Hampered by absences, more Northwest Arkansas schools shift to online learning

Students in a classroom at an elementary school in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/FILE PHOTO)

Fayetteville was one of several school districts in Northwest Arkansas that decided Wednesday to transition entirely to online learning for the rest of this week in response to increasing numbers of staff and student absences because of covid-19.

The Siloam Springs, Elkins and Lincoln school districts also made the call to go virtual today and Friday. The Prairie Grove and Greenland districts announced similar moves Tuesday.

Each of the districts plans to return to in-person learning Tuesday following the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday Monday. Today and Friday will be considered alternative method of instruction days.

The transition to online learning is necessary due to the high number of covid-19-related staff and student absences, according to posts on the school districts' websites and social media accounts.

In Fayetteville, students will use the internet with a district-provided device to access education anytime. Teachers will provide prescheduled live classroom events via Zoom for instruction; students will be marked absent if they do not attend the scheduled Zoom sessions, according to the district's website.

Fayetteville student meals will be available for pick-up today only from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. outside each student's school. Parents or guardians may pick up one free meal pack per student that contains two breakfasts and two lunches per student Thursday. Students do not need to be present for pick-up. Families with children at more than one campus should plan to pick up all meals at one school site that is most convenient for them, according to the district.

Fayetteville announced last week it was reinstating its mask mandate for all students and staff members. The district on Wednesday reported 257 active cases of covid-19 among its 10,378 students and 22 active cases among its 1,463 staff members.

In Siloam Springs, students also are expected to log in daily, participate in lessons and complete assignments, the district's Facebook post stated.

"This pivot to remote learning is necessary due to the high number of Covid-related student and especially staff absences. Over 20% of our instructional staff members are out [Wednesday], with over half of the vacancies unfilled by substitutes. Providing adequate supervision, instruction, and desired Covid safeguards have become major concerns," the Siloam Springs post stated.

Several other Northwest Arkansas schools have switched or are switching to remote learning for the rest of the week.

Parson Hills Elementary and Sonora Middle schools in Springdale will transition to online instruction today and Friday, according to a Springdale district news release Wednesday. Jones Elementary School became the first Springdale school to make the shift when it transitioned to remote learning Tuesday.

Staff absences and a substitute teacher shortage means classrooms cannot be adequately covered. The decision to transition to alternative methods of instruction -- or remote learning -- is made on a school-by-school basis, according to the release.

Springdale students have district-provided computers so they can learn online with their teachers, the release stated.

In addition, Springdale and Har-Ber high schools informed families Wednesday that students have the option of learning at home today and Friday -- again, due to the increasing number of student and teacher absences. They will not be counted absent if they choose to learn remotely, according to letters from the principals.

Elsewhere, the Arkansas Arts Academy school board decided at a meeting Tuesday to pivot to remote learning today and continue online through Jan. 21. Arkansas Arts Academy is a K-12 charter school in Rogers with about 1,200 students.

Hope Academy of Northwest Arkansas, another charter school in Bentonville with about 50 students in grades K-4, is also going virtual today and Friday.