Arkansas Education Association Calls for Virtual Start of School Year 

Aug 10, 2020

Arkansas Education Association Calls for Virtual Start of School Year 

Arkansas Education Association President Carol Fleming told state lawmakers today it is unsafe for schools to return to in-person learning as Arkansas continues to struggle to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

Fleming also shared a set of principles and expectations that must be met to keep students, educators and

our communities safe once conditions allow for a return to in-person learning. The AEA Return to Learn Committee created the school reopening matrix to guide any decisions about the upcoming school year. The committee is made up of educators from across the state who have used their own expertise, along with guidance from health professionals to create the guidance. 

Fleming asked state lawmakers to join the AEA’s call for education officials to make a conscientious decision to keep children, educators and our communities safe by beginning the 20-21 school year with virtual only instruction. 

While we agree in-person education is the best thing for students, moving kids and educators in and out of school based on isolation and quarantine protocols will be too risky and too disruptive to the teaching and learning environment,” Fleming said. “Let’s work together to maximize the next two weeks to ensure that we keep students and educators safe, and prepare for a new way to deliver education and support until we can get this virus under control.” 

President Fleming’s remarks were made to the Education Caucus of the Arkansas General Assembly. Sen. Alan Clark and Rep. Mark Lowery called the meeting to hear from stakeholders on the topic: COVID-19 School or Not?  

 

Arkansas Education Association Return to Learn Committee

Chair: Kendall Tabor

Wonderview School District

Vice-Chair: Nanette Patino

Little Rock School District

Recording Secretary: Anna Beaulieu

Fayetteville School District

 

At-Large Committee Members

Ryan Gray – Fort Smith School District

Mary Knight, AEA Vice President – Lee County School District

Kyla Lawrence – North Little Rock School District

Audrey Nichols, AEA Secretary-Treasurer – Pulaski County Special School District

Corliss Stuckey – Hope School District

Evelyn Wilson-Thomas – Strong-Huttig School District

Ex-Officio

AEA President, Carol B. Fleming

AEA Executive Director, Tracey-Ann Nelson


AEA Response to ADE Onsite Learning “Clarification”

Aug 7, 2020

On August 5th the ADE informed school district leadership any local plan which does not include onsite learning during the full work week will not be allowed by the state.

AEA drafted and released this response:

No one knows the value and importance of in-person learning and the myriad of other services our public schools provide more than the public school educators. Unfortunately, our state is not ready to return to in person learning. Instead of using this time to plan on ways to reach the students who will need the most help in this disruptive situation, the state is now upending the plans local districts have spent months developing with educators, parents and community stakeholders.  

This “clarification” comes during a time when our positivity rate remains far above what health experts say is safe to reopen. Flexibility has been a necessary aspect of responding to the needs of students and school districts. Local districts should be allowed to make decisions that put health and safety first as the impact of that decision goes well beyond the school building.

The ADE also announced today a hotline where parents and educators can call to ask questions and request resources related to the reopening of schools. You can call 1-833-353-6050 from 8-4:00 Monday through Friday.


Educators Call for Standardized Test Suspension to Focus on Meeting Students’ Needs

Aug 4, 2020

In light of the ongoing public health emergency due to COVID-19 and the consequent upheaval it has caused in every public school community across Arkansas, the Arkansas Education Association today asked Secretary Johnny Key to halt high stakes, standardized testing for the 2020-21 school year.

As we prioritize the health and safety of students, educators and the broader school community, it would be detrimental to shift our focus and our resources away from achieving this goal.

In a letter, which you can read in full here, educators also call for a suspension of the Teacher Evaluation and Support System (TESS) for the same reasons, as well as a shift in professional development requirements to focus on topics that will better focus on student needs.

These include​​ trauma-informed educational strategies; supporting social and emotional health; as well as, virtual and other off-site teaching and learning strategies.

Educators must have the time and other resources to determine how best to offer safety, support and educational opportunity to all of Arkansas’s public-school students during the 2020-2021 school year. Taking these actions will aid in achieving that goal.


AEA in Action

Jul 21, 2020

The Arkansas Education Association is hard at work advocating for teachers and education support professionals around health and safety for the 20-21 school year at the state and local levels.

AEA President Carol Fleming and Executive Director Tracey-Ann Nelson are in communication with state officials, and have been publicly calling on the state to ensure reopening plans do not put our children, educators and their families at risk.

AEA jumped into action when the Department of Education put forward a set of blanket waivers as part of the “Ready for Learning” plan. AEA engaged local leaders and lifted their concerns about silencing educator voice and other problematic changes that were ultimately approved by the State Board of Education. Our members then reached out to state lawmakers, asking them to raise the issues during a meeting of the joint education committee.

