STRIKE ANNOUNCED: By LREA President Teresa Knapp Gordon. Brian Chilson

The Little Rock Education Association announced a one-day strike Thursday to underscore its press for local control of the Little Rock School District and equal treatment of all students and employees.

Lindsey Millar is on hand and there’s more to come.

UPDATE FROM LINDSEY: At the Little Rock Central High National Historic Site, under the awning of the restored Magnolia/Mobil service station, Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association, said the teachers union was fighting for the children of the LRSD:

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“As educators, we would rather be in the classroom with our students — not on a picket line,” she said. “However, this community and the passionate, dedicated educators of this district will do what is necessary to protect the futures of our students.”

Gordon said teachers hope that community members join teachers on picket lines at schools throughout the district on Thursday and then follow teachers as they convene on the State Capitol grounds while the State Board of Education is meeting. Gordon said she expected all of the LREA’s nearly 1,800 members, including teachers and support staff, to participate in the strike.

“In addition to educating the students, it is our moral imperative to protect those students from those who seek to use them as pawns in privatization schemes to destroy public education in our city, our state and in our country,” Gordon said. “Governor Hutchinson, Secretary Key and the State Board of Education have failed our students. They have not listened to the students, the educators, the parents and the community of the Little Rock School District. We stated unequivocally that it is time for the LRSD to be returned to full local control with an elected school board in place that has full decision-making authority. Their paternalistic response is to try and retain control of our district until they are able to destroy it: limiting when an election will occur place, limiting decision-making authority of a new school board, limiting control of the district and seeking to re-segregate our schools because they believe they know what’s best for us.

“When Governor Hutchinson and his appointed state board of education announced their plans to re-segregate our schools last month, this community joined with us and together we blocked their plans. We must now come together again.

“For more than six decades, the LREA has stood up for children in the little Rock School District. This is a crucial moment in our history. The governor is trying to silence our voices, to prevent us from advocating for the best policy and practices for our students. He will not win.”

Asked whether the strike might stretch into more than one day, Gordon said all options were on the table.

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I’ve asked Governor Hutchinson and Secretary Johnny Key for comment. LRSD Superintendent Mike Poore has scheduled media availability for 2 p.m.

UPDATE II: Key provided the following statement:

I want to reassure students and parents that the district is prepared for Thursday’s work stoppage. More than enough substitutes, Little Rock School District staff, and ADE staff have passed background checks and are prepared to step in to ensure students receive a quality education. Every school in the district will remain open, buses will run, lunch will be served, and a safe learning environment will be provided. At the end of the day, the students in the Little Rock School District deserve a proper education, and we will be ready to ensure that occurs.

I am deeply disappointed with the Little Rock Education Association’s announcement today about Thursday’s strike. The decision to strike, even for just one day, sends the wrong message to Little Rock School District students, the community, and the state of Arkansas. LREA leadership refuses to acknowledge that everything they are asking for may be obtained when the district is no longer in need of Level 5 support. When the need for Level 5 support no longer exists, the local board that will be elected in November 2020 will have full authority to consider their demands. In order to exit Level 5 support, however, students need high-quality educational instruction and support. They can best receive that from the educators who have been hired to do so.

 

Hutchinson provided the following statement to KATV:

“I have said many times, teachers are the critical element for good education inside the classroom. The LRSD has so many great teachers and it is our desire to have them in the classroom, not at home or picketing. I am disappointed that the union has chosen to lead a strike that encourages teachers to walk out on their students. Superintendent Mike Poore has made it clear we are going to continue classes and continue education and that we will not let a strike stop the education of our students. We all desire local control and next year’s school board election is a major step approved by the State Board of Education.”

Brian Chilson
ELLIOTT: Time to stand

Sen Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock), whose district includes Central High School, drew parallels between the current Little Rock crisis and the 1957 Central High crisis.

“In 1957, many, many people failed our kids,” she said. “I stand before you today to say that we will not fail our kids. Please don’t be a person who says you care. Be able to say something to kids 60 years from now that you did more than silently caring.” She asked that community members stand and up and support teachers, who she called “nation builders.”

Brian Chilson
SHERIDAN: Because state officials have ignored the LRSD community, strike the next step.

Wendy Sheridan, a parent of two children in the district and a member of Grassroots Arkansas, said that community members had repeatedly tried to make their case for the district to be returned to full local control to no avail. She called a strike “the next step” in that process.

“I’m here today to support our teachers and educators,” she said. “I stand behind them. I want everyone to know that, while as parents, we want what’s best for our children, and that’s for them to be in school. At this point what’s best for our children is to support our educators.”

FROM EARLIER:

The State Board may make further decisions on the district for which it has provided little or no advance warning to the public. These include school board zones for which demographics have not yet been released and new school attendance zones for which no information has been released. The board has already indicated it will retain control of the district for the foreseeable future and set up a two-tiered district in which it will retain even personnel control of a group of schools mostly in poor, minority neighborhoods. The state Board in a surprise move without debate recently terminated the negotiating agreement with the LREA, a representative of teachers for more than a half-century. No board member has offered a justification for the end of union representation, beyond union antipathy.

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Max’s opinion: A one-day strike will help make the point that the state remains in charge and remains the enemy of teachers who work hard in often difficult settings to improve the lives of children.  They deserve support, not scapegoating.

Superintendent Poore has said the district has been making preparations for a strike, including lining up qualified substitutes to keep children in class.

The logistics of coping with a one-day strike will be much easier than a prolonged strike of uncertain duration.

However, questions are already arising about actions against teachers who strike. Gordon said teachers will not use sick or leave days for the day they leave.  Would the district fire teachers for a one-day strike?

There is no statute making teacher strikes illegal in Arkansas. And cases involving both a Little Rock strike in 1987 and a Pulaski strike didn’t result in rulings against such strikes. In the 1997 case, then-Chancellor Annabelle Imber wouldn’t enjoin a strike because those seeking the order hadn’t proved it was illegal. By the time the case reached the Arkansas Supreme Court, the issue was moot because the strike was over. It ended by a mediation order from the federal court overseeing the county desegregation case. Though there’s been no ruling against a teacher strike, there are some references in law against strikes by other public employees.