UPDATE: Little Rock School Cancels U.S. Congressman's Visit After Pledge To Protest

Aug 28, 2017

Gibbs Magnet Elementary School in Little Rock.
Credit LRSD.org

The threat of a protest at Gibbs Magnet Elementary School in Little Rock today derailed a planned speaking appearance by U.S. Representative French Hill. A parent complained about Hill's support for Donald Trump and fears children would be used as a photo-op.

UPDATE: Congressman Hill responded to the matter in a statement.

“I treasure my time with students around central Arkansas. From college to kindergarten, I love interacting with teachers and students. I visit schools throughout the year to discuss students' aspirations and dreams and the issues of the day, as well as the role education has played in my life, my career as an entrepreneur, and the incredibly important duty to serve that each one of us has in our Constitutional Republic.”

Posted 8/29, 7:51 a.m.

Acting-principle Donna Hall says she now regrets cancelling Hill’s appearance and plans to reschedule it. She initially feared it would have been a “disruption to the day for students.”

In an e-mail to parents Sunday evening, Hall apologized to Congressman Hill and said it would have been a learning opportunity for students.

“However, after further consideration, I do not believe canceling Congressman Hill’s visit was the best decision. Gibbs, as an international magnet, enjoys a variety of speakers from different backgrounds.  From time to time, we have elected officials speak at our schools, and though they may have varying political views, we welcome their non-partisan interaction with our students.  If any protests should occur, we would use that as an opportunity to educate our students about the democratic process in action and the right to peacefully demonstrate differing views.

Our policy does not allow elected officials to campaign, give partisan speeches or take photos with students.  We do not believe that Congressman Hill’s visit would have violated that policy.  He was invited to speak with our 5th grade students about Gibbs’ 2017 theme, encouraging students to “Go Do Great Things.”

We will continue to work with a variety of speakers, like Congressman Hill.  We have offered our apologies to the congressman and asked him to reschedule. 

Exposing our children to diversity in opinions and people helps them become well-rounded, informed, thoughtful, and engaged citizens.”

The commotion was spurred by an e-mail from parent Barclay Key. He’s a historian who has been involved in efforts to restore local democratic rule to the Little Rock School District.

Key sent an e-mail to school officials on Friday after learning of Hill’s planned appearance.

“I'm appalled that a supporter of Donald Trump would be allowed to speak to our children, not to mention someone who voted to take away health insurance from many of the families at our school.”

He explained further in another e-mail on Saturday.

"I cannot imagine greater hypocrisy than having a Trump supporter speak to our children about character."

"His visit will prepare our children for the world we live in only to the extent that this nation is controlled by a wealthy elite whose lives could not be more different than the families who patronize Gibbs. The reality is that the Republican Party is actively working to remove the right to choose elected officials. We cannot even choose the leaders of our school district right now. They actively support laws targeting poor people and people of color. They stand against everything that this school represents. And there are plenty of people besides Congressman Hill who can speak to our children about character and civics. (And for the record, I'm not even a Democrat.)"

Key said he and other parents had planned to check their children out of school that day and to instead protest outside the building.

Representative Hill is seeking a third term in the U.S. House in 2018. Two Democrats – Paul Spencer and Gwendolynn Combs - are seeking the nomination to challenge Hill. Independent Natasha Burch Hulsey is also running for the 2nd District seat.

Updated editor's note 7:45 a.m., September 1st: Barclay Key is a faculty member in the history department of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. KUAR is licensed to UA-Little Rock though it is editorially independent.