Our recent survey, drew more than 6,000 responses and confirmed educators fear for their students, families and personal safety due to the coronavirus. The AEA formed a Return to Learn Committee to develop a list of expectations that must be met before we can consider safely returning to classrooms.

IN THE NEWS

“What we see is going to be different tomorrow. It is ever evolving, this is a situation that we’ve never been in before, but the one thing that is constant is that we have to have the voice of the educators involved in the decision-making process as well as the voice of the health experts…” MORE– AEA President Carol Fleming

“The state’s guidance on outbreaks in our schools is acknowledgment that we are attempting to send students and educators into an unsafe situation. This danger is compounded by the state’s lack of coordinated guidance to districts as they attempt to plan amid constantly changing guidelines that have somehow become politicized.” MORE– AEA Executive Director Tracey-Ann Nelson

“Educators and students want and need to be together when it is safe… Social distancing is critical, PPE is going to be critical…how are we going to make sure that everyone’s comfortable with that and has the space to be able to do that?” MORE – AEA Board Member Michelle Wolchok


Statewide Educator Survey Results

Jul 15, 2020

Statewide Educator Survey Confirms Significant COVID Concerns Ahead of School Reopening 

Arkansas educators want to see the safe return to in-person learning in schools across our state; however, they remain concerned about the risk to their students and colleagues.  When we return to classroom learning, we need to do it in a sustainable way that ensures school buildings stay safe and stay open.  

survey conducted by AEA over the last weekend, confirmed Arkansas educators are extremely concerned about the safety of returning to in-person learning in the fall. More than six thousand teachers and education support professionals responded to the survey, representing all 75 counties in the state. 

The results show 90% of respondents are concerned about student health issues related to teaching and learning in schools, and 98% believe it will be very or somewhat difficult to implement social distancing or other safety measures in school buildings. In addition, more than 40% of respondents said they are considering retiring early or leaving the profession as a result of the pandemic. 

While acknowledging the disruption and learning loss caused by the pandemic, and the importance of in-person instruction, most respondents believe schools should reopen only after public health experts determine it’s safe to return. Educator input and adequate planning and equipment are also necessary to protect school employees, students and visitors from COVID-19. 

As districts discuss plans for the 2020-2021 school year it is essential that we make decisions based on science and safety. Schools must not become places that increase that spread or endanger the lives of students, staff, or of our surrounding community. Districts will need flexibility and should be including educators in discussions aimed at providing the best possible education for our students as we confront the challenges posed by COVID-19. 

“The message from the vast majority of responding Arkansas educators is clear: we must assure the health and safety of students and educators before our schools are ready to reopen,” said AEA President Carol Fleming. “We need supplies, support and clearly communicated safety protocols before our students, teachers and education support staff can consider returning to in-person learning. Arkansas’s educators know their students, parents and communities best, and they want to be a part in decision-making as we develop a safe, sustainable path forward. 

AEA has formed a “Return to Learn” committee made up of educators across the state. They are currently analyzing the results of the survey and health guidance and will create a list of expectations that must be met before students and educators can return to the classroom.  


Educators Demand Safety in School Reopening

Jul 10, 2020

The following statement can be attributed to Arkansas Education Association Executive Director Tracey-Ann Nelson:

No one wants students to safely return to classrooms more than parents, educators and administrators. However, we can’t allow this common desire to place our children, educators and their families at risk.

Today’s announcement of a delayed start date is a step in the right direction of acknowledging Arkansas is in no way ready to safely reopen our schools.

The state’s guidance on outbreaks in our schools is acknowledgment that we are attempting to send students and educators into an unsafe situation. This danger is compounded by the state’s lack of coordinated guidance to districts as they attempt to plan amid constantly changing guidelines that have somehow become politicized.

While some decisions may be more appropriately made at a local level, this virus does not know school district boundaries. There must be a detailed statewide plan that anticipates a number of scenarios to ensure student and school employee health and safety.

We must at least ensure social distancing, rigorous cleaning and disinfecting standards, PPE, rapid testing and contact tracing, and access to internet and devices for all students. Educators are known for dipping into their own pockets to ensure students’ needs are met, but they cannot be expected to cover the cost of this crisis. Students, educators, and their families need funding from policymakers to make safe school and campus reopening a reality.

Unfortunately, in addition to shifting responsibility to districts, our state officials have also given these districts the ability to cut out teachers and support staff from the decision-

making process through a series of statewide waivers.

As the people who deal most closely with our kids’ day in and day out, our educators must be included in any decisions about how we safely reopen our schools.

