Little Rock School District teachers and staff are considering a walkout or a strike as a contract between the district and the collective bargaining group representing many of the district's teachers is set to expire Wednesday.
The options were discussed at a meeting Sunday night organized by the Little Rock Education Association, Grassroots Arkansas, Our Community Our Schools and Save Our Schools. On Monday, some teachers were taking part in public demonstrations, with many critical of state Education Commissioner Johnny Key.
Key has pushed to remove the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act which sets the procedures that must be used in order to fire a teacher. Last week, Key told reporters he wants to give school administrators the flexibility to fire teachers from any of the district’s failing schools without what he says is a lengthy process.
According to community organizer Dr. Anika Whitfield, removing due process for firing teachers would further harm the district, which has continued to struggle even after being taken over by the state.
"Not only is this not fair, but when we look at the bigger picture, it appears to be a systemic plan to try to implode or fail the Little Rock School District," said Whitfield.
The district's elected school board was dissolved in 2015 after six of the district’s 48 schools were deemed failing. Since then, Key has led the district, which now has over 20 failing schools.
A meeting between Key and the teacher's union was scheduled for Monday afternoon.
The current contract between the state and the teachers represented by the Little Rock Education Association expires Wednesday at midnight. Key has previously cited teacher absenteeism as one of the reasons for needing to fire teachers from failing schools.
Parents organized by the union to speak with KUAR News said they would support a walkout or strike.
Ryan Davis, a parent of two children in district, argues that due process for teachers is important for the both schools and the community.
"We just have to be awakened to how all of these things are connected. How due and fair processes for our teachers are connected to the success of our students. How resources in our school, in every school, is connected to resources in our particular school. How regulations for charter schools, and the favoritism thereof, affects how our schools operate," Davis said.
Fellow parent Tim Jackson agrees.
"My son has gone to Little Rock Public Schools, got on a bus and drove across town every day through middle school from our West Little Rock neighborhood to Horace Mann [Arts and Science Magnet Middle School] because we wanted him, and he wants to be, in an environment where he is with people of other races, and other cultures, and frankly other languages, and other socioeconomic backgrounds," said Jackson.
In a statement released after Monday's meeting Commissioner Key said:
The Little Rock School District and the union have just concluded their first meeting with regards to my proposed amendments to the union contract. As a result, I have authorized Mr. Poore to agree to a two-week extension to allow the union to consider language that gives more flexibility to the school district in managing performance.
We must keep our focus that the decades-long status quo is not working, and our students deserve better. I am disappointed by the union’s misrepresentation of the facts in the proposed contract language. The proposal I have submitted only affects schools with D or F ratings, and it is my expectation that this flexibility would be used as a scalpel, not a chainsaw that would result in mass firings. The academic success of nearly 11,000 LRSD students in these schools depends on having all administrative tools available. The outstanding teachers, administrators and support staff who come to work every day with the sole focus of helping our students achieve their potential have no reason to worry.
We should all have the same goal of ensuring our students are learning at high levels within a safe and secure environment, and as commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, it is my responsibility to ensure this for all students of the LRSD.