The Little Rock Education Association has informed the Little Rock School District that teachers won’t report to work in classrooms Monday.
The reason is evident on posts on the LREA’s Facebook page.
What isn’t known is how many teachers will not show up. The LREA has many members in the district, but it was fired as a representative of district employees by state Education Commissioner Johnny Key, boss of the district under state control. The district says in-person school will continue.
The problem in Little Rock is the same one being felt all over Arkansas: Double duty for teachers managing in-person classes and teaching for children staying home; thousands of cases of either COVID-19 or people in quarantine because of exposure to sick people; difficulty finding substitutes; some people who are seriously ill.
From Superintendent Mike Poore’s letter to parents:
The Little Rock School District values you as a partner in our shared commitment to ensure that all students have the best educational outcomes. We are sending this letter to you because we have been made aware today of a decision by the Little Rock Education Association to not provide in-person instruction starting tomorrow, September 28, 2020.
As we have stated previously, we understand that our parents need our schools to be open and we are committed to doing everything we can to avoid disruption to the learning environment. We are grateful to report that we have no additional positive cases to share today. Additionally, the Arkansas Department of Health shows the latest rate of new cases for a 14-day period is now down to 14 positive COVID cases per 10K residents in the LRSD community. (Residents means students, staff, parents and community within the Little Rock School District boundary).
Since the beginning of this school year, we have taken several steps to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our students and staff, including:
• Providing and encouraging the use of masks for all students and staff (Purchased over 3-Million masks)
• Implementing COVID screenings for staff at each building • Maintaining clean buildings with daily disinfecting protocols
• Working with our Point of Contact team and the Arkansas Department of Health daily to identify cases, as well as notify and provide contact tracing and quarantine information to impacted students and employees
• Moving to virtual learning when numbers dictated that approach, erring on the side of caution so school site could be safe
• Providing daily public information regarding schools that are impacted We are taking additional steps to continue in-person instruction this week. All schools will be open, buses will run, and meals will be served.
We still expect a large number of our dedicated teaching staff to be present, as well as Central Office staff, and substitute teachers who have completed state-mandated background checks, to replace teachers who do not report to work in-person. We will have nurses and security officers on site to keep your children safe. Additionally, there could be potential disciplinary action for employees who do not report to work in-person. We believe having students in school, with the above mentioned safety measures, is the best place for them. If we were to close schools, we would have to extend the school year. Additionally, we are required to take attendance each day.
This year, we have made significant strides in providing critical instructional support for our students despite COVID-related challenges:
• We have continually sought input/feedback from staff and parents, making ongoing revisions to our Ready for Learning plan based on that feedback.
• We have increased the number of District in-person support visits to observe building cleanliness and instructional practices.
• We have established a plan to review extenuating circumstances for any personnel for consideration of worksite adjustments
– 1. As of today (September 27, 2020), 71 total requests made for accommodations in the workplace
2. 11 have been successfully accommodated
3. 48 changed their mind, elected medical leave or resigned
4. 12 Pending requests for accommodations 810 West Markham Street
This is in keeping with a complaint on the LREA Facebook page today — how hard it is for people with health concerns to get workplace accommodations.
UPDATE: The LREA has made no announcement and Teresa Knapp
Gordon, the leader, hasn’t responded to my questions. On social media, people are saying no vote was taken. The legalities of a formal vote on a job action could explain that. Or not. But, contrary to some social media, Poore’s letter remains posted online. Whatever happens tomorrow, the news underscores unease on the part of educators statewide.
UPDATE II: Around 8 p.m., the LREA issued a news release. It explained this was NOT a strike, but that teachers (how many is unclear) would report to work but only virtually. Whether Education Secretary Johnny Key, the nominal “school board” in Little Rock under state control of the district, accedes to that remains to be seen. My prediction: No. I’ve asked him.
In any case, the release from LREA:
Posts on the LREA Facebook page earlier today gave an indication of what teachers are feeling. They don’t believe they are alone in Arkansas.
Facts about COVID-19
Did you know our educators are working 16+ hour days trying to teach in-person and virtually? Did you know that this is resulting in physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion during a global pandemic which contributes to their risk of contracting the virus? Do you know that this is happening because our leaders are not taking the necessary steps to reduce the spread and keep us safe? Do you know that Arkansas educators have already died and are currently is hospital ICUs critically ill due to the requirement that we have schools open?