Last month, the National Education Association released “All Hands on Deck: Initial Guidance Regarding Reopening School Buildings.” Built around four basic principles – health expertise, educator voice, access to protection, and leading with equity – the document lays out what schools need to do to prepare for reopening.

We expect administrators, school boards, parents, medical experts, local community and business organizations will be able to work together to open schools as soon as possible, as safely as possible, but the state must take a more realistic position on when and how that will be possible.

AEA created a survey to allow Arkansas educators to provide input on school reopening. Please take the survey HERE by Monday, July 13th.


AEA Statement on School Closures and COVID-19

Mar 12, 2020

Today, (3-12-2020) Governor Asa Hutchinson announced that beginning March 13, all schools in Pulaski, Jefferson, Saline and Grant counties will be closed until March 30. This includes Spring Break in Arkansas from March 23-March 27.  

Due to risks associated with COVID-19 and direct contact with individuals, state officials said ADE could not isolate schools and made the decision to close all public charter schools and public schools in the four counties affected. This is not a statewide closure; however, the state department, along with the health department, is closely following the situation and will determine next steps as additional information becomes available. 

Pre-K programs under ABC (Arkansas Better Chance) will also be closed in the four counties.  

Schools are asked to implement Alternative Methods of Instruction (AMI) policies.  Additional information about AMI days can be found here.  

The Arkansas Education Association recognizes that public schools provide a great number of safety net services for our students and their families. In addition, we know our students do not come from an equal playing field with the same resources. Our schools are often the place where students receive these resources, such as food.  In an effort to begin to address this need, the State of Arkansas has applied for a child nutrition waiver from the USDA which will allow for greater food distribution optionsOfficials say the waiver will be similar to the summer “Grab and Go” feeding program.  

AEA also recognizes this change in instructional delivery may disproportionally impact classified and hourly school employees. While staffing during these closures is a district-level decision, we are acutely aware classified and hourly employees may have significant hardship in meeting the needs of their own households.  

“Each public school employee plays a critically important role in keeping our students safe, healthy, fed, and supported,” said AEA President Carol Fleming. We must not forget the uncertainty and hardship these closures bring to our students and educators. We encourage our school districts to keep health and safety top of mind while we all work together to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”  

Arkansas Education Association leadership is in contact with state officials as this situation unfolds and stands ready to support students, families and school employees through this unprecedented situation.  

We will post updates HERE as additional information becomes available. AEA has also put together a set of resources for Arkansas educators HERE.

You can find more information about COVID-19 from the Arkansas Department of Education HERE.

Adults with child-related COVID-19 concerns should call a health hotline set up by Arkansas Children’s Hospital: 800-743-3616. 

Guidance about Students and Staff Who Have Traveled or Possibly Been Exposed to COVID-19 

At present the Arkansas Department of Health is monitoring travelers who have returned within the last 14 days from affected countries and individuals who have had close contact to known cases. Travelers from affected areas are advised to stay at home and monitor for symptoms until 14 days have passed from their departure from that area, while limiting interaction with others. Once 14 days have passed without any symptoms of illness, CDC recommends these travelers be allowed to return to school and public activities. 

  • It is recommended that schools communicate with parents to let them know that the district is aware of the risk of COVID-19, the district is working with ADH to identify students and staff who may have traveled from the affected communities and district staff will collaborate with ADH if any such students or staff is identified.
  • Districts are requested to identify any student or staff who may have traveled from a country with community transmission within the last 14 days (see link for currently affected countries with Level 2 or 3 Travel Notice: :https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html) This information is permitted to be shared with ADH under the public emergency rule. 
  • Districts are also requested to identify and report to ADH staff or students who have close contact (such as household) with a laboratory confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • Schools should inform their school nurse if any student or staff has traveled to these countries so that the nurse can advise regarding home self-quarantine and assist with self-monitoring.
  • If a student is identified as having traveled from an affected area in the last 14 days and has symptoms (fever, cough, and shortness of breath), they should immediately be placed in a single room and have a mask placed on them. Others in the room should wear a mask. If physical contact is required, then gown, gloves and mask should be worn.
  • Any suspected case (with symptoms) of COVID-19 should be reported to ADH immediately at 1-800-803-7847.


Educators Come Together Following TN Tornadoes

Mar 5, 2020

AEA stands with the educators and community in Tennessee in the aftermath of strong tornadoes that hit the state on Tuesday. Please read this message from Beth Brown, Tennessee Education Association President, and find out how you can help in the links below.

