Siloam Springs School District posted an intent to enroll form for a new virtual academy on Friday, Assistant Superintendent Amy Carter said during the June 11 School Board meeting.
The proposed virtual academy will not take the place of traditional school but would instead offer an additional avenue to serve students, according to Superintendent Jody Wiggins. Classes will be 100 percent online and would be taught by teachers contracted through a private company that will provide Arkansas standards-based curriculum and instruction, he said earlier this month.
Families can submit their intent to enroll forms online through Friday, July 3, with a cap of 150 students, Carter said. Students will be enrolled on a first-come, first-serve basis and if more than 150 students enroll, a waiting list will be generated, she said. As of Monday afternoon, 53 students had enrolled in the academy, Wiggins said
The district sent surveys and letters to parents and staff members before hosting a series of six parent information meetings last week, including four meetings that took place with social distancing measures in place and two online meetings, Carter said.
Wiggins said he is hopeful the families who sign up have attended a meeting and thoroughly reviewed the information online because they are committing to participate in the academy for at least a semester.
The district began discussing the possibility of a virtual academy last year to provide another option for homeschooled children, Carter said. There are also numerous other online charter schools and virtual academies throughout the state, she said.
When schools closed for in-person instruction in March and students began remote learning from home, conversations about a potential virtual academy sped up, Carter said.
A team of nine administrators, instructional coaches and district level staff members formed a virtual research committee, she said. The team narrowed the field of eight to 10 companies and is now negotiating with two providers, she said.
Wiggins said traditional school is still scheduled to begin in August and the district is making plans based on the guidance it receives, he said. The Department of Education issued some guidance last week but specific information is not available yet, he said.
"We have asked some very specific questions about what it's going to look like and have not got those answered, as far as face masks and social distancing, use of buses, use of cafeterias," Wiggins said.
Wiggins is part of a statewide task force of administrators giving feedback on the guidance. He said it appears when the guidance is issued, it will be in the form of recommendations rather than requirements so that local school districts have the ability to apply them in the most reasonable manner for their own situations.
The school board took the following actions:
• Approved the sole bid for building and content insurance for $231,249 with a $25,000 all risk deductible from Alliant Insurance Services Inc., through the Moss Insurance Group. Nine companies were solicited for bids but only one submitted a quote.
• Tabled the approval of a bid for re-striping the high school parking lot. Three companies submitted bids, but the low bidder did not supply the district with the required state contractor's license so school board members asked school staff to do more research before accepting the second highest bid.
• Approved a policy for mandatory random drug testing for all students in grades 7-12 who are involved in activities sanctioned by the Arkansas Activities Association.
• Approved a low bid of $9,500 for student accident insurance from Health Special Risk Inc. Other bidders were Naught/Naught Insurance Agency and The Benchmark Insurance Company.
• Approved additional compensation for three teachers serving more than 150 students, including intermediate school teacher David Moose, intermediate school teacher Sabrina Rivas and middle school teacher Russell Johnson.
• Adopted an Arkansas School Board Association resolution to suspend district policy to align with emergency covid-19 legislation and statutory/rule waivers.
• Approved school board meeting dates for the 2020-2021 school year. School board meetings will continue to take place at 5:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month, except for the July 14 meeting and the Feb. 9 meeting, which will both take place on a Tuesday.
• Approved six new full-time positions for the 2020-2021 school year, including two for the alternative learning environment, two for the proposed virtual academy and two for possible future use.
• Accepted the resignations of 13 certified employees.
• Hired a list of 17 new teachers for the 2020-2021 school year.
• Approved a low bid of $280,572 from CDWG for teacher and staff laptops. Other bids were $320,485 from Howard Technology and $339,374 from White River Technology.
• Approved additions to the summer hire list.
• Accepted the transfer of one student from the Siloam Springs School District to the Gentry School District.