This month attendees at the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly approved a resolution declaring the teachers’ union “vigorously opposes all attacks on the right to choose and stands on the fundamental right to abortion under Roe v. Wade,” but shot down another resolution declaring the union would “re-dedicate itself to the pursuit of increased student learning in every public school in America by putting a renewed emphasis on quality education.”
The NEA is the parent organization of the Oklahoma Education Association, and the OEA reports more than 60 Oklahoma delegates participated in the assembly.
Lawrence Lane, a member of the Oklahoma Education Association’s board of directors, served on the NEA’s Resolutions Committee this year. According to the NEA website, the Resolutions Committee “is primarily tasked with the annual preparation and presentation of all proposed resolutions for adoption by the NEA Representative Assembly.”
Lane was listed as the contact for one resolution, adopted by attendees, that declared, “The NEA will take the lead in urging a school calendar revision for the 2020 presidential election and will encourage the closure of schools on election day so that members, locals, and districts can participate in a day of action where school will not be in session.”
The accompanying rationale for that resolution stated that closing schools on Election Day “would give our members time to work a campaign and vote …”
Overall, attendees considered 160 “new business items,” and approved many that veered far afield from what many citizens think of when they consider education, including numerous resolutions regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues.
Among the new business items gaining approval from attendees was a resolution stating the union would “create model legislative language that state affiliates can use to lobby for a K-12 cross content curriculum that is LGBTQ+ inclusive.” Another resolution adopted by attendees committed the NEA and its state affiliates to “organize and mobilize in support of the Equality Act,” declaring it important to increase “awareness of the importance of passing non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” A similar resolution that won approval declared the union would work “to expand on the number of professional development opportunities for Gender Sexuality Alliances (GSA) advisors.” And another adopted resolution said the NEA “will create space in all individuals’ name tags, badges, and IDs for the individuals’ pronouns.” The accompanying background paragraph explained that this change “supports the LGBTQ+ community by normalizing gender pronouns. Normalizing this across all genders and binaries builds a safe, respectful space for individuals and will give locals information regarding pronouns about their membership creating inclusivity at the local level.”
On July 5 on its Facebook and Twitter pages, the OEA posted a photo of Oklahoma attendees holding rainbow placards. The accompanying picture caption stated, “Members of the Oklahoma delegation attended a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall” during NEA Representative Assembly. Stonewall refers to 1969 riots that occurred after New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club run by organized crime figures.
Members of the Oklahoma delegation attended a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of #Stonewall during #NEARA19. A few were lucky enough to snap a picture with NEA President @Lily_NEA. pic.twitter.com/aJXeafnS4p
— OK Education Assoc. (@okea) July 4, 2019
Attendees also voted on items related to immigration and border-control policies. One resolution, approved by NEA members, called on the U.S. government “to accept responsibility for the destabilization of Central American countries” and claimed the alleged U.S. actions in that region are “a root cause of the recent increase of asylum seekers in the United States.” Another resolution that gained union members’ approval committed the NEA to “digitally publicize a list of resources educators can use to teach their students about the history of the U.S. government programs of detention and internment, deportations and repatriations, to include but not limited to the Mexican Repatriation (1929-1931), Bracero Program (1942), and Operation Wetback (1954).” The accompanying background paragraph explained, “Learning about these parts of U.S. history will better enable students to understand current immigration issues.”
One OEA attendee at the NEA assembly, Putnam City teacher Shari Gateley, tweeted on July 4 that “we are marching outside a detention center of asylum seekers on Emancipation ave in Houston.”
Teachers’ union officials also voted on items addressing other racially charged issues. Attendees approved a resolution declaring the NEA “will collaborate and partner with organizations and individuals who are doing the work to push reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States and to involve educators, students, and communities in the discussions around support for reparations.”
Union members also adopted a resolution declaring the NEA “will incorporate the concept of ‘White Fragility’ into NEA trainings/staff development, literature, and other existing communications on social, gender, LGBTQIA, and racial justice ...” An accompanying “Rationale/Background” paragraph explained, “White supremacy culture has fashioned a social norm insulating white people from the impact of racial stress, which consequentially constructs a social atmosphere that depresses the ability of society, in general, to tolerate racial stress, also known as ‘White Fragility.’”
Another resolution adopted by attendees declares that the NEA “will promote the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in schools during Black History Month in 2020.”
NEA members approved another resolution that committed the NEA to publish an article on “the impact of voter suppression in the United States,” explaining, “Voter suppression has been used to influence election outcomes throughout the United States. Thirteen states have laws making it harder for citizens to register to vote. This impacts our members and communities.” Oklahoma’s voter ID law, which requires that citizens show proof of identity before casting a ballot, has been criticized by some activists as a form of voter suppression.
Yet another resolution that gained members’ approval said the NEA “will contact all school districts through the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to recommend incorporating into their science curriculum, causes, effects, and solutions to climate change and pollution.” The associated background explanation stated, “We must embrace the imminent crisis of climate change. Every student must be exposed to the threat their generation faces.”
In contrast, among the resolutions rejected by union members was one calling for teacher preparation programs and in-service trainings to be focused on “commitment to students and their learning” and knowledge of “subjects and how to teach them” to students, among other things.
On July 6, the OEA posted on its social media accounts a link to an NEA Representative Assembly forum for Democratic presidential candidates. Mixed in with promises to dramatically boost federal funding for schools were statements on other issues. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota called for raising the estate tax, a move opposed by many farm groups. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called for reversing the Trump tax cuts, which significantly reduced the tax burden of many middle-class families, and he said the government should “take money from the oil and gas industry.” Inslee also bragged that as a congressman he had voted to “ban assault weapons.” U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California vowed that, if Congress did not pass gun-control laws, she would use executive orders as president to unilaterally implement background checks and a ban on “assault weapons.’”
In a report on the Democratic presidential candidate’s forum, the NEA website quoted Oklahoma teacher Brendan Jarvis as saying, “They have clearly been listening to teachers. Only a strong and large organization can make an event like this possible, and give teachers a seat at the table in the next administration.”
One especially interesting resolution that went before union member attendees called for the NEA to “create a task force to examine means of data collection on discrimination, harassment, and bullying of members by the National Education Association leadership on the basis of race, gender identity and expression, or sexual orientation.” The associated explanatory paragraph declared that “we need to face the racism that exists in our own association and do everything possible to protect our members. Currently, no process exists for members to document their experience of harassment or discrimination.”
NEA members approved the resolution.