A coalition today issued a list of demands to Governor Hutchinson and state education officials that include the return of local control to the Little Rock School District but also for a greater investment so that schools are both safe and adequate for all students.

Said the letter to Hutchinson, Education Secretary Johnny Key and the state Board of Education:

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We, the undersigned community organizations, parents, educators, and labor leaders demand 100% safety in order to reopen Little Rock schools. Our students, our community, and our educators deserve an educational environment that does not sacrifice the safety and lives of all those involved for the expediency of reopening the economy. We are not willing to risk the lives of our children, their families, and the educators who serve them in order to line the pockets of Wall Street.
Covid-19 has disproportionately affected and killed black and brown people at a rate much higher than white americans; a rush to open schools this fall means that the lives of people of color will be the cost of jump starting our economy- that is categorically unacceptable. Our children deserve safe schools, that means not only safety from the possible infection of Covid-19, but safety from the violence of poverty and systemic racism that infects our community.
The cost of reopening our schools with 100% safety is nothing compared to the value of our children’s lives. As a reminder, the banks have received over $14 trillion dollars since the start of the pandemic– If we as a society can afford to give away $14 trillion dollars to big banks, then we can surely afford to provide a safe environment for the children of Little Rock and of Arkansas. Our children’s lives are priceless and no cost should be prohibitive in ensuring their safety.
The only way to ensure these demands is for an immediate return to local control for LRSD. In addition, we demand direct community, parent, and educator ownership of the process to reopen our schools. We deserve to be at the table in all discussions and decisions involving our lives. Our demands are attached.
  • Little Rock Education Association

  • Grassroots Arkansas

  • National Association of Social Workers-AR

  • Central AR- Democratic Socialists of Arkansas

  • Our Community Our Schools

  • Arkansans for World Class Education

  • Arkansas Community Organizations

  • Arkansas Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival

  • Barry Block

Here is the list of demands. It includes the restoration of local control by an elected school board in Little Rock. But it also calls for a budget sufficient for every school district in the state to operate safely and adequately.

It implicitly calls out the lack of plans for every district in the state and a lack of parent input on operational plans. It “demands” explicit safety precautions, such as mandatory masks and protocols for checking school visitors and tracing contacts with people who test positive. It demands safe distancing in classes. It wants health coverage for staff and workers comp for those who become infected. It calls for the end of police in schools (a growing and worthy national movement; police are poor substitutes for social workers.)

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This demand hints at the breadth of the problem.

We Demand needs-based support (academic, medical, social, physical, emotioonal, and economic) for students and families who have been exponentially challenged,
traumatized, and harmed by the lack of urgent response to COVID-19 by their city, county, state, and/or federal government, particularly those already marginalized and under-supported, pre COVID-19.

Families have been faced with evictions, homelessness, limited or no access to medical and wellness care, limited or no support for children and family members with special needs, and other real-0me needs that cannot be ignored or neglected. To address this, we must boldly invest in the communities that students live in by guaranteeing:

A. Sick pay for all
B. Unemployment insurance for all who lose employment during the COVID-19 pandemic
C. Income replacement funds
D. Free medical access for all
E. Creation of new jobs in schools across job categories (as staff will be needed, and the public sector is the most stable part of the economy).
F. Release of all non-violent drug offenders immediately, providing counseling, rehabilitation, and re-entry programs free of charge.
G. Equitable housing, rehabilitation of vacant properties and closed schools, elimination of evictions and foreclosures due to lack of funds during the pandemic
H. Protection of voting rights and increased access to voting.
I. Provision of stimulus money for Black and Brown owned businesses and small
businesses
J. Provision of worker’s compensation and coverage of all medical expenses for everyone who contracts COVID-19

This will go straight into the governor’s wastebasket, perhaps without even the smirk with which he daily delivers spin and disingenuous charts about his success at coping with the coronavirus crisis, at least as measured by open chicken plants and protection of businesses from consequences of dangerous behavior.

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But this is the overlooked element of our crisis. The governor here and those elsewhere have given a whole lot more concern to getting bars open again than in operating a safe and adequate public school system.

Where’s the money for schools that billionaires got for their business (oh, the KIPP charter school chain got millions in paycheck protection grant money in Arkansas, it was revealed today)? The “demands” in this list include a moratorium on charter schools, another one for the Key/Hutchinson wastebasket.

The demand list is worth reading. It’s a progressive wish list for equitable education, including the end of fake high-stakes testing, more counselors and special educators, equitable funding in Arkansas without consideration for geographic location and college scholarships to put more people of color in teaching ranks.

Yes, read it. It’s not going anywhere. A lawsuit on the return of local LRSD control might help here.

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But the larger issue is REALLY important for the whole country. Education MUST continue. But schools have been hung out to dry. Where is THEIR money? Donald Trump is worried about saving monuments to slavery.

Where is the money for children’s safety? Where is the extra effort for the poor kids, the homeless kids, the unwired kids and the poorly supervised kids in a time when schools are to be turned upside down?

The virus crops up everywhere every day and we just seem to act, like Trump, as if it all will magically be as it was before any minute now. As it was before wasn’t so great, by the way.

Will there be school?

That’s a good question.

But there WILL be football.