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North Little Rock district reaching out to youths missing from classes

by Stephen Simpson | September 20, 2020 at 7:47 a.m.
FILE - Kids sit against the glass in the cafeteria between classes at North Little Rock High School on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

The North Little Rock School District will use a new video campaign to try to reach more than 400 students who are missing from classes.

School Board President Dorothy Williams told board members during Thursday night's meeting that the school district is working to find students who aren't attending in-person classes or participating in online instruction.

"I know the goal and our mission is to find those students," she said. "Our next report needs to be how we are going to go get them."

Interim Superintendent Keith McGee told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the number of missing students is approximately 413. The original cutoff date for attending online classes was in August, but McGee said the school district is willing to work with the students to get them back in class.

He added that he has talked to parents, as well as to missing students, and it seems their main concern is safety during the covid-19 pandemic.

"They said they just weren't coming because they didn't feel comfortable coming to school," he said. "Or some feel like they didn't go last year and weren't penalized, [so] why would they go this year."

McGee said district officials were concerned going into the school year that some students wouldn't attend classes, whether it was online or in person.

"Families are just concerned, and they aren't sure," he said.

McGee said the school district has created a student-led video campaign called "Mask On or Log On!" that stresses the importance of going to school and the safety measures that are in place to protect students and faculty members.

"We wanted students to hear from their peers that it's OK to come back, and that it's safe," he said. "We realized that most people will watch a video over reading something."

The minute-long video features students talking about how they are "missing you" at school and about the options that are available to missing students.

"See you in the classroom or see you on Google classroom," students say in the video.

The school district's communications director helped create the video to encourage youths to return to physical school or to log on to the online classrooms.

"We wanted the video to be an attention-getter," McGee said. "We wanted them to hear the message."

McGee told the board that he is also considering doing radio spots and TV ads.

The video was released the same day Arkansas' count of coronavirus cases rose by 992 -- the largest one-day increase in almost a week. State Epidemiologist Jennifer Dillaha said the increase in cases "shows that we definitely do have community spread occurring in Arkansas."

Among the state's public school districts, the number of students and employees who have tested positive for the coronavirus rose by 311, to 3,230, between Monday and Thursday. The number of those cases that were considered active rose by 36, to 610.

The count of cumulative cases rose by 239, to 2,414, among students and by 70, to 791, among school employees.

Those totals are less than the overall total of 3,230 because of "unavailable data," according to the Health Department reports.

McGee told the board that covid-19 is on track to peak sometime in November and that death projections are expected to increase. He also wanted to make sure that people understood the importance of the guidelines that are in place.

The interim superintendent said students are doing a good job of social distancing and wearing their masks while inside school facilities.

"It's OK. It's safe to come back to school on-site, and it's OK to log on, and the support is there," McGee said. "We just want our kids to receive an education. We don't want them to get left behind academically."

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