Lit­tle Rock teach­ers strike over state’s con­trol of district

The Saline Courier - - COURIER CLASSIFIED­S - By An­drew Demillo As­so­ci­ated Press

Teach­ers pick­eted out­side the site of a his­toric de­seg­re­ga­tion and dozens of other Lit­tle Rock schools Thurs­day, walk­ing out for the first time in more than three decades to protest the state’s con­trol of the lo­cal school sys­tem and their loss of col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights.

The strike in the 23,000-stu­dent district is the first in Lit­tle Rock since 1987 and fol­lows the state Board of Ed­u­ca­tion’s de­ci­sion last month to strip the lo­cal teach­ers union of its bar­gain­ing power. Though billed as a one-day strike, union lead­ers are leav­ing open the pos­si­bil­ity that it could stretch longer.

“We know this is the first bat­tle in a longer fight,” Lit­tle Rock Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Teresa Knapp

Gor­don told re­porters as teach­ers, stu­dents and par­ents waved signs and chanted out­side Lit­tle Rock Cen­tral High School, which was de­seg­re­gated by nine black stu­dents in 1957.

The union has called for the re­turn of its bar­gain­ing power, but Thurs­day’s strike was fo­cused more broadly on con­trol of the schools. Arkansas took con­trol of the district in 2015 be­cause of low test scores at sev­eral schools. The Board of Ed­u­ca­tion has voted to re­turn the district to a lo­cal school board that will be elected in Novem­ber 2020, but with the state main­tain­ing some author­ity.

“In the (school) build­ings, we can pro­tect our kids, but if we don’t have pro­tec­tions for our­selves it’s very dif­fi­cult to pro­tect our kids from the way the state has been at­tempt­ing to de­stroy our public schools here,” said Chris Dorer, a Cen­tral High School history teacher who was pick­et­ing out­side.

The district vowed to keep schools open dur­ing the strike and lined up hun­dreds of sub­sti­tute teach­ers, along with hun­dreds of district and state ed­u­ca­tion em­ploy­ees who could be re­de­ployed to class­rooms.

State Ed­u­ca­tion

Sec­re­tary Johnny Key urged teach­ers to re­main on the job and said a strike “does not pro­mote learn­ing.”

“Stu­dents learn best when qual­i­fied, highly ef­fec­tive teach­ers are present in the class­room and pro­mote a safe and ex­cit­ing learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” Key said in a state­ment re­leased Wed­nes­day night.

The strike fol­lows weeks of demon­stra­tions over the state’s con­trol of the district. Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls Bernie

San­ders and El­iz­a­beth War­ren have tweeted their sup­port for the strik­ing teach­ers. Teach­ers also planned to rally Thurs­day out­side a Board of Ed­u­ca­tion meet­ing and at the Capi­tol.

The only other teach­ers strike in the district was in 1987, when Lit­tle Rock stu­dents missed six days of school be­fore a new two-year con­tract was ap­proved.

Thurs­day’s strike fol­lows sim­i­lar ac­tions else­where. A strike in Chicago, the na­tion’s third-largest school district, can­celed 11 days of classes for more than 300,000 stu­dents be­fore a con­tract deal was reached on Oct. 31. And teach­ers in sev­eral states, in­clud­ing Ok­la­homa, West Vir­ginia and Ken­tucky, protested last year at state capi­tols over wages and other is­sues.

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