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Online classes save a snow day

by I.C. Murrell | February 12, 2021 at 2:48 a.m.
A fence built up ice overnight into Thursday on Marion Drive at Fluker Avenue with Robert F. Morehead Middle School in the Dollarway School District in the background. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

Local school districts did not have to miss a day of learning Thursday, thanks to the virtual method of instruction available during the coronavirus pandemic.

"With virtual learning, we can get the Chromebooks out like we were able to [Wednesday]," White Hall School District Superintendent Doug Dorris said.

"Teachers can be teaching from home. When you have a chance to have that actual learning and teachers on hand, it makes a big difference."

Temperatures dipping below the 30s made for slick road conditions Thursday morning, forcing schools and government buildings to close and turn to virtual learning.

White Hall schools will resume in-class instruction at 10 a.m. today, Dorris said.

The Watson Chapel School District will delay the start of class by 2 hours today, with the tardy bell ringing at 9:55 a.m.

Virtual learning has been "wonderful" and "perfect," Watson Chapel K-12 curriculum director Kristy Sanders said.

"In anticipation of inclement weather, we had the principals inform the teachers to have the kids take their Chromebooks home," Sanders said.

"It's a little different for K-3. We don't expect them to keep up with Chromebooks. Since the teachers were proactive, they got authentic AMI (alternative method of instruction) packets."

Sanders cautioned it could be a different story next week if temperatures reach into the teens as forecast and make roads unsafe for driving.

Watson Chapel teachers in grades kindergarten through 3 will ask their students to take home Chromebooks for the weekend, as schools in the district will not be in session Monday because of President's Day and virtual learning is anticipated for Tuesday.

White Hall schools will be open on President's Day as a makeup day due to school starting five days later than originally scheduled, Dorris said.

Pine Bluff and Dollarway school districts also went to virtual learning Thursday. Those districts will begin school on a 2-hour delay today.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff asked students to attend virtual classes, and faculty and staff members to conduct remote and virtual work assignments Thursday.

The weather has impacted the university's sports schedule, as the softball and golf teams will not play as scheduled and a soccer match was rescheduled for today.

Southeast Arkansas College's campus closed at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The college switched to virtual learning for evening classes and all Thursday classes.

All University of Arkansas at Monticello campuses were closed and classes were canceled. UAM's season-opening baseball series against Delta State University of Mississippi has been canceled and will be rescheduled as midweek games later in the year.

The Jefferson County Courthouse and Pine Bluff city offices were closed Thursday as well.

Ice remained settled on trees and street signs across the city under gray skies at 11 a.m. Thursday, but roads in many areas of Pine Bluff were not icy at the time.

The National Weather Service forecast called for temperatures to dip down to 26 Thursday night with wind chill values as low as 16 and north-northeast wind blowing 10 to 15 mph. Today's forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high near 33 and wind chill values as low as 14.

Low temperatures are expected to drop below the 20s over the weekend, down to 16 Saturday night and 14 Sunday night.

A 30% chance of sleet is projected Sunday night.

Before virtual learning, school districts relied on an AMI, such as the lesson packets Watson Chapel K-3 students received for Thursday. But a method that was installed to help students continue to learn amid a health crisis will now keep classrooms going -- virtually -- with icy weather as the backdrop.

"Three years ago, we missed four days," Dorris said of White Hall schools. "We thought we would be in a bind. But our teachers can be teaching from home, and they should be able to answer kids' questions."

The street sign for Fluker Avenue in Pine Bluff was iced over Thursday, with Dollarway High School in the background. 
(Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
The street sign for Fluker Avenue in Pine Bluff was iced over Thursday, with Dollarway High School in the background. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
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