Members of the union of teachers and support staffers in the Little Rock School District will be on the job in the district’s schools when the second week of classes begins today in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic.
“I just want you to know that our educators are going to show up tomorrow,” Little Rock Education Association President Teresa Knapp Gordon said Sunday. “They are going to go to work. They are going to do what they do.”
Gordon made the comments in a Facebook Live video presentation after the association members met privately in an online meeting.[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]
The association called the meeting after Superintendent Mike Poore on Wednesday announced that the district would begin five-day-a-week, on-campus instruction starting today for those students who have opted for in-person learning. That is about 50% of the district’s more than 20,000 students. The other half of the total enrollment has opted for 100% virtual instruction.
During the first week of school, students who opted for on-campus instruction alternated days of attendance, with those whose last names began with A-M attending Monday and Thursday and those with last names starting with N-Z attending Tuesday and Friday. Association leaders said in the middle of the week that they were displeased with the five-day-a-week plan that is required of districts by state officials unless virus numbers dictate otherwise.
Poore said Sunday afternoon that he expected teachers to be at work on campuses today. He said about 45 employees had asked for substitutes for today — a number that he described as “pretty typical.”
Gordon, an elementary school librarian, told the Facebook Live viewers that association members will be “keeping a very close eye on the situation in our schools.” She said she is communicating daily with Poore about the needs of staff members and the problems that need to be addressed.
And while Poore and the district’s “entire administration” have been “receptive and responsible” about addressing safety concerns, “the truth is, this is completely out of everybody’s control,” she said of the virus.
She expressed dismay at the high school football games that started last week. She also said that there is little joy in school because students have to be kept far apart from each other and their teachers. Gordon predicted that the spread of the virus, which is transmitted by respiratory droplets, will ultimately result in online instruction.
“We are going to all go virtual,” she said.
“It’s just a matter of whether we call it or they call it,” she said in reference to the union and to district and state leaders. Gordon urged everyone to get prepared for a switch to online schooling.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Education Secretary Johnny Key have directed schools to open their campuses this month to students who want or need on-campus instruction but also to be prepared to “pivot” to online instruction in the event of outbreaks of covid-19 in their schools.
The Little Rock district is regularly posting numbers of students and staff members who test positive for covid-19 or are being quarantined because of exposure.
In the time between 3 p.m. Aug. 21 and 3 p.m. Friday, the Little Rock district reported one student with covid-19 and six staff members with the disease caused by the coronavirus. A total of 37 students and 32 staff members were in quarantine, according to the district, which posts the information on its website under the covid-19 link.
For the 48-hour weekend period, from 3 p.m. Friday to 3 p.m. Sunday, the district reported one Central High student had tested positive. Additionally, in that 48 hours, there were four staff members — three at Parkview and one at Booker — who were being quarantined, as was one student at Terry.
The five-day-a-week, on-campus instructional plan is a change from the phased reentry schedule that was used the first week of school, but it’s one of the two options for instruction — the other being 100% online — that the district initially announced for the opening of schools during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve got to move forward,” Poore said last week about the five-day-a-week schedule. “There are families that need to have their students in an in-person setting all five days. There are students who need in-person learning all five days. We also have families who need the food program to be available all five days, and I think this gives us the best delivery of that.”
As a result of the district’s schedule of alternating days of attendance for students, no more than about 25% to 30% of a school’s enrollees were in the building on the same day, easing the ability to achieve physical distancing among students and staff members.
The alternate-days plan was quickly formulated earlier this month after district teachers balked at all in-person teaching this new school year until there is a significant decline in covid-19 cases in Pulaski County.
Members of the Little Rock Education Association had voted to teach online only and do no in-person teaching as a matter of safety for students and staffs.
When the alternate days schedule was announced, the association agreed to give the plan a chance and to teach in person.
Gordon said last week that teachers were dismayed by Poore’s plan to move to the five-day-a-week instruction plan.
“LRSD has reported cases and quarantined every day this week, and it is only Wednesday,” she said at the time. “We are not satisfied with the safety in schools and believe that this move is premature.”
She said the teachers union would meet to determine “our course of action in light of this announcement.”
That online meeting was Sunday.
The district’s initial plan for the school year — including the first week — was to offer families a choice of either a 100% online education program or a five-day-a-week, traditional on-campus program.
Because about 50% of the district’s more than 20,000 students opted for the virtual-only instruction, the district is in a good position to be able to physically distance students who opted for in-person instruction, Poore has said.
He said the Little Rock district is better positioned in that regard when compared with districts where the majority of students and families selected on-campus instruction.
The superintendent also has said that district administrators are working to accommodate teachers who have requested changes to their teaching assignments because of health conditions that put them at particular risk should they contract covid-19.