Little Rock School District Superintendent Mike Poore said that the district has not decided how or if it will discipline teachers who strike on Thursday. The Little Rock Education Association earlier today called for a one-day strike to coincide with a State Board of Education meeting, where the future of the LRSD is once again on the agenda.
At a news conference at the LRSD central office, Poore said the LRSD has policies in place that govern how employees are supposed to handle being gone from school and that district would “have to follow those policies” with regard to striking teachers. I’ve asked for the specific policy in question and will update this item when I receive it. UPDATE: See below.
Asked more directly if teachers would face termination or disciplinary action for striking, Poore said, “It has not been decided. Because it’s been left open-ended in terms of how [the LREA announced its membership’s intention to strike], that’s going to be have to be looked at when we get closer to the actual event.” He also noted that in two previous teacher strikes, in the LRSD in 1987 and in the Pulaski County Special School District in 1996, teachers were not fired for participating.
Schools will remain open with substitute teachers, LRSD central office employees and members of the Arkansas Department of Education filling in for striking teachers, Poore said. Pamela Smith, LRSD communications director, said the district had 2,115 substitutes available who are contracted through the company WillSub (though Poore said at the news conference, that he expected to only have access to around 300-400 of those), 176 LRSD admin and central office staff and 132 staff members from the Department of Education. Poore said that buses will run and schools will serve meals and provide after care for students. Subs will use lesson plans prepared by teachers at the beginning of the school year, he said.
“The challenge will be that we’re unsure of how many members that are part of the teachers association will in fact walk,” Poore said. He said that around 60 percent of the 1,800 LRSD teachers were members of the LREA.
The LREA has asked the community to stand in solidarity with them on the picket lines and at the State Capitol. Many parents are expected to keep their children home from school Thursday, and advocates have encouraged parents to call their kids’ schools now to report absences. Poore said the district would follow its normal student absence protocols.
There has been talk among advocates of providing alternative facilities for kids whose parents didn’t want to send them to school. The city of Little Rock had reportedly agreed to open its community centers to students. But a plan for alternative sites for children hasn’t emerged, and I’m told that the city will only open its facilities if schools are closed. Poore repeatedly stressed that the LRSD would have “a safe learning environment” Thursday.
“I’m disappointed in the fact that we’re going to have a work stoppage,” he said. “I’m disappointed because I think we’ve had a really great start to our school year. We’ve done so many things that show that we’re making a difference for kids on a day to day basis. Our cultures and school climates are really strong and our data trends are working in positive ways, and I don’t want to have that fall off balance in any form or fashion.”
He asked teachers to keep in mind that the MOU released by the Department of Education is merely a draft. He also said that it only contains two restrictions: As long as the LRSD is under Level 5 intensive support, the MOU says the school board slated to be elected in November 2020 can’t fire the superintendent and can’t recognize the LREA again as the exclusive bargaining agent for teachers.
That’s a charitable reading of the MOU. Under Level 5, the State Board and Key can insert themselves into district policymaking and employment decisions at just about any point. The draft MOU also says the LRSD and state will work together to develop a budget, which will be approved by the LRSD School Board, “with a right of appeal to the Commissioner if there are disputes.” In other words, the state, via Key, will control the budget-making process, too.
Smith, the district’s communications director, provided the following from the LRSD’s employee handbook:
Employees must notify their immediate supervisor of an impending absence.
While absences may occur for legitimate reasons such as sickness or important personal problems, false or unrealistic excuses are not acceptable.
Regular and reliable attendance is an essential job function.
All employees are expected to report to work on time on a regular basis. Employees who will be absent or late arriving to work are required to contact the administrator of their department prior to the beginning work time.
Absence without communication by the employee for more than five consecutive workdays can lead to disciplinary action up to, and including, termination. Excessive absences and undocumented absences may also lead to termination.
A doctor’s release will be required and must be presented to the department office or supervisor before returning to work for any absence due to personal illness or family illness of more than five consecutive workdays. The District may contact the employee’s health care provider for the purposes of clarifying and authenticating the release.
When an employee‘s absences become a concern or a pattern of absences becomes established, the principal/supervisor shall discuss with the employee the reason for such absences. Such absences may be subject to verification. If the absences are deemed excessive, the employee may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including, termination of employment.
TARDINESS: Any employee arriving 10 or more minutes after his/her scheduled starting time will be considered tardy. Any three occurrences of tardiness within a 30-day period will be considered excessive.
ABSENCE: Any employee who is not present at his/her work assignment during any scheduled work period will be considered absent for that period.
EXCESSIVE ABSENTEEISM: Excessive absenteeism and turnover are expensive, disruptive, and place an unfair burden on other employees. Any three separate occurrences of absence within a 30-day period will be considered excessive. The supervisor shall review reasons for absences. The supervisor may issue a written notice outlining concerns and/or a conference may be requested.
TERMS OF EMPLOYMENT, LRSD EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK, PAGES 35-36