This past Monday, October 13, I attended the Little Rock School District Town Hall at Forest Park Elementary. Ostensibly, the meeting was about letting parents discuss issues related to the district generally, while also providing those parents with information about testing dates, requirements for accommodating dyslexia, and new developments within the district.
Given the timing and location of the meeting, along with the allegations that the LRSD was complicit in the whole thing, I suspected that there might be some questions about the non-placement of Clarke Tucker’s son. What I did not expect, however, was that LRSD Superintendent Dexter Suggs would admit that the allegations were true and apologize for the whole thing, but that’s exactly what happened.
The mother of a Forest Park student first raised the issue early on in the meeting, and Dr. Suggs stated that he would prefer it if people would blame him for this sort of thing, rather than blaming other LRSD employees further down the totem pole. Dr. Suggs further stated that he had taken steps to address the problem.
Clarke Tucker’s mother then asked what those steps were, explained that she was very concerned that the LRSD would allow the placement system to be used as a political tool, and suggested that — at the very least — an apology was warranted. Dr. Suggs stated (and I’m only slightly paraphrasing here): On behalf of the Little Rock School District, I apologize to you and your family for all of this. At no point did Dr. Suggs deny that something improper had occurred, nor did he equivocate and act like maybe things were not exactly as they appeared.1
But, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the fact that Dr. Suggs apologized was not in and of itself proof that the Pre-K placement system was used as a tool against Clarke Tucker. There is still more evidence that things are exactly as they appear to be.
Last week, I emailed Valerie Hudson at the Little Rock School District, asking:
Is there any written policy or procedure that explains when the P4 waiting lists are reviewed once the first day of school gets close?
What I mean is, I assume that, at some point in August, LRSD starts looking at compulsory attendance grades and those waiting lists, and P4 waiting lists are put to the side until the compulsory grades are completed. So I was wondering if there was a specific date range for that written down somewhere?
The following day, I received this response from Dr. Frederick Fields:
Assuming Dr. Fields is telling the truth,2 the 5-day drop period replaced the “after Labor Day” general rule that the district used in the past. In either case, by Fields’ own admission, the LRSD was not looking at Pre-K waiting lists until some time after school started. Which is exactly what he said to Toni Tucker in an email that the LRSD has failed to provide in multiple FOIA requests.
Which in turn means exactly what we’ve previously said: under LRSD policy and practicies, there was absolutely no reason that Fields would have been looking at the Fair Park waiting list in mid-August, and he certainly would not have offering spots from those lists to anyone at that point. Yet, despite this — and despite the Tuckers’ son not even being first on the Fair Park list at the time the “offer” was made — Fields emailed Toni Tucker on August 13 regarding an open spot at Fair Park, then he immediately forwarded that email to Leslie Fisken with only, “FYI…waiting on a response. :)” as the message.
Ah, but that’s just one part of the story. What about the fact that Karen James claimed that she had offered the Tuckers a spot at Brady months prior, which the Tuckers declined? I had the same question, so I sent this FOIA request to Dr. James last Monday:
Pursuant to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, please provide copies of all emails, letters, or other written correspondence demonstrating an offer to place Toni and Clarke Tucker’s son at Brady Elementary for Pre-K. Further, please provide copies of any return correspondence from Mr. or Mrs. Tucker to you regarding said placement.
A day later, I got this response:
Now, first off, it is worth noting that student placement is not Karen James’ job. It is Frederick Fields’. So it is unclear why Karen James would be offering a spot at Brady (or anywhere) without some communication about that placement with Fields. One assumes that, had she actually made an offer, James would have had to let Fields know, since he is working with a finite number of seats at every school.
Yet, not only is there no communication between James and Fields about this alleged offer, there is no email or letter to the Tuckers, showing that they were offered a slot at Brady. There is no email or letter from the Tuckers, declining that seat. In short, the only “evidence” that Karen James offered the Tuckers a spot at Brady is James’ email — dated May 2, which is 3 days after the date on a letter from the LRSD stating that the Tuckers’ son did not receive a placement — in which she claims to have made that offer. Given how disingenuous the other emails from the LRSD have been when it comes to the Tuckers, without some proof to the contrary, believing Karen James about the Brady offer seems questionable at best.
There are a lot of moving parts in all of this, of course. So let’s summarize. Taken as a whole, what we have is:
(b) the heavy involvement of Hurst donors Melanie Fox and Leslie Fisken in the placement of Clarke Tucker’s son, which makes sense in the context of the political importance of the Forest Park district in this race;
(c) Frederick Fields’ admitting that there was no reason that he should have made an offer to the Tuckers on August 13;
(d) Karen James failing to have even the slightest documentation of offering a seat at Brady; and
(e) Dr. Suggs apologizing to the Tuckers on behalf of the entire LRSD for the games that were played in the non-placement of Clarke Tucker’s son.
Throw in the reprehensible mailers that have been sent out by Hurst and/or her proxies, all of which fail to mention that the man who Clarke Tucker defended was acquitted of the subsequent charge that Hurst continues to crow about, and it becomes exceedingly hard to see why anyone who wasn’t in line to benefit financially from Hurst’s election would vote for her. Certainly nothing we’ve seen in her campaigning or character deserves your vote.