Last Wednesday teachers flooded the Capitol to speak to the Senate Education Committee against SB 294, otherwise known as The LEARNS Act. A couple of those teachers were from Star City, a town in South Arkansas with a population of about 2200 people. The young superintendent of Star City Schools, Jordan Frizzell, is a passionate advocate for the children of his community. He has been an outspoken critic of LEARNS and was also present at the meeting.
One of the Star City teachers who spoke directly to lawmakers gave a beautiful and moving speech. I couldn’t help but think of this teacher as a patriot for sharing his truth with our elected officials.
During the meeting Senator Breanne Davis, the sponsor of SB 294, became angry as people raised concerns about LEARNS and its negative impact on children and communities. She said there were people spreading disinformation about the bill and declared “superintendents are misleading the public at best, and at worst, they are lying.”
Allison, a parent of two children with disabilities, was also there to speak against the bill. Her primary problem with LEARNS is that private schools don’t have to accept special needs kids like hers. She is worried about the students with disabilities who are already underserved because of lack of funding in their public schools, and how that problem will worsen as public tax dollars flow to other sources. She met the teachers from Star City and it inspired her to find out their superintendent supported their attendance and involvement in the legislative process. Later that evening, she tweeted something to this effect.
Senator Breanne Davis saw Allison’s tweet and used it to attack Star City. She tweeted an accusation that Mr. Frizzell violated policy in allowing teachers to miss school to attend the legislative meeting. Her tweet even went so far as to suggest the situation be investigated. Senator Davis’ reaction was not patriotism.
A school law attorney then jumped on Twitter to sort things out. She pointed out the Senator’s interpretation of policy was bogus, and corrected her mistake in judgment. She then outlined the paper trail that proved Frizzell nor the teachers did anything wrong. Thank God this woman spoke up when she saw this intimidating unfolding on social media.
On the same day Judd Deere, deputy chief of staff for Governor Sarah Sanders, referenced Allison’s tweet with one of his own, chiming in, “Nothing says I care about students like skipping out on those students for political advocacy.”
Teachers have already been labeled as far-left indoctrinators and lazy. This happened throughout the governor’s campaign and it continues today. Such blatant and direct attacks on public educators as these tweets are a further abuse of power and are the opposite of patriotism.
And these tweets come on the heels of our conversation with Senator Bart Hester, in which he told a group of teachers “Superintendents are my enemy.” This happened on “Take Your Teacher to the Legislature Day” and was said to a large group of us who stood out in the hall after being kicked out of the Senate Ed Committee Meeting for lack of space. Members of our coalition who were not asked to leave later told us that Senator Breanne Davis derided superintendents in that meeting as well. It is a narrative voucher peddlers push in order to divide us.
As public outcry against LEARNS has intensified, however, so has the viciousness of the narrative, especially the propaganda that paints educators as leftist enemies of that state. Nothing could be further from the truth. Members of our coalition are fiercely committed to defending their public schools and motivated by protecting the future of their students. These educators are patriots. Not political pawns.
We have heard from several admin and teachers who are being intimidated both directly and indirectly. One wrote this week—confidentially of course—that “the targeting teachers and administrators are receiving from the AG, Governor’s office, and distance are barriers for us [to be able to come to the Capitol Tuesday].”
This is not okay. Our leaders, the people that work for us who have sworn oaths to uphold the Constitution and to do right by Arkansans, are attacking the free speech of public employees. This is not patriotism. Instead, standing up for public schools in the face of political attacks from the highest levels of state government is patriotism.
The abuse of power is unacceptable and it is wrong. If this is happening to you, we want know so we can help support you. If you have shared concerns about The LEARNS Act but have been silenced or bullied by elected leaders, please message on Twitter or Facebook. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.