ASTA Comments for June 29, 2020 SBE Meeting: Ready for Learning implementation
posted by: Tamia | June 29, 2020, 01:20 PM   

Dear State Board of Education Members,

I am Michele Linch, Executive Director of the Arkansas State Teachers Association serving thousands of Arkansas educators. First, we are grateful the Division of Education has modeled the process they strongly recommended districts and charters utilize as Ready for Learning (R4L) plans are developed, especially in terms of transparency and engaging stakeholders, including school administrators and teachers. As you can imagine, we have heard from a large number of members from across the state expressing their concerns about the development of their district’s Ready for Learning plan.  The following themes are prevalent across the feedback we’ve received:

1.  Arkansas public school employees (PSE) have overwhelmingly contacted ASTA concerned that there has been little to no stakeholder engagement while their districts have developed the R4L plans. Educator after educator has contact us shocked they personally or any committees the district has in place, e.g. Personnel Policy Committees (PPC) and other teacher led committees, has not been engaged. The waiver to bypass the PPCs is one we strongly recommended not be allowed because it is research based best practice and people support (or at least better tolerate) what they help create.

Recommendation: Ask every single district for the communications that show they engaged staff during the development process or the agendas and minutes from the stakeholder groups they engaged in the process. It will be important to check and verify.

2.  It is our opinion that flexibility is a must. There will be a time when teachers will be told by medical professionals they or a dependent has to quarantine even though they feel fine or are healthy. Teachers are worried they will miss unnecessary instructional time and sacrifice leave when they want to be fully engaged with their students in any manner possible.

Recommendation: Every district needs a plan to allow these educators to be with their students virtually while paraprofessionals or administrators facilitate other facets of classroom management.

3.  Many educators do not understand why in-person instruction is an option for the fall. Many others express their classroom is the safest place their students can be due to equity and supportive educational home environment concerns. We are in a catch-22.

Recommendation: DESE needs a “hotline” of sorts for PSE to report unreasonable or unsafe district requirements ANONOMOUSLY with no behind the scenes or under the table conversations by DESE team members revealing information that could identify the PSE reporting. The lack of leadership capacity in many of our districts and schools make for very unsafe and retaliatory work environments. DESE needs to hold districts accountable for their cultures by asking the hard questions and pushing back.

4.  Teachers are at different places where their safety comfort levels are concerned. We’ve heard the desire for clear dividers between desks, a daily PPE kit (as hospitals supply), and face shields (can be reused if proper sanitized) to name a few. And some say they will feel safe simply wearing a mask.

Recommendations: Districts need to let teachers know the minimum PPE required and then ensure any teacher who needs more, even if it’s for his/her own personal need to feel an increased level of safety, access to the requested PPE or allow the teacher to virtually engage with students. Maslow’s applies to adults also.

5.  Our school employees are now going to be on the frontlines of this pandemic. It’s important for districts to not add to an already tough (understatement) situation by having them sign liability waivers. Our attorney is recommending to our members they not sign them, but see #3 recommendation.

Recommendation:  SBE may consider requesting a Commissioner’s memo or immediate legislative action on this issue.

6.  Given the “frontline” nature of teaching during these extraordinary times, many are concerned about the “what ifs” of COVID-19. Namely, “What if I get the virus?”

Recommendation: Any PSE who acquires the COVID19 virus needs to be eligible for paid leave.

Thank you for your caring and thoughtful leadership and decision-making during these unprecedented times. There are no clear answers but there is definitely room to improve the process districts are using and ways DESE and SBE can work together to better ensure districts are providing the care, consideration, flexibility, resources, and stakeholder engagement to ensure Arkansas educators and students can be safe and feel safe as they begin the 2020-2021 learning journey that MUST take place for all learners – adults and kids.

If there is anything we can do to help, please let me know. Again, we are beyond thankful for your service and leadership.

Thank you,

Michele Ballentine-Linch, PhD
Executive Director
Arkansas State Teachers Association


Comments (1)Add Comment
Teacher - Bentonville Schools
written by Jerris Palmer, July 13, 2020

I can't believe what the Governor just stated! He knows that sending students back into the buildings that we will have stakeholders testing positive. Unbelievable! We are dealing with a deadly illness that has no cure and no apparent medications that work! What is the Governor thinking? Wouldn't it be safer to start on line then when the positive rate goes down then re-enter the building? There is no way we can stay 6 feet apart in our classes of 26-30 students. Why not have more training in on line education and be safe not sorry! Are you pleading with the governor for safety? Are we going to have protective gear like our health professionals? Who is going to supply all the PPE for students and teachers?
So, when we get sick what are the leagl rights for teachers?

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