During the early morning hours of March 3rd, strong tornadoes ripped through Nashville, Mt. Juliet, and Putnam County, Tennessee. The damage is catastrophic.

Communities have been leveled and multiple schools have been damaged or destroyed entirely. In Nashville and Mt. Juliet, there were fatalities, but not at the level experienced in Putnam County. Residents in Putnam County had almost no warning before the tornado hit, and the loss of life is gut-wrenching. Nearly two dozen Tennesseans have perished, with 22 residents still unaccounted for.

In Nashville, communities (East Nashville, North Nashville, and Germantown) have been ravaged. Clean up and rebuilding will take a tremendous amount of time and resources. Historic buildings, churches, businesses, and homes have been destroyed, and some schools have been significantly damaged. Schools are closed at least until next week.

In Mt. Juliet, the largest middle school in the state has been decimated, as has the elementary school that stood behind it. There are approximately 2,000 students who have lost both their homes and their schools. Several factories, which provided jobs to a large percentage of community members, are gone. Families are left with no homes, no schools, and no workplaces. Schools in Wilson County will reopen on Monday, March 16th.

Putnam County, which includes the town of Cookeville and surrounding rural areas, has experienced the most loss of life, including teachers and students. The schools sustained only minor damage and will reopen on Monday, March 9th, but will immediately begin counseling students and staff members who are grieving. Like in Nashville and Mt. Juliet, there is devastating property damage to homes and businesses.

The lone bright spot in the midst of this tragedy is the inimitable spirit of Tennessee’s people. There is a reason we are called the “Volunteer State.” People in the affected communities and across the state are coming out to help their neighbors, to grieve, to comfort, and to rebuild.

From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of the Tennessee Education Association, I thank all of you who have asked how you can help with the disaster relief efforts here in Tennessee. Should you feel inclined, here are some ways you can support us as we recover and rebuild:

Hands on Nashville via The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee: cfmt.org
(Donate to the Middle Tennessee Emergency Response Fund)

Gideon’s Army (focusing on Nashville): gideonsarmyunited.org

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Fund (focusing on Mt. Juliet and Putnam County): disasterreliefeffort.org

Nourish Food Bank (focusing on Mt. Juliet and Putnam County because they have fewer resources): nourishfoodbanks.org

American Red Cross: redcross.org
(Click on Red Cross Helps After Tennessee Tornadoes)

(Monetary donations are appreciated, but we also have need of blood donations. Cookeville Regional Hospital ran out of blood and had to transport patients to Nashville.)

Tennesseans also appreciate your thoughts, prayers, and well wishes during this difficult time.

With gratitude and in solidarity,
Beth Brown, President

Tennessee Education Association


2020 Voter Information

Jan 30, 2020

Educators are no stranger to paperwork, but this may be the most important form you fill out this year. 

Make sure you’re registered to vote! 

Elections are how we hold our elected officials accountable. For this reason, educators must be involved. The 2020 election season is in full swing, and many of the state legislative races will be decided in the primary election on March 3, 2020. 

The deadline to register to vote in the March 3 primary elections is February 3. Early voting begins February 18th. Check your registration here. 

Open Primaries: 

In a primary election, registered voters select a candidate that they believe should be a political party’s nominee for elected office to run in the general election. 

Arkansas has open primaries which allow a voter to vote on a ballot of their choosing even if they are not a member of the party. Voters will be asked to select a Republican, Democratic, or nonpartisan ballot when they arrive at the polling place. Judicial races will also appear on the March 3rd ballot, along with some school board races and all judicial races.  

Election Day: 

You can vote at your poll on Election Day, March 3 from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Find your polling place at Arkansas Voter View. 

Bring your ID: 

In March 2017, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law a bill requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls. Under this law, a voter who does not possess the required form of identification may cast a provisional ballot after signing a sworn statement attesting to his or her identity. 

Vote Early: 

During the preferential primary early voting is available February 18, through March 2nd. Voting locations are open between the hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Early voting ends at 5 p.m. on the Monday before the election. Off-site early voting hours may vary by county; watch your local newspaper or contact your county clerk for information. 

You can find more information about elections in Arkansas at the Secretary of State’s website. 


Mountain Home Retirement TownHall

Dec 10, 2019

Calling all educators! Join the Arkansas Education Association December 17th in Mountain Home, AR to learn the latest about your retirement from Arkansas Teacher Retirement System Executive Director Clint Rhoden, Arkansas House Education Committee Member Representative Nelda Speaks and AEA President Carol Fleming.

Don’t miss this special event, Tuesday, December 17th at 6 pm at McMullin Lecture Hall in Dryer Hall on the ASU Mountain Home campus.