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Education Notebook

by Cynthia Howell | February 7, 2021 at 4:35 a.m.

Judge dismisses

2019 job cuts suit

A federal judge has granted the Pulaski County Special School District's request to dismiss a 2019 lawsuit filed by past and present employees over job cuts.

In August 2018, Jennifer Beasley, Kiffany Pride, Laura Shirley and Nicole Townsend -- all of whom are Black -- sued the district, the School Board and Superintendent Charles McNulty in federal court over the elimination of their jobs or cuts in their work hours.

"The District's motion for summary judgment ... is granted. The Court will dismiss the educators' federal and constitutional claims with prejudice," U.S. District Chief Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. ordered last week.

The employment lawsuit was prepared by the late Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, and fellow attorney Shawn Childs.

Janice Warren, who was then interim superintendent and is now assistant superintendent, had recommended the continued employment for 2018-19 of the curriculum instruction team, three of the Black plaintiffs and two white people. But the School Board board directed Paul Brewer, then the executive director for human resources, to make recommendations for terminating staff members in consultation with McNulty, the incoming superintendent.

That resulted in cutting the positions of the five academic program administrators -- Beasley, Pride and Townsend, as well as Leta Ray and Brandy Beckman -- and cutting the hours of Shirley, the district's gifted-and-talented education coordinator. The board also cut other positions held by white central office staff members, including that of Brewer, and the directors of elementary and secondary education, the director of fine arts and the athletic director.

"It is undisputed that the white program administrators were let go, too, and that other white central office employees either lost their jobs or suffered pay cuts. There is just not enough evidence of record to support a verdict of race discrimination for these educators," Marshall said in his order last week.

Beasley is now kindergarten-through-12th-grade STEM director for the Little Rock School District. Pride is an assistant commissioner for the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education.

5 board members

take schools tour

Five of the Little Rock School Board's nine members, along with Superintendent Mike Poore and his staff, took a walking tour of three west Little Rock schools Friday morning.

Board members, all of whom were elected in November and December, are doing occasional tours of district campuses on Fridays, which are "virtual days" in the district, meaning that while staff members are at the campuses most students are doing school work online from their homes.

The most recent tour consisted of Fulbright Elementary, Pinnacle View Middle School, and the West High School of Innovation, which is in its first year of operation under that name.

Fulbright is an open-space building with no walls between most classrooms.

Pinnacle View is the district's largest middle school in terms of enrollment. The school, with its engineering and robotics programs, is in an extensively remodeled warehouse.

West High School of Innovation, in a remodeled office building adjoining Pinnacle View, is serving 130 ninth- and 10th-graders this year, and has the capacity for at least 400 and as many as 800 if remote learning platforms are used, Poore said.

PTA council gets

$50,000 for meals

Little Rock area Sam's Clubs presented the Little Rock School District's Parent Teacher Association Council with $50,000 Thursday.

Gunny Hoyt, a store manager, announced the gift and presented a ceremonial check to PTA Council President Charlene Kirk at an early morning event at the Sam's Club warehouse on Bowman Road.

The contribution will provide "gratitude meals" from local restaurants to every educator in the district, Superintendent Mike Poore said, with money leftover for other projects.

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