Arkansas coronavirus cases rise, new assistance announced
By Andrew DeMillo | March 18, 2020

From the article:

The Arkansas Education Association said it’s talking frequently with state leaders and raised concerns that its members have about the outbreak’s impact on schools.

“The longer our students are out of school the more concerns will arise, but considerations are being made for all students, certified and classified public school employees to ensure that their health, safety and financial security are at the forefront of the decisions being made by state officials,” Carol Fleming, the group’s president, said in a statement.


Year-end testing off for state's students: Federal waivers offered on exams
by Cynthia Howell | March 21, 2020

From the article:

Carol Fleming, president of the Arkansas Education Association of teachers and support staff in the state, said its members appreciated the efforts of state officials "as we navigate together through unchartered waters.

"We support the difficult decision to halt testing for the school year," Fleming said. "We know this decision will have ramifications; however, it will allow students, parents, and educators to focus on learning.

"Of all the things we teach our kids, the most important is a love of learning," she added. "Tests are not the only measure of student performance or teacher effectiveness. Kids learn best when educators have the time to focus on inspiring curiosity, creativity and critical thinking skills."

OPINION: Guest Column - Meeting Challenge; State's Teachers, Pupils Persevere
by Carol Fleming Special to the Democrat-Gazette | April 10, 2020

The covid-19 pandemic has imposed new and different demands on each of us. For Arkansas' students, their teachers and parents, these new demands have been tremendous. The coronavirus crisis is making it painfully clear that our public schools are the heart and lifeline of the community. We can all now see educators' direct impact on all professions and every facet of daily life.

Teaching and learning have quickly changed. The landscape is ever-evolving as school districts transition from on-site instruction to virtual or digital instruction. In mid-March, many educators left our schools thinking Alternative Method of Instruction (AMI) packets would be a short-term bandage until we could resume in-person instruction. However, the pandemic grew worse, ending on-site instruction for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.

Many expected this announcement, but it did not make it easier to hear the difficult news that the school year would end without another chance to see our students' faces in our schools, buses, cafeterias, playgrounds, and classrooms. This announcement meant AMI would become a long-term challenge for students, parents and educators.

Educators have always risen to meet the moment and serve and support students, but the directive to deliver long-term AMI to Arkansas' students laid bare the disparity in access to technology and instructional resources. Not all areas of our state have access to high-speed Internet service. The governor acknowledged this, saying that Arkansas falls short in providing broadband access to all corners of our state. Even if we resolve broadband challenges, not all homes have multiple computers or tablets for students to access online lessons. Additionally, many homes have parents who are now working remotely. Entire households are trying to work online at the same time. It is unrealistic to believe parents, students, and educators can all work online at the same time using the same devices.

While families attempt to navigate these challenges, educators are now tasked with providing instruction without our school buildings' resources. Educators are known to dip into our own pockets to make sure our students have all they need in our classrooms. Now, we are rearranging rooms in our homes to provide instruction to students. We are buying, with our own monies, computers, tablets, cameras, and other items to engage students through distance instruction, and there is not a district I'm aware of that supports teachers' home Internet access.

Educators are resourceful and resilient. We always find a way to meet the needs of our students; however, trying to replicate a traditional school day in this time of crisis is not realistic. The Arkansas secretary of education stressed that school districts should embrace "maximum flexibility" for the rest of the school year.

Instead, many districts are setting rigid expectations that don't consider household realities, and fail to trust educators as the professionals we are. In addition, district leaders tend to forget that many educators are parents too.

Some districts are asking children in kindergarten, first and second grades to work from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. with a 30-minute activity break and 30-minute lunch. Some are directing educators to sit at computers from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. These schedules are more taxing and less rewarding than what students and educators do in a regular school day.

This punitive culture does not serve students, parents, or educators. There needs to be a level of flexibility as well as meaningful collaboration with teachers on how to make this work best for students. We are in this together, and it's time to trust and support the people who have dedicated our lives to our students. Treat us as the professionals we are, and continue to be, in even the most trying times.

We remain committed to our students, and together we will provide the best public education possible as we prepare every student to succeed in our diverse state. Arkansas' students will learn and overcome this. Arkansas' educators will continue turning obstacles into opportunities.


Carol Fleming is a speech language pathologist in the Little Rock School District currently serving as president of the Arkansas Education Association, a professional organization for teachers, education support professionals, students and advocates.