Today's Paper Arkansas News LEARNS Guide Legislature Sports Core Values Puzzles Newsletters Public Notices Archive Obits Opinion Story Ideas

Meeting called in Conway to discuss opposition to school board policies

Conway board drawing opposition by Ashley Savage | November 25, 2022 at 3:29 a.m.
File Photo

Local organizers have announced plans for a meeting to "take action" against the Conway Public Schools' latest decisions Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Parish Hall of St. Peter's Episcopal Church.

The meeting, titled: "S.O.S., Save our Schools" centers around "supporting teachers, electing school board members, engaging leaders and attending meetings safely."

The S.O.S gathering is planned to take place before the board's next meeting on Dec. 13. In that meeting, the board will vote to revise its Meeting Agenda & Public Participation policy.

If approved, the policy will shorten an individual's public comment time from five minutes to three. It will also prohibit speakers from "yielding" or "giving" their time away to an additional speaker.

Public comment was banned in the November meeting and the upcoming December meeting.

The board's decision to ban public comment joins the ongoing controversy surrounding several decisions coming out of the district -- including its email retention and destruction policy.

The email retention policy calls for all emails to be deleted three days after being read.

When requests for email correspondence are made through the Freedom of Information Act, district officials often respond that emails older than three days are potentially "no longer available" because of the policy.

"The Arkansas FOIA is all about transparency and this policy is the exact opposite," said John Tull III, lawyer and recipient of the Freedom of Information Award from the Arkansas Press Association.

He added, "In my 38 years of working with the FOIA, [this policy] is the most egregious thumbing of the nose at transparency and FOIA I have ever seen."

Robert Moritz, chairman of the Arkansas FOIA Task Force and a journalism instructor at the University of Central Arkansas, said the state's Freedom of Information Act laws do not directly address matters such as the district's email policy.

However, Tull added: "I do not believe a court would find such policy valid and subjects the board to lawsuits for violation even though the FOIA does not have a specific retention policy."

Several attempts to reach Conway Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Collum and Board President Andre Acklin, and the district's attorney, Jay Bequette, for comment were unsuccessful.

Collum did not address questions on why the policy was put in place.

Neither Collum nor Acklin responded to questions regarding concerns from community members over the policy, the district's ability to properly fulfill Freedom of Information Act requests, or the difficulty the policy presents in upholding transparency within the administration.

Arkansas Attorney Tom Mars, of the Mars Law Firm, wrote in a Nov. 14 tweet, "The email retention policy shows the lengths to which the Conway School District has gone to keep the public from knowing the details of its so-called "Christian" campaign against trans kids."

In his tweet, Mars added, "What would Jesus do? Pretty sure he wouldn't be deleting his emails every three days."

The board's actions and policies have drawn some support.

State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, wrote on Twitter, "I am done watching the leftists conjure up anger against the good people of my Senate district, my community and the Conway Public School Board."

Rapert added, "I am PROUD of them for standing up for decency, honesty and the protection of our children. We stand united with them."

Rapert also tagged his National Association of Christian Lawmakers' account in the last section of his tweet.

The online discourse regarding the district's actions includes the approved policies on transgender people, the banning of two books, a drafted curriculum policy and the decision to prohibit public comment at the November and December board meetings.

One of the approved policies requires transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with the gender listed on their birth certificate even if they identify differently.

The other policy polices overnight trips for transgender students and assigns their rooms based on their birth certificate.

Two LGBTQ books were also banned from the district's libraries in the same board meeting as the restroom and overnight policies.

Community members also expressed issues with a drafted classroom curriculum policy.

The classroom policy, as written, prohibits the teaching and promotion of critical race theory and divisive topics.

The eight-page list of what instructors can and cannot teach also includes over 60 terms that might violate the policy, depending on the context.

In an interview with a Democrat-Gazette reporter, Jenny Wallace, a former teacher with Greenbrier Public Schools said: "I can tell you that many teachers and staff are disgusted by the board's actions but they aren't allowed to say anything. I worry we will lose a lot of great teachers because of this environment."

She added, "Instead of supporting teachers and students, the board is only focused on fighting make-believe culture wars. It's a shame because there are so many ways they could choose to do good for our schools and community and, instead, they're choosing to harm."

And, in response to the Democrat-Gazette's latest coverage of the board's decisions, one online user wrote: "This hurts my heart. I admit, I got out of my hometown at the first available opportunity, and swore to never live there again. This, however, makes me sad for my friends who are still there. Just horrible."

Print Headline: Meeting scheduled over Conway school policies


Sponsor Content