Wednesday, April 21, 2010

TOP STORY >> Students claim abuse on base

Leader staff writer

Last night was déjà-vu for the Pulaski County Special School District, with its board again voting to decertify the teachers union as the collective bargaining agent for PCSSD certified personnel.

An overflow crowd of school patrons and employees also heard allegations of physical and emotional abuse of her students against an Arnold Drive Elementary School first-grade teacher. Parents reported the allegations to the school principal April 6. Acting Superintendent Rob McGill removed the teacher from the classroom and then reinstated her Monday, without parents first being notified. By the end of the day, she was again suspended.

Two parents described what they have learned from their sons and other children about the alleged mistreatment at the Little Rock Air Force Base elementary school.

Janis Risse, wife of Col. George Risse, said children had been yanked by their ears, pulled up off the ground by their collars, given “hard flicks to the jugular,” hit on their heads and threatened by their teacher. They said the abuse had gone on all school year and was mainly leveled at boys. Finally Risse’s son came forward, saying his friends were being hurt “really often.”

“We were never told when she was back in the classroom or why so we could prepare our students or pull them out of the classroom,” Risse said.

A letter to the board from Lisa Otey, wife of Col. Greg Otey, Little Rock Air Force Base 19th Airlift Wing commander, called for “an expeditious, full and complete investigation into the matter” and transparent communication to the parents. According to her statement, the teacher admitted to the allegations.

McGill said that reinstatement of the teacher was due to “some miscommunication,” but refused to comment further. He said that the investigation is ongoing and that parents would be kept informed.

“Things are not always as they seem,” Marty Nix, president of the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers, told the board.

“Teachers generally like to know when they have done something wrong and want evidence.”


Board member Bill Vasquez of Jacksonville, as well as board members Sandra Sawyer and Gwen Williams, made appeals to wait for Charles Hopson to come on board as superintendent before taking any action on a contract or union decertification, as proposed by Sherwood representative Charlie Wood.

Wood said that he had talked with Hopson about the 11-page contract he was proposing that would be a “basic guideline for a final proposal and dealings with the classroom teachers.” He maintained the board was “in a time crunch” and couldn’t delay action.

Sawyer said that there was language in the contract she did not understand, and that she wanted the opportunity to confer with Hopson first, given the fact that he comes from a union state and is an “expert.”

Vasquez told the board that before taking the extreme action of decertification that they and union leaders needed to “try to find common ground, to give peace a chance with the new superintendent coming in and not rush to judgment.”

Votes for the new contract and decertification were the same: Wood, Tim Clark, Danny Gililland and Mildred Tatum voting yes, and Vasquez, Sawyer and Williams voting no.

The decertification will take effect June 30, 2010, giving the board time to adopt policies to support the establishment of a personnel policies committee to replace the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers as the representative entity.

In December, the board voted for immediate union decertification, but Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox has since declared that action null and void because requisite policies were not in place.

After the board vote, Nix said, “I am very, very, very disappointed; they are bringing on a new superintendent who has spoken to us about reconciliation and healing and the actions they have taken tonight were the reverse.”


Before board action on the teacher contract and decertification, students from Jacksonville High School’s AP Government class made a presentation to the board, called “Jacksonville High School: An Inside Perspective,” about the physical condition of the school.

They also provided an analysis of district fund allocations by zone from 2000 to 2011, totaling $180.5 million. According to the analysis, Zone 3/Maumelle has been allocated the lion’s share – 53 percent, while Zone 5/North Pulaski has been allocated 1 percent and Zone 6/Jacksonville has been allocated 2 percent. Thirty-one percent of PCSSD students come from Zone 6.

The slide presentation included photos of moldy surfaces, broken light fixtures and furniture, sagging ceiling tiles and electric wires protruding from walls and ceilings. “The students don’t feel like anyone cares about them,” one said.

“We are not here to whine and complain but to make you aware of the effect of the condition of the school on students and teachers. Low teacher retention rate and dropout rate are associated with a “neglected condition of the school and an atmosphere of futility,” the report stated. We are only asking for our fair share and to have routine maintenance requests filed in a timely manner, a student said.

Jacksonville High senior Nick Stevens said he got the idea when he was student representative at the March school board meeting when it was stated that the board could not do anything about a problem members knew nothing about.