By ANDREW DeMILLO Associated Press
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Little Rock teachers won’t show up for in-person classes due to concerns about the spread of coronavirus in schools, the head of the local teachers union said Sunday.
The Little Rock Education Association said its members are willing to teach classes virtually, but accused district administrators of not doing enough to prevent the virus’ spread in their schools since they reopened Aug. 24.
“At this juncture, LREA members believe that our schools are not safe for in-person instruction and that the risk to our students, our staff members and our community is too great,” the association said in a news release. The union said the move was not a strike or a work stoppage.
It was not clear how many teachers in the district planned to not show up for classes, but the superintendent of the 21,000-student district said they were taking additional steps to ensure schools remain open for in-person classes.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to avoid interruptions in the learning environment,” Superintendent Mike Poore wrote in a letter to parents posted on the district’s Facebook page.
Arkansas is requiring its public schools to offer in-person classes five days a week, but has said they can also offer virtual instruction or a hybrid of the two as options. About half of the students in Little Rock’s district opted for virtual-only instruction.
“With a declining positivity rate in Pulaski County and with the safety measures in place, it is difficult to understand the resistance to teaching in the classroom,” Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. “The Little Rock School District should not be deprived of the success that is occurring for our students across the state just because the union objects.”
Johnny Key, the state’s education secretary, also criticized the announcement as an “absurd, eleventh-hour scheme.”
The union’s concerns include facilities not being properly cleaned and disinfected, as well as many employees and students not wearing masks or wearing them improperly. The association also said students are being allowed to transition from the virtual option to in-person instruction, which is resulting in a lack of social distancing in classrooms.
The state on Thursday reported 742 active cases in its public schools.
Arkansas ranks seventh in the country for new cases per capita, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The state on Sunday reported 23 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing its total fatalities since the pandemic began to 1,308.
The state’s confirmed cases on Sunday rose by 475 to 78,735. The state also reported 12 new probable cases.
The Little Rock School District has been under state control since 2015 because of low test scores at several schools. The state Board of Education last year stripped the union of its collective bargaining power. Little Rock teachers in November went on strike for one day over that decision and the state’s control of the district.
Check out more of the AP’s coronavirus coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
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