Board of Education Approves to Waive Teacher Fair Dismissal Law in PBSD

By an 8 to 1 vote, the State Board of Education today waived the Teacher Fair Dismissal Law in the Pine Bluff School District. This gives recently appointed Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Owoh the power to fire district teachers and employees during the 2019-2020 school year.

The fair dismissal law provides due process protections to teachers. The Pine Bluff district will be unique among traditional public schools in the state in not affording these due process rights to employees.  This may not be the case for long because the Board is now discussing waivers for the Little Rock School District.

Board chairman Jay Barth, who typically does not vote unless to break a tie, was the lone individual to vote against it.

In testimony before the board, Superintendent Jeremy Owoh said he didn’t know if the waiver would be helpful to him.

“We need to make sure that we are always focused on our students,” Dr. Owoh told members of the board this morning.  “There’s more concern about personnel outside the classroom instead of personnel inside the classroom.”

He also stated that there is not “consistent focus” on what’s best for the students and the campus.

“That has been the biggest or most significant aspect or situation that I’ve dealt with.  This is uncharted territory and I don’t know what things will look like with the waiver,” he said.

Education Commissioner Johnny Key

Several leaders from Pine Bluff attended the meeting and spoke to members of the board.

State Rep. Vivian Flowers said that many key individuals were not aware of today’s meeting until the past week or so.  She explained that she was attending today’s meeting as a representative of those teachers and parents who could not attend.  She asked them to consider not making a decision until they heard from the educators.  Flowers also stressed the importance of the board being transparent and accessible to the public at large.

Mayor Shirley Washington, a retired teacher who taught over 30 years in Pine Bluff, said that the success of the district is critical to the city’s overall progress.  She stated that Dr. Owoh has not been given enough time to properly access the district.  She added that there will be difficulty in recruiting quality teachers.

“I want the Pine Bluff School District to be the best place to teach and to learn,” Mayor Washington said.

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin said the state needs to grow in the same direction.  He mentioned recently speaking to students at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff about STEM education.

“There is no one who believes in local control more than Tim Griffin.  The students don’t have the time to live in failing schools any longer.  They need help now.  Expedite means faster,” Griffin said.

Ivan Whitfield, incoming Pine Bluff Third Ward Alderman, asked the board to remember the children.

“Whatever you do, don’t hurt the children,” Whitfield said.

Virginia Hymes, who taught at Pine Bluff High School for over 30 years, shared that 14 students had received scholarships in the amount of $250,000 from the Bill Gates Foundation.

“I am a retired teacher and my heart is still with the kids,” Hymes said.

She brought up the importance of transparency saying that Dr. Owoh had demonstrated this characteristic well.  She also said that he participated in a community service project with students at CASA Women’s Shelter and described this action as a “first” for an administrator.

Mattie P. Collins, who taught 39 years in the Pine Bluff School District, expressed that the waiver threatens how educators feel about the work they do with the students.

“I am urging you to not support this waiver,” Collins said.  “After all, you sent Dr. Owoh and he is great.  He has only been here since September.”

She also expressed the need to support Mayor Washington’s concept of One Pine Bluff together.