Wednesday, February 4, 2015

In Little Rock Arkansas, students have organized against a corporate takeover of their schools

According to Hannah Burdette, founding member of the LRSDSA, on behalf of her constituents: “On February 1st, students from the Little Rock School District (LRSD) met to organize the foundations of the Little Rock School District Student Association (LRSDSA). The team of students, working throughout Sunday afternoon, represented three of the five high schools in the district (Hall High School, Little Rock Central High School, and Parkview Art/Science Magnet High School). The students capitalized on momentum generated by the Arkansas State Board of Education’s recent takeover of the LRSD– and subsequent dissolution of the district school board– to create a groundbreaking camaraderie between students. 

“The LRSDSA plans to provide representation for the students of the district in the political bodies that dictate the future of education. The working mission statement of the LRSDSA was drafted during the meeting and reads, ‘The LRSDSA is an association of students united to amplify our voices and dedicated to empowering students to speak out in their classrooms, schools, and community in order to create continual implementation of reform in our district.’ The students of the LRSDSA are students who stand, ‘dedicated to ensuring our voice and our vote in our education.

“The students founding the new association feel that their collective voices have gone unheard by the Arkansas State Department of Education. Over the past several weeks, these students spoke at out at LRSD Board of Directors meetings, community forums, and a special meeting of the State Board of Education to plead for the continuation of the LRSD Board of Directors.

“The LRSDSA believes that those in charge of a school district must possess an intimate knowledge of the communities surrounding struggling schools and be willing to recognize student voices as equal to those of administrators and teachers. This intimate connection is easily lost in bureaucracy, as demonstrated by the decision of five members of State Board of Education to vote for a State takeover, thereby disregarding the voices of students who spoke out and implored the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education to allow students from each high school to work with the LRSD Board of Directors, community members, teachers, and administrators to improve education across the district.

“The Little Rock School District Board of Directors was a democratically elected body and provided a seat for a student ex officio at every meeting. Several students engaged in forming the LRSDSA worked on the campaigns of school board members, and many students formed personal connections with the board. The Arkansas State Board of Education currently allows for no official student representative at their meetings and often schedules these meetings during school hours, making it impossible for students to attend meetings concerning their education. The LRSDSA seeks to change that.

“Additionally, the LRSDSA plans to make known to the Arkansas State Board of Education and to the public that they are displeased with both the dissolution of the LRSD Board of Directors and the silencing of student voices through a peaceful demonstration on Thursday, February 5th, 2015. At 5pm, students will march from the Arkansas State Board of Education at 4 Capitol Mall to the LRSD Central Office– the location of LRSD Board of Directors meetings– located at 810 West Markham. The organizing students emphasize that this demonstration will be done peacefully and encourage any community supporters to join them.”

The LRSDSA - Our Education, Our Voice, Our Vote:

The Little Rock School District Student Association recognizes that when students feel they have lost influence in their education it becomes necessary to organize and lobby for their rightful influence. The LRSDSA exists as an advocate for reform in a time of strife and division in our district, the consequences of which have served to further polarize students’ rights. The issues listed below are not exhaustive, they are a compilation of issues and grievances seen across the district by thousands of students. These issues are a developing platform on which we may build the progressive change we wish see.

We wish to see recognition of student voices as they are critical in advocates for the crafting educational policy.

We wish to have students provided a representative voice with direct influence on policy making in all administrative decisions involving students on the district and school level.

We wish to see reform of student assessment in the classroom that takes into account the individual strengths’ and weaknesses of students.

We wish to see a substantial decrease in the emphasis and frequency of district wide standardized testing as a means of measuring student and school performance.

We wish to see a reform in district treatment of English as Second Language students that take into account the individual difficulties of taking on the American public education system while still learning the primary language of that system.

We wish to see the Little Rock School District take substantial steps to engage the communities of Little Rock as a uniting force to overcome the disadvantages students are presented based on socioeconomic and racial divides.

We wish to see an end of discrimination towards students on campus based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, class, or any other forms of personal identity that draw prejudice.

We wish to see all students adequately advocated for in all matters and in at levels of schooling and the rights of individual students protected from violation.

We wish to see the Little Rock School District remain a public, free, and open district welcoming equally of all students with a desire and passion to engage in meaningful learning and scholarly development.

Our power as students is only recognized when it is seized by the students themselves. It is the democratic duty of those that have had their rights suppressed to rally against that suppression and towards a bright future of success where students have gained their seat at the table of reform in the LRSD.

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