Facts about COVID-19
Did you know that the district has consistently denied every single ADA accommodation request for our educators, even for those with compromised immune systems and serious health conditions? After pressure, they “reconsidered” all requests and granted some educators the ability to teach virtually but only from a closet or empty classroom in the same building with the same ventilation as their original workplace. This forced many of our beloved educators to choose FMLA, retirement, or resignation rather than risk their lives. Our leaders chose to house students in gyms, Media Centers, and auditoriums rather than allow educators to teach virtually where from home where they could be safe.
Within the context of the knowledge that there are two educators, a superintendent and a teacher <<LATE EDIT: THREE, ONE SUPT AND TWO TEACHERS>>, fighting for their lives in ICU in Arkansas hospitals right now, I have struggled with how to compose my summary for this week. I cannot get them out of my head and my heart. Each one of them has a family, a student body, coworkers, a community, who love them and are praying for them to be OK. Additionally, there have been over 4,000 cumulative Covid cases in Arkansas public schools. Those who choose to look at this situation in terms of percentages of mortality and infection rates are missing the entire point of why we are all so concerned. Each person who is sick or in the hospital has hundreds of people in their lives. When you include all of those people, all those who are in quarantine, and all the children who sitting in class 2 feet away from other children because distancing is an impossible fantasy, or playing on the playground with an invisible and potentially deadly virus, your perspective changes. It is not simply a statistics problem, it is a humanity problem. For every known case there are others lurking unseen…you may dismiss this threat, quoting percentages and statistics to other people but I no longer want hear them. We use statistics to justify (or not) our actions all the time. Consider these examples:The odds that an American will be in an active shooter situation are 1 in 110,154, yet we were required to implement some extremely restrictive rules to upgrade security on our campuses.The odds of being in a tornado are 1 in 4,513,000, yet we have regular drills (supposed to) but we have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on safe rooms to protect populations from them.So here we are…over 204,000 Americans have died in the past 6 months and we aren’t even halfway through this thing. As of yesterday there have been 80,755 confirmed cases in Arkansas, and 1,285 deaths. Think about how many hundreds of people are in those individuals’ lives and sphere of influence. Each one of those individuals has people who love them. We need to rethink how we contextualize those numbers.With that in mind, I have decided to stop worrying about how I phrase things here. I have been deliberately vague about some things because I didn’t want to get myself in trouble for naming districts directly. Today I no longer care, and will tell you what I have been told. In legal terms I suppose that is “hearsay” or secondhand information, so there is that.People’s lives are at stake. Their families are at stake. Their students are at stake. Their friends and churches and communities are at stake.These are some of the most egregious stories I have been told in private messages this week.CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL, Little Rock: So many teachers are out, many on quarantine, that the school auditorium has been filled every day this past week with students with no substitutes. …..SEARCY S.D. (town, not county), JR HIGH AND HIGH SCHOOL: At least 6 students and 3 staff have tested positive. At least 40 students and 20 staff on quarantine. That was early in the week. The Junior High went virtual Wednesday thru Friday because of 13 staff (1 sub) out and about 40 students still. The official ADH report lists 5 active cases.PINE BLUFF S.D., Southwood Elem: closed on Friday due to too many staff testing positive and quarantined. 5 cases listed on the official report.OZARK S.D.: A teacher came to school with symptoms for several days, students have now tested positive. The official report shows 14 active cases, but people there say there are many more plus quarantines.WEST HELENA S.D.: Is not on the official report at all. Some administrators have tested positive, one campus was without any admins for an unknown period of time. …….BAUXITE S.D.: From their Facebook page. See photo below.
LAKE HAMILTON S.D.: [Questions about handling of athletic programs.]It is going to take more than thoughts and prayers to get us all safely through this. In addition to your sincere prayers that are surely helping those in the most dire medical situations, we all have to speak up whenever we can. If you see the truth being swept under the rug TELL SOMEONE. If you know that your campus is not reporting everything TELL SOMEONE. If you know that you or your students are in danger TELL SOMEONE. If you are under a strict gag order then tell me and I’ll post it, for what it’s worth. Honestly, reporting it to the state agencies may be an exercise in futility but it is worth trying. Doing nothing is not an option.