Rising concerns over COVID-19 outbreaks during the upcoming school year have compelled state officials to investigate leave policies for school employees. On Friday, Aug. 7, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced his support for a new appropriations act that would provide funding for school leave.
Hutchinson told reporters that he supported allocating $20 million dollars to be used for a Quarantine Emergency Leave fund to be used for school employees that must isolate in the event of COVID-19 exposure.
“We know that there’s going to be a positive case in the school. We know that because of that, we might have to have a staff person that has to quarantine or a teacher that has to quarantine. Even though they’re not positive, they still need to do that. We don’t want that to come out of their ordinary leave or their pocket,” he said.
School employees will be allowed to take up to two weeks of paid leave through the Quarantine Emergency Leave funding. These funds will be used for both teachers and support/classified staff, including cafeteria workers and bus drivers.
These funds would be drawn from CARES Act funding and must be approved by the CARES Act Steering Committee. As CARES Act funds, they must be used by the end of the 2020 calendar year.
According to Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key, it was “very difficult to come up with an estimate” for the amount of funding necessary for the fund. The $20 million funding amount, he said, was based on community COVID-19 numbers and daily rates in Arkansas.
“We tried to estimate high because we certainly do not know the level of outbreaks we could have but we want to be prepared when and if it does happen,” Key said.
An initial estimate of $15 million was judged to be insufficient, and the amount was increased to $20 million.
Key also clarified the expectation for on-site instruction for school districts in Arkansas. He emphasized that districts will not be required to host every student but must offer on-site instruction to students who need day-to-day services.
“The expectation is that campuses are open for those students and those families who do need that instruction, who need those therapies or need that intensive support that is only available on campus,” he said. “For instance, a district that wants to have alternative scheduling for some students, they can still offer that for those students for whom that works but they need to have the campus open for the other students who need that five-day a week opportunity.”