Teachers frustrated over Gov. Hutchinson’s primetime address

KNWA

"Instead of saying we looked at all these safety measures, we've talked to teachers, he just uses this letter as a crutch."

FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Educators in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley are disappointed in the governor’s prime time address, one teacher in Fort Smith even called it “a slap in the face”.

Don’t get feedback from one kid you can’t even prove is real.

PAIGE TURNEY, TEACHER, FORT SMITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Teachers are frustrated over Governor Hutchinson’s address on Thursday (Dec. 10) because his message is the same from August 7 — to now.

Governor Hutchinson repurposed a letter given by a student five months ago during his address Thursday.

Get a new letter, see how Rain feels now, let’s see how he feels now, and talk to Rain’s teachers and see how they feel.

PAIGE TURNEY, TEACHER, FORT SMITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Paige Turney is a 6th grade teacher at Fort Smith Public Schools.

She, like many others, think Governor Hutchinson isn’t listening to their concerns.

“He sits there and he says we value educators, we understand how hard you work, but ‘what have you done to show that?'” Turney said. “For me, it’s just all talk and no action.”

They said they also feel he’s not helping them find ways to better navigate schooling during a pandemic.

“You need to get feedback from teachers,” Turney said.

Especially how to keep up with kids who are missing school.

I just feel there are other things the governor could do right to help lessen the load off of teachers.

PAIGE TURNEY, TEACHER, FORT SMITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Turney said that’s always a challenge, but this year with so many quarantines, it’s been even harder.

“It’s just a mess,” she said. “It’s just a big mess.”

Turney said she understands the importance of kids being in the classroom, she just wishes the governor could meet educators in the middle.

“It’s not a normal school year at all and he hasn’t done anything to recognize that,” she said. “We need to change the way how school operates this year.” 

A couple of NWA/River Valley educators reached out to KNWA/FOX 24 after our story aired.

Here’s what one Fayetteville Public Schools teacher had to say:

“I am very upset about the governor’s lack of action. He tells Arkansans every week to wear masks and keep a physical distance. He says it’s simple, but in schools, it’s not possible. Many of our elementary schools have stuck with the state mandate that only requires people at least ten years old to wear masks. That leaves kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, and about half of fourth grade without masks – it’s nearly the entire school. There is no physical distancing requirement at all in schools, and class sizes are the same as they were pre-pandemic. Schools are the only public places I know of where physical distancing isn’t even possible. My district, Fayetteville Public Schools, tried to submit a safe reopening plan. Our superintendent got measurements from classrooms and figured out how many students could be in a class while allowing six feet of distance. He realized we needed to reduce to half capacity, so he rolled out a plan for a hybrid schedule. He and other administrators were working with community centers to get safe spaces for students who needed a place to go on virtual days. Our superintendent really tried to put the health and safety of our community first. But Governor Hutchinson values the economy over lives, so mandated all schools offer full-time schedules. He has not only failed to take action to protect Arkansans, but he has taken action that puts us in more danger. He was one of only two governors to mandate all schools offer full-time options. And, he made one more hugely dangerous policy change right before school started. This change was to the “Response Levels for On-Site Learning.” Initially, ours looked like every other state’, which suggests reducing capacity during moderate spread and pivoting to remote learning during severe spread. Hutchinson changed this so that schools would only pivot if “the percentage of staff and students affected [by Covid] substantially disrupts the delivery of on-site instruction.” More specifically, schools are only allowed to pivot if so many teachers are out that classrooms cannot be covered by substitute teachers. You’ve been in touch with Bruce Ward, so I’m sure he’s told you about the spread within our schools. It is contributing to community spread as well. The two together are growing and growing, and it is the working class that suffers while Governor Hutchinson does everything he can to protect the profits of Walmart, Tyson, and J.B. Hunt. With those three very wealthy companies in Arkansas, we, if anyone, should be able to afford to cover people’s unemployment wages while we all hunker down, reduce the spread and death rate, and get vaccinated by the end of May. Governor Hutchinson is responsible for many deaths in this state, and those include at least thirteen public school employees, some of whom left young children behind, and some who infected loved ones before they died. Some of those loved ones were also hospitalized. He is not only endangering people who are required to work in dangerous places with uncontrolled community spread, but he is also endangering the loved ones they go home. Personally, I’m lucky enough to be able to teach from home. But I worry about all of my fellow school employees. I started a Facebook group called Arkansas Educator Call Out. It’s a private group, only for school employees who I can verify by looking at their school’s website. It’s a network of frightened educators who feel they might need to put staffing pressure on districts to help them pivot as ADE is denying requests to do so for any other reason.”

(Staci Vandagriff/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

A spokesperson with the governor’s office told KNWA/FOX 24 the repurposed letter was used “because it still applies today”.

The letter has an important message and permission was renewed and affirmed within days of the speech. The reasoning of the letter conveys important points that are worth using on numerous occasions. It may be used again.

SPOKESPERSON, GOVERNOR HUTCHINSON’S OFFICE

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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