Over 70 high school students from the Little Rock School District gathered outside Governor Hutchinson’s office on Wednesday afternoon as part of a “sick out” protest to support district teachers. Jennifer Siccardi, receptionist for the governor, said Hutchinson would be keeping his existing appointments and would not be meeting with students.
After students initially flooded the small reception space of the governor’s office, Siccardi told activist Anika Whitfield that Hutchinson might speak with a few students to set a time to meet at a later date. Siccardi heard from several students who shared concerns about their teachers and the district, and she said she would write a report on their concerns to submit to the governor. After about an hour of confusion and still no appearance from Hutchinson, Siccardi instead encouraged students to email or call the governor’s office and leave messages.
“Please call me,” Siccardi said. “I am here, but … please leave a message, because I can only talk to one person at a time. But if you leave me a voicemail, I will count it, because you count.”
Students carried signs reading “I am more than a test score” and “Inequity to teachers is inequity to students.” Many wore red, and students from all five high schools — Little Rock Central, Hall, J.A. Fair, McClellan and Parkview — were present, though Central High seemed to have the largest representation. Parents, middle school and elementary school students also attended, including a few who wore surgical masks over their mouths to represent the silencing of teachers in the district. Students took selfies, exchanged numbers, made boomerangs for Instagram and chanted along with Whitfield, “We want democracy, we want equity, we want justice, we want liberation!”
Sam Triplett, a senior at Central High, told reporters he was hoping for a chance to speak with the governor about issues happening in the district, saying he was frustrated by Hutchinson’s refusal to appear.
“It feels like he’s just leaving us behind,” Triplett said. “We’re kids, we don’t get to vote, this is all we have, and it feels like we don’t have an opportunity to express anything to him. So that’s why I’m going to wait here until he wants to speak to us.”
Another Central High student, Milo Williams Thompson, said the governor was “not just not making an effort to speak to us, he’s actively hiding from us and the consequences of his actions.”
“He didn’t just happen to not be in his office at this moment,” Thompson said. “He knew we were coming, and he is hiding.”
Asked by reporters why he decided to attend the protest, Thompson replied, “I didn’t have a choice. None of us want to be here. None of us should be here. But the people who are supposed to represent us, [like] the governor, are people we have to work against.”
Alexis Willis, parent of a Central High student, said she is a former substitute teacher and has seen firsthand how “different schools have different advantages over the other schools in poor neighborhoods.” Asked about her thoughts on the district offering increased hourly pay to substitute teachers in advance of a potential teacher work stoppage, Willis said “anybody can be a substitute, but only certain people are qualified to teach.”
“You can get a substitute teacher to fill in the space, but your children will definitely suffer a consequence when they’re not learning during that period of people lining up just to get the money,” Willis said. “I will not be one of the people lining up because I’m going to stand with the teachers, because my child is one of the people suffering from the results and repercussions of this division. We are one LRSD, that means unity.”
Before students left, Whitfield told the crowd she gave her name and contact information to the governor’s office, who “supposedly” will be contacting her to schedule a future time to meet with Hutchinson. She gave students the number for the governor’s office and encouraged them to share their concerns.
“Let’s keep the governor aware that we are one LRSD,” Whitfield said.