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Arkansas school districts wait on guidance from state as COVID cases surge

The state health department is still finalizing its back-to-school plans for schools as COVID-19 cases climb in the state.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Despite an increase in COVID-19 cases, Arkansas schools are getting ready to welcome back students to the classroom. But so far, the state hasn’t issued guidance for districts on how to begin the school year safely.

Arkansas school districts must submit ready for learning plans to the state to return to school during the ongoing pandemic safely. Still, most districts haven’t done that yet because they are waiting on back-to-school guidance from the Arkansas Department of Health.

Fort Smith Schools say they have already begun planning while waiting on critical guidance to move forward. It’s a similar story for the Bentonville School District. It says it will update its plan once it gets feedback from the state.

We did reach out to the Arkansas Department of Health, who said they would be releasing their back-to-school guidance for schools, but that plan hasn’t been finalized yet.

Jennifer Gordon has a son going into the 10th grade in the Rogers School District.

“I have done what I can to protect him, and I know that he will do what he can to continue protecting him,” she said.

New state law doesn’t allow school districts to require masks, but parents can ask their children to wear them. Gordon says her son is vaccinated and plans to wear a mask still.

“I know he is not going to have issues if people try and make fun of him or anything like that," she said. "I know he’s not the kind of person who will make fun of someone for wearing a mask. He’s not going to care if they make fun of him." 

Dr. Ann Macintyre is an infectious disease specialist and encourages parents to speak with a pediatrician and get all children 12 years and older vaccinated before school starts.

“Get an informed decision as to whether or not they have any reasons not to get the vaccine," she told 5NEWS. "The vast majority of children that are eligible for the vaccine can get the vaccine, and this would protect them, their classmates." 

And for the school-age kids who are younger than 12 and can’t get vaccinated, other people in their household should get the vaccine to help protect them. She says the Delta variant we see now is highly transmissible and can be passed from person to person very rapidly.

“We hope that some individuals that get the disease will be asymptomatic," Macintyre said. "They may not feel any consequences due to getting the virus. Unfortunately, there are some who do get sick, and we are seeing that there is often no rhyme or reason to it." 

It’s not clear when the state plans to share its guidelines with schools, but we’ll keep you posted once they share those guidelines.

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