COVID-19 Crisis: Resources for Districts, Parents and Students

Updated August 10, 2020

As the impact of COVID-19 on all aspects of life continues to unfold, ForwARd Arkansas applauds the efforts of parents, local educators and state officials who stepped up to quickly provide continued education for students despite closed schools.

We will continue to share updates, as well as highlight opportunities for the development and broad implementation of innovative and equitable solutions that will ultimately strengthen Arkansas’ educational system post-COVID.

Using Data to Understand and Build in Our Current COVID-19 Reality

During these unpredictable times, the use of data in making informed decisions is imperative to building within the current reality. Intertwining quality data with relevant analysis can and will create reliable, appropriate and digestible insights for our state and communities moving forward.

If you are interested in utilizing data to make informed decisions as you look for innovative and equitable solutions that will ultimately strengthen Arkansas’ educational system post-COVID-19, check out the resources below:

  1. My School Info – Search, Compare, Inform Public Schools across Arkansas
  2. Surgo Foundation – Bringing Greater Precision to the COVID-19 Response
  3. BCT Partners – COVID-19 Urgent Service Provider
  4. Urban Institute – Mapping Student Needs During COVID-19

ESSER Fund Application Guidance and Innovative Solutions

ForwARd has prepared suggested language for your LEA Assurances and Application for CARES Act 2020 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.

The language broadly addresses student supports through:

  1. Broadband access and services including technology support
  2. Community school coordinators to connect and structure a system of support services across the district
  3. Language support through Arkansas United services

The four focus areas for ESSER emphasize addressing the unique needs low-income children or students, children with disabilities (including compensatory services), English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, students experiencing homelessness, and children in foster care, including how outreach and service delivery will meet the needs of each population.

We know districts have extensive needs as a result of COVID-19. This suggested language may help focus part of your efforts toward students with unique needs.

Download the language by clicking on the below links.

  1. Broadband
  2. Community schools
  3. Language support

Webinar Series: Arkansas Education in the World of COVID-19

RECORDING: Part I: Arkansas Education in the World of COVID-19

This webinar series discuss the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and how we as Arkansans can work together to identify innovative and equitable solutions that lead us to a stronger education system.

We are currently confronted with a set of unprecedented events impacting our entire system. These circumstances require an immediate and comprehensive plan in response. Out of this crisis, we have an opportunity to transform the future of education in our state and accelerate meaningful change. We will hear from a panel of stakeholders on the challenges they face and collectively search for solutions that benefit all Arkansas students.

Panelists included:

  1. Melissa Fink, Principal, Incoming Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Curriculum and Innovation, Springdale Public Schools
  2. Arisbeth Johnson, ALAS / WINGS Coordinator, Arkansas United
  3. Dr. Bishawn Morris, Pediatrician, The Pediatric Clinic North Little Rock
  4. Roger Rich, Superintendent, Southside School District
  5. Brandi Ricks, Second Grade Teacher, Gardner-Strong Elementary School
  6. Gina Windle, Chief of Staff, Arkansas Department of Education

RECORDING: Part II: Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Students

RESOURCES: Mental Health Resources for Districts, Parents, Students and Community Members

Panelists included:

  1. Dr. Jared Cleveland, Superintendent, Springdale Public Schools
  2. Dr. Khiela Holmes, Child Psychologist, Arkansas Families First
  3. Betsy Kindall, Arkansas AWARE State Project Coordinator, Arkansas Department of Education, Division of Elementary and Secondary Education
  4. Lorenzo P. Lewis, Founder & CEO, The Confess Project
  5. Norel McAdoo, Civil Engineering Major, Tennessee State University
  6. Laverne Sims, Foster Parent, Community Activist, and Chair, Concerned Citizens of the Marvell Area

RECORDING: Part III: Closing the Digital Divide

Panelists included:

  1. Rev. Cory Anderson, Chief Innovation Officer, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation
  2. Lincoln Barnett, Delta Regional Director, Rural Community Alliance
  3. Don Benton, Assistant Commissioner of Research and Technology, Arkansas Department of Education
  4. Carol B. Fleming, President, Arkansas Education Association
  5. Dr. Kiffany Pride, Assistant Commissioner of Learning Services, Arkansas Department of Education, Division of Elementary and Secondary Education
  6. Dianna Varady, Parent, Partners for Inclusive Communities, Arkansas’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD)
  7. Gary Williams, Superintendent, Crossett School District

This webinar series is presented in partnership with Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

Pandemic SNAP Benefits

Arkansas has been approved to provide Pandemic Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for families whose children were enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program at school at the time the Governor declared a public health emergency and closed schools. It is designed to help replace the cost of meals incurred by families as a result of the State closing schools.

Read more about the benefits on the Arkansas Department of Human Services website.

