CENTRAL HIGH: Large number of students absent. Brian Chilson

About 25 percent of the nearly 6,000 students who attend the Little Rock School District’s five high schools are absent today, according to Pamela Smith, communications director for the district. Students had planned a “sick-out” to support LRSD teachers, who are considering a work stoppage in the wake of the State Board of Education’s move to end recognition of the Little Rock Education Association and keep the LRSD in indefinite state control. Smith said that the district planned to do another count later today. I’ve asked for specific numbers at each high school.

But a source close to the district says that more than half of the district’s high school students — 3,000 — are absent and that number is expected to grow as students who are scheduled to take tests check out early. More than 1,000 students are absent from Central today, according to the source. About 2,500 students attend Central. About 350 of McClellan’s 690 students are absent today, the school told me.

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UPDATE: My source with direct knowledge of the LRSD attendance system says that 7,000 LRSD students were absent today. There are 21,500* students enrolled in the LRSD. I don’t have the breakdown of how many of the 7,000 comes from high school. The overall number may include some students whose families are traveling to take advantage of an extra long weekend. Students are off school Thursday and Friday for professional development for teachers.

Some 75-100 students gathered at the State Capitol today. Governor Hutchinson did not meet with them.

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UPDATE II: The LRSD has provided a breakdown of attendance at all of its schools today (and yesterday by way of comparison). It says that 3,414 of the district’s 23,000 students (21,600 is just K-12, excluding pre-K) were absent today. Among that number, 1,500 were high school students. Smith said she couldn’t explain the discrepancy between what a McClellan staffer told me and what the district reported.

Here’s the high school breakdown from the LRSD:

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Central: 523
Hall: 327
J.A. Fair: 189
McClellan: 242
Parkview: 215

The Little Rock Education Association issued a statement on the sick-out. It said the LREA was not involved in organizing the protest. “However, our students are sending the Governor and his State Board of Education a clear message — it is time they pay attention to the vision this community holds for public education. All students, regardless of their zip code, deserve access to quality schools. … If the governor and his state board think they can silence our advocacy for children by devaluing the work educators do every day in our schools, they are wrong.”

The Arkansas ACLU has also issued a statement:

As students in the Little Rock School District engage in a coordinated walkout to protest the state board of education’s decision to no longer recognize the Little Rock Education Association (LREA) as a negotiator for teachers, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas is calling on school administrators to respect the First Amendment rights of students.

“Public school students do not check their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse doors,” said ACLU of Arkansas interim executive director and legal director Holly Dickson. “School leaders must apply the rules equally, regardless of whether students have broken them to protest or for other reasons. The right to protest is a fundamental pillar of our democracy, and we urge school leaders to support – not unfairly punish – students who exercise it.”

Students who believe they have been unjustly disciplined for expressing their views can contact the ACLU of Arkansas and file a complaint at: https://www.acluarkansas.com/get-help.

Students can learn more about their free speech rights in public schools at: https://www.acluarkansas.org/en/know-your-rights/know-your-rights-students-free-speech-rights-public-schools