Education , Family & Community , Good Government
Ray Carter | February 27, 2020
After Oklahoma Republicans side with OEA, union touts transgender reading program
Two days after six Republican senators joined Democrats to defeat legislation opposed by the Oklahoma Education Association, which is a National Education Association state affiliate, the union is promoting a national day of school readings on transgender issues.
“The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Welcoming Schools Program and the National Education Association (NEA) invite you—our friend and ally—to join us in our fifth annual Jazz & Friends National Day of School & Community Readings on Thursday, February 27, 2020,” a joint announcement declares.
The NEA and the Human Rights Campaign are urging teachers to read three specific books to students: “Julián Is a Mermaid,” “I am Jazz,” and “They She He Me: Free to Be!”
The NEA/Human Rights Campaign announcement said reading those books would provide children “a sense of belonging,” allow students to “learn about diverse backgrounds,” and develop “an understanding about the wider world.”
The summary for “Julián Is a Mermaid” says the book is about a boy who sees several women “spectacularly dressed up” and “how all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes—and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself?”
The summary for “I am Jazz” explains, “From the time she was two years old, Jazz knew that she had a girl’s brain in a boy’s body.”
The summary for “They She He Me: Free to Be!” cites a School Library Journal review as stating, “The authors have succeeded in creating a gorgeous and much-needed picture book about pronouns and gender fluidity.” The book description further states that “They She He Me: Free to Be!” helps “break down assumptions of who is ‘she’ or ‘he’ and expand beyond the binary to include ‘they’ and more.”
According to Opt Out Today, a project of the Freedom Foundation, of the $466 in dues paid by an Oklahoma teacher to the OEA in 2017-18, $189 went to Washington, D.C. to the NEA. That money helps directly and indirectly fund NEA programs and events like the Jazz & Friends National Day of School & Community Readings.
Earlier this week, several Republican senators voted to kill a bill that would have given teachers greater ability to choose alternatives to the OEA/NEA for representation. In killing that bill, critics note the lawmakers indirectly preserved funding for the OEA/NEA and its various political activities, which include not only events like the transgender reading program but also lobbying in favor of gun control, abortion, and more.
Senate Bill 1716 would have required that Oklahoma teachers be given the opportunity to hold a “secret ballot election” every four years to recertify a union. While teachers can choose not to join a union in Oklahoma, if they do join they are limited to just one choice, and that entity was often selected as the school’s designated bargaining union decades ago.
If teachers believe an entity other than the OEA/NEA better represents their values, supporters of SB 1716 note the process to decertify a union is currently onerous and requires teachers to publicly identify themselves as union critics, creating the potential for retribution. With SB 1716, supporters said teachers would have been given the chance to re-evaluate unions on a routine basis without the threat of retaliation.
The OEA strongly opposed the legislation. Six Republican senators sided with the OEA/NEA and voted to kill the bill in committee: Sens. Chris Kidd, R-Waurika; Tom Dugger, R-Stillwater; Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee; Paul Scott, R-Duncan; Brenda Stanley, R-Midwest City; and Joe Newhouse, R-Broken Arrow.
Individuals who previously served in the Legislature say it is a mistake when lawmakers defer to interest group pressure rather than local citizens.
“When I was serving in the House, I always felt my job was to represent my constituents, not a political group such as the OEA or the NEA,” said former Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan. “It’s not that they don’t have a say, because they certainly have a legal right to advocate and all of those things, but at the end of the day when I take my vote I’m thinking of about your average parent with children in school—is this going to be better for them, or not, overall? And that was always my viewpoint. I honestly never really tried to impose my will on them, and I certainly didn’t allow them to impose their will on me. Because at night, I had to sleep with the decisions I made.”
Former Rep. Pam Peterson, a Republican whose district included the Jenks school district, recalled voting in support of charter schools, a school-choice option strongly opposed by the OEA/NEA and similar groups. Families buy homes in the Jenks area due in part to the school, she noted, but other families cannot afford that form of school choice and charter schools gave them a better alternative.
“That was, I thought, in the best interest of the children of the state to allow more choices for them outside of their ZIP code if their ZIP code didn’t allow them to have a good school,” Peterson said.
She cast her vote in favor of charter schools with local school officials sitting in the House gallery at the time.
“You just have to stand on principle,” Peterson said.
Sen. David Bullard, a Durant Republican and former teacher, was among the lawmakers who defied the OEA/NEA and voted in favor of SB 1716. His vote hasn’t gone unnoticed or unappreciated in his district.
“I am grateful for Senator Bullard’s stand,” said Bill Ledbetter, senior pastor at Fairview Baptist Church in Durant. “We have to, in this country, come the realization that we don’t affirm someone in destructive, damaging behavior, like a transgender reading would do. Furthermore, that invades the rights and the freedom and the privacy of young people who go to school but don’t hold to those ideals, so it’s just very difficult to make that fair. It imposes on other people.”
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.