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From the State Senate

Arkansas teachers and students are beginning the most challenging school year in living memory.

Last March schools were forced to close because of the spread of the coronavirus, a decision that affected more than 470,000 students and 33,000 teachers.

Arkansas has been trying to close the achievement gap between children in underprivileged homes and those in more prosperous families.

Elected officials and educators are concerned that the changes made necessary by the virus could make that gap wider. When so many students must study from home and take their classes online, it’s critical that they all have access to the same technology.

According to surveys, when schools had to convert to distance learning last spring, the amount of time that students spent in virtual classrooms was significantly less than when those students physically attended school.

The disruption of standardized testing in the spring will have an effect because teachers won’t begin the school year with a clear picture of each student’s individual academic level. This is particularly important this year, when students will experience the so-called “summer slide” to a greater degree because they have spent more time away from school.

In many communities, going to virtual learning will bring attention to how many social services, apart from academics, are provided in schools. Those services include after school programs, meals, mental health counseling and health care.

Educators and elected officials expect an outbreak before the school year is over, either among students or staff. When that happens, they will have to make quick decisions about how to respond. For example, they may have to decide whether or not to close a school temporarily, and if so for how long. State health officials will provide input.

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