A Beebe special education teacher who was supposed to be attending her termination hearing Monday night over not having started working this year due to her medical concerns about COVID-19 will instead be returning to her original classroom Monday to begin teaching again.
In a statement to The Daily Citizen, Beebe School District Superintendent Chris Nail said, “The Beebe School District has invited Mrs. Paula Heffington to return to work on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. The district was able to secure a licensed junior high special education teacher. Therefore, we are able to accommodate Mrs. Heffington’s request to fulfill her teaching duties at Beebe Middle School.”
The district had planned to have Heffington teach at both the middle school and junior high, which she said would have increased her COVID-19 risks. She said she had heart surgery earlier this year and stayed in the hospital for seven days. She also said she is on a lot of medication. Rheumatoid arthritis is something Heffington said she deals with. “I have worked in severe pain and have never missed a beat.”
Heffington, 70, is in her 15th year of teaching. She said she received a text from Nail last Thursday saying he wanted to know if he could meet with her and that he thought it could be very positive.
Heffington said her lawyer told her not to answer the text, so she didn’t, but then she got another call and was told that the district had hired somebody for the junior high and she could come back to the middle school starting Monday. Heffington said she could have gone back before that but she had a doctor’s appointment.
“I did make them have a meeting with me [in person Tuesday] and I told them exactly what I thought,” she said. “I told the superintendent Mr.[Tyler] Reed [the middle school principal] did [know about her medical condition] and I said, ‘Even when I sent you a doctor’s note at your request, you still did nothing and you had the opportunity to change this at any time.’”
According to Heffington, Nail and Reed did not say much, and she added that she is “real straightforward.” Heffington said she did not bring her lawyer to the meeting, but the lawyer told her to ask about her pay and to record the meeting. “I asked them about my pay. I am getting all of my pay.”
She said it is funny she is going back to school the same day she thought she was going to be terminated. “I’m excited about seeing my kids.”
Heffington had attended last month’s Beebe School Board meeting expecting to be dismissed by the school district. However, it was not discussed.
She then received a letter that referenced Arkansas Fair Dismissal and gave the reasons for her recommended dismissal as “material neglect of duties and other just and reasonable cause and that on Aug. 20 she refused her teacher assignment despite the district’s best efforts to provide reasonable accommodations.” The letter said since Aug. 24 she had failed to report to work and otherwise fulfill her contractual obligations.
Heffington said she had been offered her own portable building “where the kids come in and out” but said that wouldn’t have solved the issue of the students being exposed to the novel coronavirus. “No matter what they say, if you go to two different places, you have double exposure and that is not a good idea for me.”
She said the letter said she had the right to request a hearing so she requested a public hearing that was to be held Monday.