As districts in Arkansas prepare for the implementation of the LEARNS Act, six work groups are being assembled by the state Department of Education to develop recommendations for its rules and policies.
These work groups will each focus on a specific topic: school safety; early learning; parental empowerment; teaching and learning; educator workforce and career readiness, according to a memo from the agency.
Friday was the deadline to apply to participate in the groups. Over 1,000 people submitted applications, Education Department Secretary Jacob Oliva said during an online forum on Wednesday.
"We're going to start bringing in experts and leaders from all over the state to sit around with staff here at the department to start drafting rules," Oliva said in an interview the previous week. Their recommendations will go to the secretary and the state Board of Education for consideration before being reviewed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' office.
By law, most of these rules are required to be in place by July 1, 2024, Oliva said.
District officials say it will be difficult for them to fully prepare for LEARNS until these rules are finalized.
"Nobody knows how this thing is going to play out until everything goes through rules and [regulations]," said Brent Howard, Mountain Home School District superintendent.
Bentonville Superintendent Debbie Jones said her district has applied to participate in work groups for "every single category."
"We're anxiously awaiting the rules to be written so we can really put solid plans in place," she said.
Jacksonville North Pulaski Superintendent Jeremy Owoh said he wants people who are going to be directly affected by these rules to have a say in the process.
"I hope they're able to provide avenues outside of the school day for our staff to help develop these rules," Owoh said.
During Wednesday's forum, Oliva said that an effort will be made to keep those not chosen for work groups informed about their work and seek feedback from them as the rules are made.
The groups will meet both virtually and in person, according to the Education Department memo announcing the work groups.
Oliva said in February that he also anticipates the development of an information dashboard to keep the board and public up to date on the new work.
Information for this story was contributed by Cynthia Howell of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.