Teacher Union Advisory to Teachers: Walk the Fine Line to Support School Protests (e.g. Disrupt School)

Reasonable people can and do disagree on gun control and how to keep our schools safe. The question is, what is the proper forum for discussion?

Should public schools and teachers be inserting themselves into this very political issue? Or should they be focusing on educating students so they grow up to be informed citizens who can properly govern their own behavior and fully participate as citizens in our great Republic?

The National Education Association (NEA), an affiliate of Education Minnesota, both of which teachers in Minnesota are forced to fund as a condition of employment, issued an Advisory to its members, ” RESPONDING TO STUDENT WALKOUTS PROTESTING SCHOOL GUN VIOLENCE.”

Since the horrific shootings in Parkland, Florida, students across the country have launched an inspired movement to demand long overdue action on school safety and gun control. NEA, its affiliates, and members throughout Florida and the nation, support these calls to prevent further school massacres.

The document clearly endorses the “movement” sweeping the country where students are spending a lot of time out the classroom, travelling instead to D.C. and state capitols to demand new gun regulations.

(Maybe they are even spending a lot of time in the classroom talking about guns and violence. We heard from a parent today whose young children are begging to be homeschooled because their school is obsessing over this and other political issues instead of focusing on learning the planned curriculum.)

Again, the NEA Advisory totally endorses the goals of “the movement” but warns teachers about crossing the line into forbidden conduct that could get them disciplined or fired.

Here are some highlights:

What can educators legally do to support their students’ demands for safe schools?

Educators can engage in off-the-clock political and community action to advocate for policies that will make our schools safer… NEA, along with the National Public Education Network, American Federation of Teachers, Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, and other national organizations, are calling on communities to take action against gun violence on April 20th—the anniversary of the Columbine tragedy—to send a strong message to policy makers that #enoughisenough. Educators can plug into events and actions associated with that day of action. Educators and affiliates should also work with their local school districts to find educational and meaningful ways to allow students and educators to participate in that day of action.

What the Advisory does not say is how much money the NEA, AFT and other government unions are spending to organize and promote these “student” protests. I was a very good organizer in middle and high school but I could not have pulled off most of what we have seen in Minnesota and around the country without adult help and resources. Since there is little daylight between the teachers’ unions and the Democratic National Committee or the DFL in Minnesota, and money is oh so fungible, we will probably never know the answer to the question, “How are the teachers’ unions funding these protests?”

What we do know is that taxpayers are funding these protests through their income tax and local school levies. And teachers are funding these protests with forced dues and fees to the unions.

I have no problem with age-appropriate, limited discussions about current events that do not detract from the planned curriculum. I have no doubt there are good teachers who can handle this well—and then get back to teaching World History or English. But at the end of the day, children go home to their families where that full conversation is most appropriate.

Here is the NEA’s advice to teachers:

Educators may also wish to discuss school safety and gun violence issues with their students. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all guidance here. Such discussions should be consistent with district guidelines on discussing these issues. Educators are more likely to be protected when such discussions are both age appropriate and instructionally relevant—and also when the educator herself enjoys tenure protections. Even then, and given that school safety and gun control issues may be considered “controversial,” educators should refer to their collective bargaining agreement and district policies, which may provide for academic freedom protections or protections to discuss controversial subject matters….

The Advisory continues:

Can educators legally help students organize walkouts? Can educators legally participate in student-organized walkouts? No, unless the school administration or other legal agreement has authorized the walkout. As a general matter, educators should not lead or assist in the organizing of walkouts. Leading or assisting such walkouts can lead to the same sort of discipline and legal liabilities that can arise by participating in the walkouts.

The NEA endorses school administrators leveraging taxpayer dollars and classroom time to support a political movement. This is very dangerous territory for our nation and our public schools. Exhibit A is the Edina School District and other districts where “activists” have taken over the administration. It is creating utter chaos for our students and the teachers who are there to teach.

The NEA and its affiliates are openly encouraging children to become activists on issues like gun control (or DACA, gender, race, et. al.) that frankly, grown-ups struggle to discuss and agree on. And what about our teachers? If they do not go along with the union or administration position, or if they just want to teach the ABC’s, what happens to them?

When it comes to politics, public schools are an awkward and mostly inappropriate forum. All of this puts teachers in a very difficult, even legally tenuous, position and runs the risk of abusing taxpayer funds. It creates conflicts for parents and their children who feel they must agree with the school or their children will be punished. And it steals precious classroom time from our students who are there to learn.

The NEA and its affiliates need to be called out and held accountable by state lawmakers and Congress so parents and teachers can take our schools back. Will they have the courage to do so?