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Members of the El Dorado School Board approved a waiver resolution that would affect the first allowable school day, requesting that the El Dorado School District be allowed to begin the 2018-19 school year on Aug. 13 – a Monday.

Board members agreed to submit the waiver request to the Arkansas State Board of Education to “balance semesters” and to allow for extra days at the end of the school year, in case schools should be closed sometime throughout the year due to inclement weather and will need make-up days.

During the regular monthly meeting of the board Monday night, Assistant Superintendent Rhonda Simmons explained the waiver request resolution. Arkansas law provides for the school year to begin no earlier than the Monday of the week containing Aug. 19 (Aug. 19 is a Sunday in 2018) and under the law, the earliest the 2018-19 school year can begin is Aug. 20.

The resolution reads that the start of the school year varies from year to year, beginning some years as early as Aug. 14 or as late as Aug. 20 and a late start to the school year creates unbalanced semesters, reduces the preparation time for state testing and limits flexibility in scheduling inclement weather make-up days.

The waiver resolution approved by board members requests that the first allowable school day be “no earlier than Aug. 13 during the five years of the waiver.”

Also during Monday night’s meeting, members of the board discussed the School Choice Act of 2013, which was modified in 2015, on the basis that the district “is subject to a desegregation order or mandate of a federal court or agency remedying the effects of past racial segregation.”

The Public School Choice Act of 1989 was repealed by Arkansas lawmakers and Act 1227 of 2013 was signed into law by then Gov. Mike Beebe. The Public School Choice Act of 1989 prohibited school districts from granting legal transfers in two situations – “where either the resident or the receiving district is under a desegregation related court order or has ever been under such a court order and the transfer in question would negatively affect the racial balance of that district.” The ESD can exempt-out of the new law because the district is under a court-mandated desegregation order. The 2013 act allows open school choice and provides that students can switch districts regardless of race.

In 2016, a federal judge ruled that the ESD could not participate in the 2013 Arkansas School Choice Act student transfers, because to do so would put the district in conflict with its 1971 federal school desegregation order. The judge ruled at that time, that “participation in the (open) School Choice Act would allow inter-district movement of students between (the El Dorado district) and the surrounding districts. If allowed, based on the demographics of ESD and the surrounding districts, such movement would have a segregative impact in the ESD.”

Michelle Henry, principal at Yocum Math and Science, focused on a new program at the school that includes intervention in academic skills and behavioral skills, during her report about the school Monday night.

She explained that some students “have extra energy, anger and sensory deficits,” and the new program teaches students the ability to cope with their emotions and feelings.

An $8,000 grant was awarded to Yocum from the district to purchase items to help students cope and be successful in the classroom, Henry said. The goal of the intervention program is to teach students to “calm down” and provides strategies to help children “redirect their emotions.”

Desk bike pedal exercisers have also been purchased to help students decrease excessive energy, along with six pendulum stand-up desks. Sensory items that have natural calming effects, 15 multi-directional stools “Good to Grow” and two flex-back rocking chairs have been acquired by the school. They have purchased two fiber optic calming carpets and four Amazon Fire HD 8 with cases with calming, relaxation and breathing apps.

“Lots of research backs these things,” Henry told board members. She said some parents of children with anxiety issues and behavioral deficits don’t want to deal with the issues and others have said, “We don’t know what to do.”

Janice McIntyre can be reached at 862-6611 or

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