By ANDREW DeMILLO, Associated Press
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Little Rock teachers’ union backed off its call Monday for teachers to only work virtually because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus in schools after dozens of teachers faced disciplinary action for not showing up for in-person classes.
Little Rock Education Association President Teresa Knapp Gordon said members on Monday night called off its action, which called on teachers to work virtually but not in person.
Sixty-nine teachers face disciplinary action, which includes the possibility of termination, for not showing up to teach classes in person, Superintendent Mike Poore told reporters The 21,000-student, state-run district has about 1,900 teachers. Classes remained open on Monday.
“There will be a form of discipline and that we’re working on over the course of the rest of the day,” Poore told reporters. Gordon on Monday night said the teachers had received notices of pending disciplinary action.
The Little Rock Education Association, the local teachers’ union, had announced its action on Sunday and cited several concerns about the schools since classes resumed Aug. 24, including facilities not being cleaned or disinfected properly and many teachers and students not wearing masks.
“We do believe our buildings are unsafe in the midst of this global pandemic,” Gordon told reporters earlier in the day.
Arkansas is requiring its public schools to be open for in-person classes five days a week, though they can also offer virtual or hybrid options. About half of Little Rock’s students have chosen the virtual option.
A district spokeswoman said earlier Monday that 150 teachers had called in sick, which Poore said is slightly higher than the 100 to 110 on a typical day. It was unclear whether any of the teachers calling in sick were doing so in response to the union’s call to not teach in person.
Arkansas took over the Little Rock district in January 2015 over low test scores at several schools. The state Board of Education last year stripped the Little Rock Education Association of its collective bargaining power.
Arkansas ranks seventh in the country for new cases per capita, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The state on Monday reported 21 new deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, bringing its total fatalities since the pandemic began to 1,329.
The Department of Health said its confirmed cases increased by 786 to 79,521. The state also reported 21 new probable cases. The number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 increased by 35 to 496.
The state on Monday reported 717 active cases at its public schools, and 490 at its colleges and universities. Little Rock had the second-highest number of active cases in Arkansas, according to the state’s list.
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