Education , Good Government
Ray Carter | December 3, 2020
Parents push back against OEA
The Oklahoma Education Association continues to criticize school-choice policies and efforts to preserve in-person instruction at public schools. But the teachers' union is drawing strong online pushback from parents—even on the OEA’s own Facebook page.
This week, the union criticized a new poll that showed 61 percent of Oklahoma voters support school-choice policies that allow parents to use tax dollars to pay for a child to attend any school, including private schools.
In a post on its Facebook page, the OEA declared, “Who paid for this survey? Groups that want to dismantle our public schools with vouchers.”
That declaration drew strong criticism from numerous parents and citizens.
“What is so scary about funding being open to go to the best school for the child and creating free market solutions and competition?” Christopher Todd Thiessen posted in response. “Free market forces reform for the betterment of all schools! If the unions and boards weren’t shuttering schools while most are open and private schools are doing well, there wouldn’t be this groundswell of parents that you have awakened.”
Thiessen continued, “Rich private school kids aren’t the only children deserving normalcy and an educator teaching them instead of a device with assignments.”
Parent Ron Causby thanked Thiessen “for standing up and speaking your mind for our children. These people do not.” He later wrote that OEA officials think children “are poker chips they can use in a political game with the governor.”
Merin Gracey declared that “the OEA union doesn’t listen to the parents, they take their orders from the NEA. #Theydontcarewhatyouwant.”
(The OEA is the state affiliate of the National Education Association.)
Other parents and citizens were also critical of the OEA’s stance.
“I am ready for the unions to be broken up,” wrote Theresa Epperly. “They shouldn’t make the decisions for the parents. They are not doing what (is) best for the children and if they don’t want to I should get a voucher and go where my child will get the best education.”
“Oklahoma Education Association, why shouldn’t I give my money to a private, charter or other school that is actually meeting the needs of my child?” wrote parent Dana Walsh. “What has OEA been doing to improve those schools with low grades?”
“What has the OEA really done for teachers or students of Oklahoma?” wrote parent Jennifer James.
James noted that Oklahoma is consistently “ranked among the lowest in education.”
“Pitting parents against teachers and schools isn’t going to work anymore,” James said. “We are failing the students and teachers of Oklahoma and we demand better.”
In another post, the OEA criticized a new regulation from the Oklahoma State Department of Health that allows schools to quarantine students onsite at a school. Under prior regulations, if a single child or adult in a school tested positive for COVID-19, dozens or even hundreds of children who might have been exposed to that person were then required to remain home and learn online for up to two weeks. In the majority of cases, school officials have reported few or none of the children quarantined at home ever contracted the virus.
At Moore Public Schools, the district has quarantined all students and staff who are, for a certain amount of time, within a six-foot radius of an individual who tests positive for COVID-19. Moore Superintendent Robert Romines recently estimated that “probably 99 percent” of children who have been quarantined because of that six-foot rule “are coming back with negative results.”
As a result, the Oklahoma State Department of Health recently announced the launch of a pilot program, which will be conducted from Nov. 30 to Dec. 23, in which Oklahoma school districts will be permitted to implement an in-school quarantine policy for students who have been exposed to someone in the classroom who tested positive for COVID-19. Those students will be kept separate from the rest of the student body and tested repeatedly.
Mustang Public Schools was the first to adopt the policy.
“We were recently faced with the difficult decision to transition our entire district to distance learning due to the high numbers of quarantines and isolations we were seeing in our staff and students,” Mustang Superintendent Charles Bradley said. “Our goal, as a school district, is to have in-person instruction for five days each week for all of our students, but we will only do that if it is safe. This in-school quarantine pilot program will help move us in that direction.”
But in a post on the OEA’s Facebook page, OEA President Alicia Priest decried those efforts, saying it is “dangerous and irresponsible to create an in-school quarantine pilot program. Our students and staff shouldn’t be the subject of unproven experiments.” Yet Priest also declared that the “best learning happens at school” and that the union advocates for that “day in and day out.”
Walsh responded, “Oklahoma Education Association, if this is truly your stance, why aren’t you and your members raising hell for these kids? I haven’t seen/heard about a rally by OEA to make teachers essential workers. I haven’t seen any OEA come out to school district administration and say let our teachers teach in person 5 days a week.”
Whitney Nageebee also noted that COVID-19 infection among students and school staff has mostly been traced to sources outside of schools.
“They get it from somewhere else and bring it back and then ‘possible exposure’ students are quarantined,” Nageebee wrote. “It is a hardship on parents.”
Amy Fiedler noted that community spread of COVID-19 “is higher” than the COVID-19 rates in schools, “so it seems that you’d be advocating for kids attending school in person instead of demanding the government do things they don’t truly have control over.”
Brent Whipple wrote, “Neither the OEA nor school administrations can control community spread. We must focus on what we can control. You might be able to influence it, but we already have mask mandates in Tulsa. I think we’ve got our priorities all out of sorts. The priority should be educating children. As you stated, that is best accomplished in person. If that’s the case and that’s TRULY the goal, then we ought to be able to find a way to make it work.”
He continued, “Is this really the goal of the OEA and Tulsa Public Schools at the moment? That’s what I keep hearing, but there is massive discontinuity between the administration’s words and actions.”
Several parents criticizing OEA on its Facebook page are involved with Parent Voice Oklahoma, a statewide organization working to elevate the role of parents in school decisions.
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.