LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Educators are raising school safety. They are now on the frontlines of the COVID pandemic and the Arkansas Education Association (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 their local associations have the closest and best knowledge of their students’ needs and safety in school buildings. Over the past several weeks, they heard from educators across the state about health and safety concerns. According to the news release, they 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 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.”
In the press release, they mention “to make the situation even more frightening, policies aiming to protect privacy means 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 law 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 students.
“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 the school buildings. They want educators to share the challenges, successes, or any other information they need to communicate with public officials. The anonymous survey is available at www.aeaonline.org. It 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 to openly communicate without fear of retribution.”
Below is a statement from Secretary Key regarding the statement AEA said above.
“It was very disappointing to read the assertions made today by the Arkansas Education Association. These inaccuracies, especially the misrepresentation of my remarks from the governor’s press briefing, only add further confusion to an already difficult time. I do hope their survey generates positive ideas for solutions because the only solution the union seems to have now is shutting down onsite learning, and we don’t need a repeat of last spring.
“At the end of the day, every Arkansas student deserves and is entitled to a quality education. I have been extremely humbled by the countless educators around this great state who have not only fulfilled their obligation as educators, they have done it with a true servant’s heart. Inaccurate information disseminated by a few with the intent to cause further confusion and division not only inhibits collaboration, frankly, it hurts students. Our students deserve so much more.”