Students Suffer Consequences of Penalty to Teachers


Oh, the irony. 

We learned Wednesday that teachers who took union action on Monday would be suspended for three to five days without pay. Within a few hours of this revelation, we learned that the school campus would be closed for the next two days – possibly longer – because of COVID-19 cases within the athletics department. The timing here seems to illustrate perfectly the very reason why teachers wanted to instruct from home. And yet, the Little Rock School District still acted with what we feel is an incredibly unfair show of force against their own teachers.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but we want to start by saying this is neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of the teachers’ actions Monday. As students, it’s difficult to give our full support to our teachers, however much we may appreciate them, because these actions have negatively impacted us. Some students are missing five days of classes because of suspended teachers. Our learning is without a doubt disrupted by this week’s events, and many of us are left feeling bewildered and abandoned. 

That being said, we believe the district’s response to the Little Rock Education Association’s actions is disproportionate and will ultimately cause more harm to students.  

Many of us on The Tiger staff have been learning virtually, and our success in continuing to publish during a pandemic is a testament that online learning can work. At the same time, we know that this position comes from a place of privilege. Online school has worked well for us because, as a staff, most of us have easy internet access, our own computers, and we do not rely on the school for meals. That positive virtual learning experience is not universal for all students. Many kids need schools to be open so they can complete their work and have daily meals.

 That’s why this is such a nuanced situation; that’s why there may not be a right answer for how to teach all learners in the way that best suits them individually.

The LREA made it very clear that their decision not to teach from school Monday was not a work stoppage. This was no strike. Those that did not show up to their buildings still taught their students virtually. It makes no sense that they should be docked five days’ pay for this.

Additionally, it is completely counterproductive to punish teachers for missing school by requiring that they miss more school. The only result of this punishment is further disrupting students’ learning. 

In a recently released statement, Secretary of Education Johnny Key described the LREA actions as an “absurd, eleventh-hour scheme to create even more disruption for LRSD students and families.”

We cannot imagine our teachers scheming to intentionally disrupt our education. What an infuriatingly absurd and divisive accusation. 

Kids need their teachers, but teaching can be done virtually. If teachers do not feel safe at school, they should have the choice to instruct from home.

In a statement released to KATV, Governor Asa Hutchinson said, “We have had a good start to this school year and we have handled the expected challenges with the well being of our students and teachers as the highest priority. With a declining positivity rate in Pulaski County and with the safety measures in place, it is difficult to understand the resistance to teaching in the classroom.”

In the LREA’s statement released Sunday, there were complaints that disinfecting is not taking place routinely or with any consistency. In some cases, social distancing is impossible to maintain in classrooms. The challenges of educating in a global pandemic are perhaps being handled to the best of the schools’ abilities, but evidently those best efforts aren’t enough. Multiple schools in the district have had to close temporarily because of positive tests for the coronavirus. Teachers have every reason to be concerned. Now our school campus is closed,  because at least 85 students have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 and have to be quarantined. How can the district justify punishing teachers for fearing that schools are not safe, while at the same time affirming their fears by closing schools?