Dr. Anika Whitfield is a remarkable woman. She is a podiatrist. She is an ordained Baptist minister. She has volunteered as a tutor in the public schools of Little Rock for many years. She is active in Save Our Schools Arkansas and Grassroots Arkansas. She is a fighter for social justice and equity. She wrote the following letter to Johnny Key, who is Commissioner of Education in the state. Key was trained as an engineer and served in the state legislature for a decade. Anyone who cares about the children and schools of Little Rock should listen to Dr. Whitfield. She is a dynamo.

The state took control of the Little Rock School District because six of its 48 schools were low-performing. Instead of helping the schools, the state simply abolished local control. The Walton family plays a large role in the state due to its dominance of the state’s economy and its many political lackies.

Dr. Whitfield wrote:

Commissioner Key,

For two weeks now, the Arkansas State Board of Education has been hosting public meetings to discuss the future of the LRSD. Since the LRSD was taken over by the state on January 28, 2019, you have been serving, by appointment, as our sole board member. Sadly, you have not been present for any of the four meetings that the state board of education has been hosting in the LRSD community. Why is that?

Over the past close to five years now, serving as the sole board member of the LRSD, you have not elected to host one meeting with the LRSD about the state of our district, the exit plan for our district, nor to gain insight from the stakeholders and the persons most impacted by the many decisions you have made regarding the LRSD. Why is that?

When we have called on you over the past four and a half years as community organizers and leaders on behalf of the LRSD community, you have refused to host public meetings about our concerns, the state of our district, and your plans for our district. Your attorneys or staff at the Arkansas Department of Education has responded to me that you are not required by law to host meetings like an elected school board, and that given your responsibilities to the entire state of Arkansas as education commissioner, it is difficult for you to make a commitment to doing so. Why then, don’t you give the LRSD back to a democratically elected board who can commit to serving the LRSD who can meet with the public regularly and provide a plan for restoration of the LRSD?

Some of the highlights you missed by not being present, in the room of public discussion were as follows:

•We believe Governor Hutchinson should replace Mr. Key (you) as commissioner of education because not only has he failed to serve as an effective board member of the LRSD, he has refused to listen to our majority voices that have echoed for close to five years now that we want democracy restored to the LRSD and to our school board.

•It has been evidenced by Mr. Key’s (your) actions that Governor Hutchinson appointed you to fulfill the pleasures of wealthy business owners in Arkansas (the Waltons, Mr. Hussman, and the Stephens) who appear to have made it a part of their business plan to invest in charter schools that generate city, county, state and national funding for their businesses to operate privately off the backs of primarily African American/Black and Latinx students.

•We, the LRSD community, realize that BEFORE the LRSD was taken over for six out of 48 (now only 44 because you have forced the closure of four of our beloved neighborhood schools), the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) as recommended by the state board of education (SBE) and enforced by state law, had been overseeing the six schools that were performing below proficiency according to results from racially and culturally biased standardized tests. Therefore, the state board of education should not have, in good moral conscious, decided for the ADE to take on the responsibility of 42 other schools in the LRSD until they could prove success in helping the six schools overcome the barriers prohibiting proficiency or above outcomes of the students attending these schools.

•We recognize that the absence of a democratically elected school board allows for the management of an over $350 million dollar budget in the hands of one person, Mr. Key (you), who has not been allocating funds in good faith according to the will and the knowledge of the LRSD community as an elected board is required. We want to know where have the city, county, state, federal, and limited and regulated private dollars been allocated, spent, diverted, or unused by the LRSD board (Mr. Key), the ADE, and the LRSD administration?

You missed the opportunity to learn, hear, and discuss with the more than 120 LRSD community members who attended all four of the public meetings held in four different locations in our city.

And, most importantly, you missed, as our sole board member and state commissioner of education, hearing and responding to our (the majority of the LRSD stakeholders who attended the meetings (at Roberts Elementary and St. Mark Baptist Church) list of demands:

1) Immediate return of entire LRSD.

2) Local, democratic board elections Nov. 2019 or reinstatement of last elected board. (You still have time to announce and prepare for Nov. 2019 elections by law. Failing to do so will only further indicate your willful sabotage of the will of The People, the majority of the LRSD stakeholders. )

3) An MOA that the SBE and ADE will commit to doing the LRSD no more harm.

4) Reopening of our neighborhood public schools they closed.

5) Nullification of the current blueprint.

6) Immediate establishment of a LRSD Student Union and Parent Union.

7) Full accounting of all LRSD financials during state control of LRSD; constructive trust with method for LRSD to recoup funds from the State.

8) Same standards for private schools and charter schools as for public schools.

9) Higher qualifications for board members, both state and local/district; including requirement that some board members be certified educators.

10) Evidence-driven programs and solutions in all LRSD schools; examples include the early childhood development program at Rockefeller Elementary and the school-based health program at Stephens Elementary.

11) Make public input more accessible for parents and others responsible for children by providing child care at public meetings.

We expect a public response from you today.

Rev./Dr. Anika T. Whitfield
Grassroots Arkansas, co-chair