LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Next week hundreds of students will fill the halls of schools across the state, but many parents and teachers still have questions and concerns about their kids and their own safety. The Arkansas Department of Education set up a call center to address just that.
More than 20 employees are taking calls from parents and teachers wondering what exactly will school look like this year and is it safe to go back. With the help of UAMS and Arkansas Children’s Hospital, they’ve compiled a list of resources to answer those questions and give parents and teachers some peace of mind.
From the second the phone rings, employees at ADE are tasked with answering question after question about the upcoming school year. Venus Torrence is one of 23 people tasked with finding those answers. As soon as she picks up the phone, she logs the question in their system. She says some of the questions are pretty straight forward.
“When does a person need to quarantine,” Torrence said.
Others take a little more digging.
“What will happen if someone tests positive at a school, how many cases have to be reported before a school shuts down,” Torrence said.
According to Sharlee Crowson, another employee answering calls, they have a large spreadsheet filled with resources where they can search for those answers.
“It seems like every day there’s always something new so we are digging into those resources, reaching out to our contacts and constantly updating our resource list,” Crowson said.
What happens if they don’t have the answer right in front of them?
“We highlight it in yellow so someone knows that we need to go back and address that one,” Torrence said.
The logs are then reported to supervisors.
“It really helps us have a better understanding of all the dynamics that are at play right now,” ADE Deputy Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer said.
Pfeffer said this helps her determine what she can provide to different districts across the state.
“We’re just using that to kind of help shift our leadership, our support, and our service for our schools and communities,” Pfeffer said.
As students filter into the halls next week, they expect these phones to ring off the hook. As each call is answered, another mind is at ease.
“We want parents to feel confident that our schools are ready and that they’re prepared,” Pfeffer said.
The Arkansas Department of Education is also working with the Arkansas Bilingual Resource Network to help parents who don’t speak English. The number for the call center is 1-833-353-6050. The Spanish number is 1-501-218-4015.