Members of the Little Rock Education Association will give the Little Rock School District's reconfigured first week of school "a chance," organization President Teresa Knapp Gordon said Friday.
The newly announced position reverses -- for at least the time being -- the association's previous decision to do no in-person teaching at the district's approximately 40 campuses.
"LREA members voted last night to give the phased-in option a chance over the next week," Gordon said in an early morning statement. "We will reconvene and reconsider the situation after carefully evaluating conditions and changes throughout the week.
"However, let me be clear," Gordon continued. "The health and safety of our children and our educators is our top priority. We will not be used as pawns in the dangerous political game the Governor is playing with our children's lives."
If teachers see safety threats to students and teachers or that teachers are being treated as "dispensable," "we will not hesitate to take the necessary steps to prevent unwarranted exposure and illness from COVID-19," Gordon said.
Late Friday afternoon, Superintendent Mike Poore welcomed the association's decision.
"We know this past week heightened anxiety as we modified our delivery for the first week of school," Poore said in a short message posted on the district's website. "We are pleased to share that the Little Rock Education Association has voted to physically be in classrooms as we start the school year. We believe that when our staff and our community work together we can overcome any challenges, and we are looking forward to a successful start to the school year."
The union of teachers and support staff had voted earlier this month to begin the school year next week by teaching students only virtually, or online, and to forgo all in-person, traditional classroom teaching until the number of covid-19 virus cases declines significantly in Pulaski County. Specifically, the association sought a positivity rate of less than 5% for 14 consecutive days.
The district's initial plan for the school year -- including the first week -- was to offer families a choice of either a 100% virtual education program or a five-days-a-week traditional on-campus program.
In response, slightly more than half of the district's students either selected the traditional program or did not make a selection, which puts them into the traditional on-campus program by default.
The employee association last week said in-school instruction was unsafe for students and adults in light of the covid-19 virus cases in the county. The association also noted that children with the greatest needs are at the greatest risk of contracting the virus.
"The educators of the Little Rock School District stand ready, able and willing to teach our students virtually beginning on August 24th," the association said Aug 14, adding: "We refuse to enter unsafe buildings that put our students and ourselves at risk of contracting covid-19. It is unethical and immoral to try to force us to do so."
In response, Poore announced Wednesday that the district would alter the first-week schedule in an effort to allay concerns about on-campus instruction. The superintendent also warned that employees' failure to report to work could constitute insubordination and result in firings.
The proposed one-week phased reentry plan calls for those students whose last names start with A through M to attend school on Monday and Thursday next week. Those with last names beginning with N through Z will attend classes on campus Tuesday and Friday. Wednesday will be a day for virtual learning for all students as well as provide time for school cleanings.
Pre-kindergarten pupils will attend school on campus all five days next week. Families who need a place for their children to be on days other than the days they are assigned to attend school can still send the students to school, Poore has said. Breakfast and lunch will be served all five days. However, Poore's message Friday indicated that school buses will not run Wednesday.
The alternate-days plan is for the first week only -- unless a second week becomes necessary, Poore said.
Only 25% to 30% of the district's enrollment will be on campus at any one time, letting the schools ensure physical distancing of students and staff, and identify and resolve any challenges that arise -- all before a larger number of students begin attending on-campus classes daily.
Other points about the start of the school year highlighted by Poore included:
• Students who have opted for 100% virtual instruction should log in to the virtual academic system starting Monday and should have received additional instructions in a letter via the district's ParentLink communication system Friday. Those who did not receive the information should contact their principal.
• Any bus rider who has not received his or her route may call the transportation phone bank at (501) 447- 4165.
• Any changes to an address or school assignment made after June 26 will not receive bus transportation for the new address until Sept. 3. If this is the case, a parent may contact the transportation coordinator at the assigned school to see if there is an existing stop close to the new address.
• Breakfast and lunch will be served all five days to in-person and virtual students. The schedule for grab-n-go meals for virtual students will be on school websites. Breakfast and lunch will be available for all students even Wednesday. Parents of virtual students have been asked to complete a survey expressing their intention to participate in meal service. The survey was sent via ParentLink.
• Parents or students needing technology support may access help through this link: https://bit.ly/3ghKnz5.
• Parents who have registration challenges should send an email to SRO@lrsd.org.