. They may or may not have enough accrued sick leave to cover additional required quarantines.

12 school employees have died from Covid since September. Numerous family members of students and staff have become sick with Covid. Some have died.

There are districts doing everything they possibly can, yet people still contract the virus. Many school employees and students have privately reported that their campuses do not follow mask regulations, distancing requirements, or the sanitizing protocols, which leads to multiple positive test results and quarantines. Numerous teachers have stated that they have to buy their own cleaning supplies for use in their classrooms. It appears that in a significant number of districts there are no consequences for lack of compliance.

The current situation is unsustainable and unacceptable. With these harsh realities in mind, we ask for the following immediate actions to protect students and school personnel:

1. Suspend in-person education for the remainder of this semester. Re-evaluate the situation in January and extend virtual learning if necessary.

2. When school is in session, or when personnel are working on campus, enact strict enforcement of the ADH guidelines using unannounced inspections on campuses, and establishing consequences for those not in compliance.

3. Create a plan NOW for the next semester. Require and enforce strict compliance guidelines, designate specific positive case percentages that would dictate the threshold for change to virtual education.

4. Before and during the upcoming session of the Arkansas Legislature, actively pursue federal relief funding. If no further CARES Act money is forthcoming, approve the use of emergency state funding in order to extend paid sick leave for Covid-related absences, and to maintain a constant stream of cleaning supplies and PPE.

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