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Friday, September 3, 2021

Parents and Community,

Despite having to deal with COVID close contacts and those with positive test results, we have had a rather smooth start to the 2021-2022 school year. As of today, our enrollment is 1,747 students. This is up from the end of the 2020-2021 school year, which finished with 1,720. All of the buildings have seen a slight increase in enrollment and there are several new faces, especially among our staff. We want to welcome our new students, staff members, and their families to Mena!

We have many of our students engaged in very worthwhile activities right now. We are in our second week of the football season. Our band is on the field marching again. Our volleyball, golf, and cross country teams are successfully competing weekly; and, this week is the Polk County Fair and Livestock Show. As you go to these events to support our students and as you take off on your other Labor Day Weekend adventures, please be mindful of COVID and how it impacts our school when large numbers of people are quarantined or isolated.

We began the year with an emphasis on creating as much normalcy as possible for our students and staff but the latest wave of the coronavirus is bringing back much of the stressors of last year. Students and staff are being quarantined as close contacts, so many of us are back to learning from home.

On Thursday, September 2, 2021, Mena Public Schools had 232 students and employees at home because of COVID. This is about 45 more than our highest number last year. Of course, 76.3% of those people are quarantined due to being in close contact. Today, Friday, September 3, 2021, that number is down to 229.

We have 53 active cases of COVID right now, which is a 2.7% positivity rate. That's based on all students and staff in the district and is up from 1.9% last week. Here is a breakdown of active cases on each campus.

Total Active Cases :- 53
LDES - 13
HHES - 26
MMS - 10
MHS - 2
Other - 2

The good news is that we are coming to a long weekend and when we return on September 7th, so will 113 people who are now isolated or quarantined.

We want to recognize and thank Mr. Shane Torix and Nurses Becky Richardson, Lisa Falls, Sherry Wood, and Bobbi Landon for all the contact tracing and record keeping they are having to do along with their other jobs. Our contact tracing team here at Mena Public Schools is very thorough and accurate. This team determines who close contacts are when there is a positive case at school. Our close contacts are being reduced by the actions our staff and students are taking to keep social distance, wear masks, or be vaccinated. But many are still being sent home because they do not take these precautions.

To keep our doors open, we must have enough staff available to properly supervise and educate the students that are here and quarantined at home. Wearing a mask or being vaccinated will prevent people from being sent home as a close contact as long as they have no symptoms. We are asking those who do not want the vaccine to at least mask up when they cannot social distance. This will keep us in operation and avoid shutdown. Many of our younger students cannot or do not understand these things, which is why our highest number of active cases are among those 12 years of age or younger.

We are asking parents, students, and staff to do these things because of the rules that we are under from the Arkansas Department of Health. First, we have our guidance from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Here it is at this link https://drive.google.com/.../1eSmYOEeYvjzLJG2O6PjLYW.../view.
These rules are given to them by the Arkansas Department of Health and state law gives them the authority to do whatever they deem necessary to keep the public health safe. Here are the laws: 20-7-109
https://law.justia.com/.../chapter-7/subchapter-1/20-7-109
and 20-7-110.
https://law.justia.com/.../subchapter-1/section-20-7-110/
We will also share this memo
https://drive.google.com/.../1NEiQXYaQe08FQd.../view
from the Secretary of Health, Dr. Jose Romero explaining their authority. We have to quarantine or isolate based on these rules and laws.

We do not have the same waivers from the state as last year to help us in case we have to shut down school. We are limited to ten (10) Alternative Methods of Instruction (AMI) days and use of Digital Learning. We do have a plan for students without Internet access. Student/teacher interaction on these days are required or they do not count as a school day. This is a statement made by DESE and those days will be added to the end of the school year if we do not teach according to our AMI plan. If we use any AMI days, we ask parents to please make sure their student participates in and completes all assignments.

The chances of us closing as a district are just about zero. AMI days are more for weather events but we may use them in case of a COVID outbreak in the school. Our guidance from DESE is to send specific classrooms or buildings home before closing the entire district. They base our guidance on what to do according to the "outbreak" level at a school. Here's a story that covers what an "outbreak" actually is.
https://www.5newsonline.com/.../91-644275ef-1685-4073...
At this time, we do not have a COVID outbreak. Our high numbers are primarily quarantined close contacts.

We thank all of the parents and community members in the Mena School District for their patience, understanding, and support as we try to continue educating students while dealing with the continuing impact of COVID. We want you to know that while we are focused on educating your children and overcoming past learning loss, we are also taking safety precautions in the buildings to keep a clean and healthy learning environment.