Protests Over School Reopening Continue In Little Rock

Aug 14, 2020

Demonstrators drew chalk outlines representing the number of monthly deaths due to the coronavirus in Arkansas if schools reopen as planned on August 24.
Credit David Monteith / KUAR News

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's plan to reopen schools for in-person instruction on August 24 continues to draw criticism from some parents and community members. Thursday, a group of close to 40 demonstrators drew 95 chalk outlines of bodies on the street outside the governor's mansion in Little Rock.

Veronica McClane, parent of a Little Rock School District 2nd grader, says the display was meant to show the potential consequences of reopening.

"There's a study that was released that said that the shutdown of schools prevents, obviously a lot of spread [of the coronavirus], and that opening schools [in Arkansas] based on our per capita could lead up to 95 deaths per month," McClane said.

The report McClane and the other demonstrators referred to was released in July by the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study estimated that school closures saved over 40,000 lives over a 16-day period last spring when schools across the country shut down in response to the emerging pandemic.

Anika Whitfield, a co-chair of Grassroots Arkansas, helped organize the event. She said the group is demanding the governor delay the reopening of schools for in-person instruction until all of the recommendations from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can be met by every school in the state.

"It's unhealthy for children to have to worry as to whether or not their parents are going to be alive because their parents are educators or administrators in school. They're fearful. They're seeing what's on TV. It's unhealthy for students to be worried about whether or not on their first day of school they're going to get COVID and come back and infect somebody else like a loved one or a friend," Whitfield said.

Protesters outside the Arkansas Department of Health in Little Rock argue the state's plan to reopen schools on August 24 is inadequate.
Credit David Monteith / KUAR News

Earlier this week, protestors from the same organizations staged a mock classroom outside the Arkansas Department of Health to show the difficulties of teaching while keeping the recommended 6 feet of distance in classrooms.

Monday's mock classroom demonstration included a mock fire drill to illustrate what they describe as "absurdly inadequate" safety precautions. The group also claims safety equipment, such as masks and hand sanitizer are not being equitably distributed among the state's schools with schools in predominantly minority neighborhoods often receiving less.

Gov. Hutchinson has said the state will adopt a district-by-district approach when deciding whether or not to close schools in the event of coronavirus outbreaks. Thursday, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement announced it would make district-level data regarding the number of actives cases of the coronavirus and testing rates available to the public on its website. More demonstrations are expected as the August 24 reopening date approaches.