The Little Rock School District has closed schools Monday and Tuesday, blaming sickness and high teacher absenteeism. Though, as I’ve reported, multiple sources tell me that the Little Rock Education Association directed a teacher “sick-out” to protest state overreach. LREA president Teresa Knapp Gordon neither confirmed nor denied the “sick out” in a statement that was mostly devoted to the harm done to teachers by the state and the influence of the Walton family.
Jim Ross, a former LRSD School Board member and a longtime advocate, criticized the framing of my reporting yesterday.
“Let me get this right,” he wrote on Twitter. “They kept the schools opened when 700 teachers were out on strike, but can’t handle 250 out sick? Seems like @LRSD is trying to manufacture a crisis to make parents mad at the teachers. Don’t forget only the district can close the schools, NOT the union.”
That’s a fair point.
Another element of the school shutdown that’s being cast by advocates and teachers as a punitive move by the LRSD to punish teachers? The district’s decision not to use alternative methods of instruction days while schools are closed. That’s where students are to complete schoolwork at home when school is closed so as to avoid make-up days later in the year. State law allows AMI to be used “on days when the public school district is closed due to exceptional or emergency circumstances such as: a contagious disease outbreak, inclement weather, or other acts of God; or a utility outage.”
Several other districts that have closed schools recently due to flu outbreaks have used AMI days.
In a note to parents, Pamela Smith, district communications director, said that the LRSD would not be able to use AMI days without explaining why. I’ve asked Smith and Superintendent Mike Poore for an explanation and will update this post if I hear back.
UPDATE: Smith provide the following statement to media Monday night:
The Little Rock School District (LRSD) announced Sunday that due to high absentee rates among students and staff that the District will be closed Monday-Tuesday, February 10-11, 2020. During the closure, LRSD will use this time to do additional cleaning to prevent the further spreading of the flu.
The primary goal of LRSD is to create and maintain an educational environment that is safe, healthy and conducive to learning. Accordingly, the District considered the health and wellbeing of students and staff in making the decision to close. Early sick leave request data on Sunday indicated that LRSD would not have enough staff to safely provide classroom instruction. As the sick leave requests to the District’s attendance tracking system escalated throughout Sunday afternoon, combined with the known flu outbreak in the LRSD community, administration made a decision in the best interest of students and staff.
It is hoped that teachers would never abuse sick leave and that the letter sent out by the Little Rock Education Association would not be used as justification to disrupt the learning environment. The decision to close combined every data point that was available to LRSD. It was important to the District to make a decision of this magnitude as quickly as possible so parents would have adequate time to make appropriate plans.
In response to questions regarding the use of Alternate Method of Instruction (AMI) days, implementing LRSD’s approved plan for AMI days requires the ability of staff to support student instruction virtually. However, because of the number of staff who called in sick and high student absences, it would be insensitive to expect effective educational engagement under these circumstances. LRSD is working to determine the best option for making up the days, which could occur during Spring break, on Saturdays or at the end of the school year.