Generic filters
Search in title
Search in content
Exact matches only
Arkansas PoliticsBigger GovernmentEducation/School ChoiceHealthcare/Covid-19Read

The Failures of ‘Local Control’— Senator Trent Garner

If you would like to call for accountability in your school district, download our petition now.

In just 22 minutes, advocates of “local control” took over Joseph Austin’s life without him getting to say a single word. One of the most popular talking points in favor of mask mandates is that local control should give people the power to mandate the wearing of masks. When the Legislature approved Act 1002, which banned mask mandates, opponents argued that it would take local control away from government bodies.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson called a special session to overturn Act 1002, saying it is a “conservative principle that puts control in the hands of local government.”

The governor’s statement directly violates the first two principles of the conservative Republican Party platform, which he signed when he ran for office. Here is a reminder for the governor: The GOP platform specifically says that “individual citizens are willing and capable of managing their own affairs without government intervention.”

Setting aside that bit of hypocrisy, let’s consider the real question. If government intervention is going to invoke the concept of local control to strip parents of their individual choices, what does that local control look like in action? I think we get the real answer in the story of Joseph Austin.

Joseph is a parent in the El Dorado School District. Like most parents, he was preparing his children to go back to school this year. Thanks to Act 1002, which gave him the power to decide, Joseph made the choice to not mask his kids.

Circuit Judge Timothy Fox, one of the judges who is overturned most at the appellate level, issued an injunction on Act 1002, effectively taking away from parents any choice on masks. That power was awarded to the El Dorado school board.

Joseph was disappointed, and decided to act. He wanted to advocate before his local government. He wanted to see democracy in action.

The El Dorado school board had a meeting Aug. 16. Joseph went to discuss his opinion on mask mandates. He wanted his elected representative to hear his voice. However, the people with “local control” had different plans. The school board announced that there would be no discussion on masks that evening.

But as Joseph found out later, that was only partly true. There actually was a discussion on mask mandates, but the public wasn’t permitted to take part. After the meeting was over, Joseph talked to a school board member. The member told him the board had a private meeting after the public meeting where they discussed the mask mandates at length.

Disappointed but not deterred, Joseph vowed to continue the fight. He didn’t have to wait long.

On Aug. 17, it was announced that the school board was having a special meeting to address the mask issue. With less than 24 hours’ notice for the public, the board scheduled a meeting at noon Aug. 18.

Joseph was again upset. Like many parents, he had to work. A noon meeting made it almost impossible for him to attend.

He decided this issue was too important, and took off work to attend.

Fortunately for Joseph, he wasn’t alone in his fight. At the short-notice meeting, 20 to 30 of his fellow parents showed up. By Joseph’s estimate, most of them were against the mask mandates.

Those local citizens had come to take part in their local government. They wanted to talk with their elected representatives. They were parents who wanted a say in how they should be governed. And what did this local government body do? It took control.

Despite being a public meeting and despite parents being in the audience, the board announced there would be no public comments. It seemed the decision had been made. Only 22 minutes after the meeting started, the board had decided it knew what was best for Joseph’s children.

Joseph’s is a cautionary tale about what “local control” can look like. Unfortunately, it isn’t the only one. There are many other examples across our state.

The Greenwood school board didn’t allow the public to comment either. It said that parents had to sign up a week beforehand in order to speak at an Aug. 12 meeting. Incidentally, that meant they had to sign up to speak before Judge Fox actually issued his ruling on Aug. 7, which was metaphysically impossible.

The DeWitt school board made the choice for hundreds of parents without allowing them to say a word.

In Heber Springs, the school board announced a virtual meeting with about four hours’ notice to parents and teachers. The meeting was at 5:30 p.m., which just happened to be the exact time an open house was taking place. It was mandatory for teachers to attend the open house.

Not that it mattered if the teachers wanted to voice their opinions. The school board didn’t allow public comments. It even disabled the comments section on the YouTube live stream of the meeting.

Heber Springs’ school board joined the likes of the Bentonville and Greenwood school boards, where some of their members did not find it necessary to wear masks while voting to require teachers, staff and students to wear them.

Perhaps the best example occurred during a meeting of the Harmony Grove school board, when a parent asked why some board members weren’t wearing masks, even as they discussed and voted on mandating masks for staff and students. The board couldn’t come up with an answer.

The undemocratic actions of some of the local governments would be disheartening. Fortunately in Arkansas, our motto Regnat Populus—“the people rule”—still can be true. There is a state law, AR Code § 6-13-619, which allows a group of 50 people in a school district to require the school board to meet. That means the people have the power to call a meeting and require the school boards that work for them to listen.

Joseph and a group of concerned parents came together to fight for true local control. They formed a group called El Dorado Stands. The group is collecting signatures under the law to hold the school board accountable and to have their voices be heard.

Parents standing up for their children—that is what local control in action should look like.

*Written by Arkansas State Senator Trent Garner. Garner rep­re­sents District 27 in south­ern Arkansas.

Petition the School Board

If you too would like to call for accountability in your school district, download our petition and gather 50 signatures of qualified electors in your school district — this will force the school boards to hold a meeting regarding your concern.


Back to top button

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker