The Arkansas Education Association, with members across Arkansas is concerned about health and safety concerns in schools and has begun an anonymous survey to gather information about potential problems.

Anonymity is, unfortunately, necessary. Retribution isn’t unknown for critics of school administrations and reports have long been circulating about efforts in some places to tamp down news about the virus.

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Some hundred schools have been in and out of remote classes, with more added daily, including today in the Little Rock School District on the heels of teachers being punished for trying to work at home on account of health concerns.

The AEA release:

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Educators are now on the frontlines of the coronavirus public health crisis and AEA is receiving troubling reports of unsafe practices and policies that undermine educators’ ability to provide effective learning for our students.

AEA is a member driven organization. The educators who make up our local associations have the closest and best knowledge of their students’ needs and safety in school buildings. Over the past several weeks, we have heard from educators across the state about health and safety concerns. We must take these concerns seriously and district officials must address them to slow the spread of this deadly virus.

“When educators speak up about health and safety issues, they do so to protect their students, colleagues and community,” said AEA President Carol Fleming.  “It’s disheartening to see educators being punished for trying to bring community awareness to safety issues in our school buildings.”

Last week Education Secretary Key said, in the first few weeks alone, more than one hundred schools had to pivot to offsite learning in some manner after health officials determined it was unsafe to proceed with in person learning.

“Parents don’t know if schools will remain open week to week, or even day to day, as new positives force shut-downs at a moment’s notice,” Fleming said. “These abrupt closures are disruptive for both students and educators.”

To make the situation even more frightening, policies aiming to protect privacy mean educators don’t know if a missing student or colleague is infected, on quarantine, or just out for some unrelated reason.

In addition to health and safety issues, many educators are now working two jobs as they struggle to teach both in person and virtually. We are also hearing reports of school districts assigning individual teachers hundreds of students which is well in excess of state standards.

These situations are normally prevented by state laws established to ensure students receive a quality education. Earlier this year the board of education approved a set of statewide waivers to some of these rules. AEA argued against those waivers because we saw the potential for a negative impact on student learning.

“Unfortunately, now our fears are being realized,” Fleming said. “Our elected leaders vet and approve rules and regulations based on what we know about student learning. These waivers allow that process to be upended, creating an impossible situation for the school employees on the front lines.”

AEA has developed a survey tool to find out what’s happening in our school buildings. We want educators to share the challenges, successes, or any other information we need to communicate to our public officials. The anonymous survey, available at www.aeaonline.org, aims to identify complications that need to be fixed as well as positive examples that can be expanded upon.

“We are also hearing reports of administrators creating a culture of suppression and silence in our school buildings,” Fleming said. “This does a great disservice to our children, educators and communities. In order to fight this virus, we must be able openly communicate without fear of retribution.”