Most of the press coverage of last night’s State Board of Education meeting regarding the future of Little Rock School District unfortunately furthered the narrative that our community is irreparably divided, cannot work together, and would therefore be ill equipped to govern our school district if it was returned to local control. We need to consciously work to dispel this false perception.
I have attended two of the three meetings and watched the other one online, and while there has definitely been tension and shouting, the anger and frustration is generally not internal strife within the LRSD community. These protests have been a cathartic release of years of pent-up resentment, distrust and frustration aimed at the State Board. They are a refusal to validate a community-input process that many people view as a sham. They are not an indication that the people of Little Rock hate each other.
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What most media outlets failed to mention was that, while the board members were absent from the room conducting their own small “break-out sessions” elsewhere, hundreds of people participated in a community-led exercise to draft a proposal to the State Board and that exercise was both productive and fairly orderly. No, it wasn’t governed by Robert’s Rules of Order, but it also was not defined by the type of shouting, screaming and disorder that ensued once the State Board members came back into the room and attempted to regain control of the meeting.
The press latched on to a few incidents when people within the LRSD community disagreed with each other. The exchange between Sen. Will Bond (D-Little Rock) and Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen was widely reported on, as was the audience’s pushback against LRSD parent and former PTA president Michelle Davis, who urged the community to try to work with the State Board members in a more productive manner. But what wasn’t reported was the remarkable fact that despite those disagreements, all those people stayed at the meeting and continued talking to each other. They disagreed but kept trying to work together toward a common goal.
There were LRSD parents at last night’s meeting who were deeply offended by allegations of white supremacy that they felt were being unfairly aimed directly at them. And there were people present who were just as deeply offended that others refuse to acknowledge the role that racism has played in so many of our education decisions over the years. There were people who viewed a peaceful and orderly meeting as the best way to craft real solutions and to convince the board that we are ready to govern ourselves, and there were people who had absolutely no faith in the board’s desire to listen to the community and who viewed protest as a better alternative to participating in a meaningless PR stunt.
Here is the remarkable part: They all showed up at Saint Mark. They all stayed, and they all talked to each other. No one stormed off. No one gave up.
Of course we will disagree. It is inevitable when talking about something as important as our kids’ education. Yet last night hundreds of LRSD supporters put those disagreements aside in order to fight for the future of our schools.
That is unity, not division.