LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Hundreds of Little Rock Central High School students hosted a walk-out Friday afternoon to protest the Arkansas LEARNS omnibus education reform bill.
The event was hosted by several student groups, including the Young Leftists, student council and NAACP. Students walked out of the front doors at 1 p.m. and rallied for nearly half an hour before resuming classes.
Steve Abochale is LRCH’s student body president, and he said administrators supported the event.
“I was on call with the superintendent yesterday for the Little Rock School District. He was in full support,” Abochale said. “Our principal [supported this], as well.”
Students held signs and spoke out against Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R), the architect behind the omnibus education reform package. Sanders graduated from LRCH at the turn of the century.
“I’m hoping Gov. Sanders sees this as us declining her bill,” Abochale said.
Abochale said students are concerned that the school choice element of this bill could harm public education. He said the removal of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act could have negative ramifications for his school.
“We have amazing teachers, and those teachers will be gone,” Abochale said.
When asked for a response to the demonstration, Sanders’ communications team pointed to support the bill has gotten from teachers and parents, several of whom testified before education committees in the legislature.
Jessica Saum is a special education teacher for Stagecoach Elementary in Cabot, and she won 2022 Teacher of the Year. She said she supports many aspects of the bill, including pay increases for teachers and staff, maternity leave and early childhood education programs.
“There are things we know are not working and areas where we must do better,” Saum said.
Saum said Sanders is putting kids and families first through the provisions lined out in the bill.
“Governor Sanders has said she will be known as Arkansas’ education governor, and I believe she’s committed to that,” Saum said.
Students at the rally Friday said they are committed to public education, and Abochale said he hopes this causes other young people to get involved.
“Maybe we can all make a change in the future,” Abochale said.