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In preparation for students returning to school in August, school board members approved a ready for learning plan and a face covering resolution during a special meeting on Thursday.

The 35-page ready for learning plan outlines a strategy providing instruction in the fall when students may experience a blend of online and in-person instruction, and for making sure students aren't left with any gaps in their education after school closed for in-person instruction in March.

The state asked districts to put together a ready for learning committee and ready for learning plan for this fall because of the covid-19 pandemic and because school was closed for in-person learning for so long in the spring, according to Superintendent Jody Wiggins.

The district invited 50 people to be a part of the committee, including school administrators and teachers, students, parents, community leaders, representatives from John Brown University and the Siloam Springs Police Department, and a school board member, he said.

The committee met four times by Zoom meeting to provide feedback and will continue to meet throughout the year, according to Assistant Superintendent Amy Carter. An average of 40 people attended each meeting, Wiggins said.

The Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education provided seven actions and assurances the district needed to provide evidence for as part of the plan, Carter said. They include providing a blended learning curriculum for online and in-person instruction with diagnostic assessments; addressing unfinished learning from the previous year; utilizing learning management systems for the blended learning; scheduling teacher training for the systems; scheduling teacher training for blended learning; providing support for parents and students; and providing a written communication plan for parents, students and the community, she said.

Committee members reviewed two of the points at each of their meetings and provided feedback through talk and a survey, Wiggins said.

School board member Connie Matchell, who participated in the committee, said a lot of work went into the document. The committee members asked questions and gave feedback that helped school officials think in different ways to address issues, she said.

"I appreciate the state's guidance but I think everyone in the district did a great job of putting this together," she said.

The document will be edited and revised as needed and is intended to be a living document, Carter said. It was posted to the district's website after receiving school board approval and must be submitted to the state by Sept. 1, she said.

Face mask resolution

The three-page face covering resolution will require all employees, visitors and students to wear face masks when social distancing cannot be achieved and to follow safety precautions.

Wiggins first brought the idea of a resolution requiring face masks to the school board at the July 14 meeting, the day before Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a statewide mask mandate.

Face coverings will be required while on school property, district transportation, waiting at bus stops or attending school sponsored activities where social distancing is not feasible, according to the resolution. The school purchased three cloth face masks for each student, but parents will be responsible for providing additional face masks and for keeping reusable masks washed and dried between uses, Wiggins said.

Students and staff members will be allowed to remove their face coverings when eating and drinking, and will be provided face covering breaks throughout the day, the resolution states. Students who refuse to wear a face covering will be subject to discipline, it states.

The policy contains exemptions for students and staff members who have medical conditions, disabilities, or other health or safety factors that prevent them from wearing a mask. A physician's note must be provided for the exemption, it states.

Students under the age of 2 and those with special behavioral or individualized needs as determined by the director of special services are also exempt, it states. Employees may also use a clear face shield provided by the district in lieu of a face covering if necessary for instructional purposes or to perform their job duties.

In addition, students, employees and visitors will not be allowed to enter school property if they have had a fever in the past 48 hours; have experienced covid-19 symptoms such as difficulty breathing, sore throat or loss of taste or smell; have come in contact with a person known to be infected with the virus in the past 14 days; is under quarantine; or is caring for someone under quarantine; or has been diagnosed as having covid-19 or is awaiting test results.

Students and employees are instructed to wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home if they are sick and call their doctor if they are worried about being sick, the resolution states.

"I think it's very important," said Brian Lamb, school board president. "It's probably not a popular thing to do but I think it is important for the health of the teachers and the students and the state at large. If the governor is going to require everybody to wear a mask, I think we need to follow suit."

School board members took the following additional actions:

• Approved additions to the summer hire list.

• Approved a full-time position for a speech-language pathologist.

• Approved school level improvement plans for the 2020-2021 school year.

• Approved a salary index for the virtual academy director.

• Accepted the resignations of Madeline Porter, high school Spanish teacher; Andrea Patterson, high school speech language pathologist; and Kristen Harris, high school chemistry and physical science teacher.

• Hired Shannon Torrell, middle school seventh-grade math teacher; Barbara Funez, high school world language teacher; Catherine Leimberg, high school English language arts teacher; Stephanie Gish, kindergarten through fourth grade alternative learning environment teacher; and Sara Johnson, high school English language arts teacher.

• Approved the transfer of one student from the Rogers School District to the Siloam Springs School District.

• Approved the transfer of one students from the Siloam Springs School District to the Gentry School District.

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