Dexter Suggs, serving as interim superintendent for Education Commissioner Johnny Key in the state-run Little Rock School District, hasn’t done much about improving education in the district since it was taken over but he’s been busy on other matters.
His staff summoned eight teachers and a principal to a “disciplinary conference” at 4 p.m. today. They were told they couldn’t have lawyers and that actions ranged up to the possibility for dismissal. They arranged legal help despite the affront of due process.
Their violation, according to one of those summoned: For eight years or so, they’ve used a room at Jefferson Elementary for various summer enrichment camps, such as a reading camp last summer and courses in computer literacy. About 20 kids took part. Parents paid $125 a week. They used a school classroom. The school principal gave permission. They are among many camps held by school employees that use facilities, such as summer athletic camps and music. And many employees routinely do tutoring and enrichment lessons on their own time. Why did Jefferson come into focus? There are rumors of personal agendas, but they are mostly irrelevant.
The group called on the carpet today included, coincidentally, a vice president of the Little Rock Education Association. The investigation has been underway for months while the district crumbles. The district has acknowledged it has no policies about tutoring by district employees. It acknowledges other summer programs have existed. A district auditorraised objections that money paid by students went to teachers not the school district. But the district had no contract with anyone and the teachers were working outside their contract period. Other programs involve payments directly from students to teachers.
Complaints were made about the proceeding to the state Education Department, which investigated.
The 4 p.m. conference was canceled.
At a minimum, the incident illustrates poor judgment.
Better run school districts — I think specifically of El Dorado and North Little Rock — have moved aggressively to open up schools after hours and in the summer to all manner of enrichment programs. It builds support for the school, builds community, helps kids. If the Little Rock District has been too haphazard in a policy for such programs over the years, fine, establish a policy.
But threatening to fire teachers for a sudden interest in applying non-existent rules to programs everybody knew about? Programs that helped kids? I don’t call that holistic.