State Board of Education action to waive school standards law in the Pine Bluff School District may be broader than I indicated yesterday. But officials won’t talk about it.

At today’s meeting, the Board will consider a proposal backed by Education Commissioner Johnny Key to waive the teacher fair dismissal law in the state-run Little Rock School District. There’s no evidence the law has presented an obstacle to dismissal of under-performing teachers. The law exists to encourage the identification of problems and to improve teachers who can be improved. But the issue makes it appear that teachers are to blame for low test scores in many Little Rock schools after four years of state control.

The Pine Bluff School District, recently taken over by the state, is on the agenda, too. In response to my FOI request about Pine Bluff discussions, I was referred yesterday solely to items posted on the board agenda. They indicate the state-appointed superintendent wants exemption from the state law requiring licensed teachers, using as justification that it is a waiver given to a charter school with students from the district (the online Arkansas Virtual Academy). It’s hard to find licensed teachers to hire, he said.

But the agenda also mentions, without elaboration, the state law for districts in academic distress (such as Little Rock). It allows waivers of rules, too, including the fair dismissal law. I repeated my FOI yesterday for any documents related to this particular portion of the agenda.

In response, I got a page of Key’s handwritten notes that appear to indicate Pine Bluff teacher contracts for the next school year are to be adjusted to include the waiver of the teacher fair dismissal law. I asked a department employee if this meant indeed that such a waiver request would be before the Board today. I got no response.

The Little Rock waiver request was similarly unannounced until our FOI request disclosed plans for Board member Diane Zook to introduce it.

Pine Bluff teachers haven’t been told about plans for a discussion of terms of their employment. The Pine Bluff district takeover vote came without prior public notice as well.

Again: Teacher licensure and fair dismissal laws, along with all the other schoool standard laws that charter schools like to waive, are aimed at ensuring professional workforces and good working conditions. These are good for the quality of education kids receive. Poorly trained and unfairly supervised teachers who labor for poor pay and extended hours on the whims of administrators are not. But the trend these days is for less regulation.

Again: We are down the rabbit hole.