Schools Activist Says Parents, Teachers Afraid Of Retribution If They Speak Out

Jan 23, 2017

Last week Little Rock School District  Superintendent, Michael Poore, announced four school closings. Meanwhile, Dr. Anika Whitfield of the community group Save Our Schools thinks the outcry would be louder if people didn't fear their job or school would be the next in line for cuts.

“Some of the teachers and some of the parents at other schools....I believe it’s not that they don’t necessarily care, I sense a fear of 'if we speak up or speak out it could be our school next.'”

Whitfield is an alumna of Franklin Elementary, which -- along with Wilson Elementary, Woodruff Early Childhood Education Center and Hamilton Learning Academy -- will either close or be re-purposed.

The announced closings are a part of the district’s response to the loss of $37 million in desegregation funds. The district is under state control since 2015 because 6 of its 48 schools were deemed to be in academic distress based on tests the state no longer utilizes.

Whitfield said when she was in school the district was mostly white and middle class but now is overwhelmingly black and disproportionately low income. That, she said, is a big reason why much of the city met the news with quiet indifference.

“Sadly, one would think that there would be great outrage, but the people that are most outraged are the neighbors who live in those neighborhood school areas, the parents that have children that go to those schools and the grandparents and the guardians, and the teachers and the administrators in those schools,. So. those are most of the people who you hear crying out in support of making sure that those schools stay open.”

She said she’d reached out to the mayor, the city manager and members of the board of directors but has not gotten strong support.

State Education Commissioner Johnny Key alone has the authority to decide school closings that were once the purview, collectively, of the seven-member elected school board.