AEA: Educators raise school safety, student learning concerns

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Educators are now on the frontlines of the coronavirus public health crisis, and the Arkansas Education Association (AEA) is reporting receiving “troubling” reports of unsafe practices and policies that undermine educators’ ability to provide effective learning for our students, the organization said in a Thursday release.

Describing itself as a “member-driven organization,” the AEA says “….the educators who make up our local associations have the closest and best knowledge of their students’ needs and safety in school buildings. Over the past several weeks, we have heard from educators across the state about health and safety concerns. We must take these concerns seriously, and district officials must address them to slow the spread of this deadly virus.”

“When educators speak up about health and safety issues, they do so to protect their students, colleagues, and community,” said AEA President Carol Fleming. “It’s disheartening to see educators being punished for trying to bring community awareness to safety issues in our school buildings.”

Last week Education Secretary Johnny Key said, in the first few weeks alone, more than 100 schools had to pivot to offsite learning in some manner after health officials determined it was unsafe to proceed with in-person learning.

“Parents don’t know if schools will remain open week-to-week, or even day-to-day, as new positives force shut-downs at a moment’s notice,” Fleming said. “These abrupt closures are disruptive for both students and educators.”

The organization says to make the situation even more frightening, policies aiming to protect privacy mean educators don’t know if a missing student or colleague is infected, on quarantine, or just out for some unrelated reason.

In addition to health and safety issues, many educators are now working two jobs as they struggle to teach both in-person and virtually, the statement said.

“We are also hearing reports of school districts assigning individual teachers hundreds of students which is well in excess of state standards,” the organization said.

These situations are normally prevented by state laws established to ensure students receive a quality education, the AEA noted in the statement. Earlier this year, the board of education approved a set of statewide waivers to some of these rules. The AEA said it argued against those waivers because it saw the potential for a negative impact on student learning.

“Unfortunately, now our fears are being realized,” Fleming said. “Our elected leaders vet and approve rules and regulations based on what we know about student learning. These waivers allow that process to be upended, creating an impossible situation for the school employees on the front lines.”

AEA has developed a survey tool to find out what’s happening in school buildings. The organization would like for educators to share the challenges, successes, or any other information needed to communicate to public officials.

The anonymous survey, available at www.aeaonline.org, aims to identify complications that need to be fixed as well as positive examples that can be expanded upon, the AEA said.

“We are also hearing reports of administrators creating a culture of suppression and silence in our school buildings,” Fleming said. “This does a great disservice to our children, educators, and communities. In order to fight this virus, we must be able openly communicate without fear of retribution.”


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