Alternate Methods of Instruction (AMI)

The Arkansas Department of Education developed a memo outlining guidance for districts during this time, and are continuously updating recommendations and resources for AMI. Here are a few things districts can do now:

  1. Beginning March 30, Arkansas PBS altered daytime programming – complete with learning guides – to provide content for students. For students with limited internet access, districts can align their printed AMI materials with the PBS programming schedule to give students a “schedule” and provide teachers with natural check-in times. The Arkansas AMI Hotline, staffed by the Arkansas Department of Education from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, will answer questions from educators, parents and students about the new process. The hotline number is 1-833-353-6050.
  2. Many districts have surveyed their families about internet access. Linked here are several survey examples that other districts can use.
    1. Lee County
    2. Little Rock School District
    3. Little Rock Spanish Survey
    4. North Little Rock School District
    5. North Little Rock Spanish Survey
    6. Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District
  3. Districts can create resource guides for parents and families to support and engage them in the learning experience. For example, ZUNI Learning Tree, an Arkansas-based learning app, is offering free accounts to parents and teachers.
  4. The Southern Education Foundation partnered with Common Sense Media for its launch of the WideOpenSchool.org platform, which provides a free and open collection of quality online learning experiences to educators and families. They are also curating COVID-19 resources and keeping equity at the forefront of digital learning conversations. This includes the first in a series of publications, Distance Learning During COVID-19: 7 Equity Considerations for Schools and Leaders, an issue brief that provides practical equity considerations and examples of how districts are meeting the needs of their most vulnerable students and families right now.
  5. Digital Promise, a national platform, has compiled some of the best resources and exemplars for schools and families preparing for online learning in response to COVID-19.

Student Nutrition

Many school districts continue to distribute meals using limited-contact or no-contact strategies, such as “grab-and-go” pickup at area schools and direct delivery via school bus. Some are going above and beyond. For example, Fayetteville Public Schools provides enough food for breakfast and lunch to any child in the family under 18 – 10 meals in all, through a single pickup per week. Watson Chapel School District is delivering extra food on Friday that will last throughout the weekend. Additionally:

  1. Five school districts (Nashville, Ozark, Clarksville, Monticello and Clinton) have been awarded grants from Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger in the United States, to support their meal distributions while school is out. More are in the works.
  2. The United States Department of Agriculture has issued a nationwide waiver that allows Child and Adult Care Feeding Program after school-approved sponsors to continue to serve meals during this time. This waiver eliminates the onsite enrichment activity requirement, and it also allows for sponsors to provide grab-and-go meals.
  3. Other waivers also allow organizations to provide meals outside of a group setting. These include the Arkansas Department of Education’s Seamless Summer Option, as well as the Arkansas Department of Human Services’ Summer Food Service Program option. Schools have the ability to decide which program they will participate in. All other faith- and community-based programs and nonprofits can only participate in the Summer Food Service Program.

With nearly 285,000 students across Arkansas relying on the National School Lunch Program, leaders across our state are working on additional solutions to address this urgent need. For example, the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) programs, part of the COVID-19 federal relief legislation, allow states to provide extra food purchasing dollars to some low-income families to help fill the gap left by meals students normally would have had at school. Arkansas is currently developing the plan required to apply for this program.

Following are some helpful resources for additional information and innovative practices regarding student food service during this public health crisis:

  1. Arkansas Department of Education
  2. Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance
  3. Tyson Foods

Supporting Childcare and Early Childhood Education

While every part of our economy has struggled, child care is the lynchpin that allows essential workers to work and deserves even more support than the industry is currently receiving. Recently, the Arkansas Early Childhood Association (AECA) offered guidance to support Arkansas families and protect existing childcare capacity both during and after the COVID-19 challenge.

The AECA encouraged state policymakers to place public health at the forefront of decision-making AND at the same time sustain our child care system by:

  1. Prioritizing childcare services for essential personnel for whom remote work is not an option.
  2. Maintaining the human, programmatic, and financial infrastructure of the childcare sector so it can meet the needs of families as they begin adapting to an eventual relaxation in guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  3. Encouraging strict compliance with the CDC’s indoor social distancing directives, as advised by the Governor, the Arkansas Department of Health, and the Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. These directives advise that classroom groups should be limited to 10 or less people, including adults.
  4. Ensuring reasonable access to necessary cleaning and health-related supplies, which make adherence to the CDC directives possible, as well as access to food.

ForwARd Arkansas supports this guidance and notes that Arkansans’ concerns match those of people across the country. According to a recent survey by the Bipartisan Policy Center,  43% of essential workers need childcare relief, nearly half of those surveyed said they are worried their childcare provider won’t be open, and 75% are concerned about their child’s potential exposure to COVID-19.

If our state is to have a childcare sector that can support all other sectors after the current public health crisis has ended, childcare must be treated as an invaluable component of the infrastructure that supports the overall Arkansas economy.

Following are some helpful resources for additional information during this public health crisis:

  1. Arkansas Early Care Association
  2. Arkansas Department of Health
  3. Arkansas Department of Human Services 

ForwARd Arkansas will continue to share updates, as well as highlight opportunities for the development and broad implementation of innovative and equitable solutions that will ultimately strengthen Arkansas’ educational system post-COVID.

Community Schools: A Solution During a Pandemic

For districts seeking to formalize local partnerships and extend the response beyond the crisis, federal funds provided through the CARES Act can be used to support the planning needed to implement formal Community Schools partnerships.  For example, districts can use the funding provisions of the CARES Act, the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) for:

  1. Activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students including how outreach and service delivery will meet the needs of each population
  2. Purchasing educational technology equipment
  3. Providing mental health services and supports
  4. Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental afterschool programs

Following are some helpful resources for additional information about Community Schools and this public health crisis:

  1. Coalition for Community Schools
  2. Arkansas Coalition for Community Schools
  3. Arkansas Department of Education 
  4. The Education Trust
  5. NWEA – “The COVID-19 Slide” white paper
  6. The Hill – “How 2020 might be the year of community schools”

We welcome your ideas and examples of school districts in Arkansas or elsewhere who are successfully tackling these the COVID-19 challenge with innovative approaches. Share them with us on social media or at info@forwardarkansas.org.