Public school teachers are working in increasingly unsafe working environments. According to federal data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), schools are plagued with chronic absenteeism among students and teachers, significant increase in behavioral issues, and rising incidents of verbal abuse and disrespect toward teachers. Rather than addressing these alarming trends and working conditions, however, the nation’s largest teachers union prioritized ideology and virtue signaling during last week’s annual representative assembly.

The majority of schools surveyed by the federal government reported increases in classroom disruptions and physical violence. Unions and district leaders shut students out of classrooms and canceled activities during the COVID era, leaving children without robust academic instruction or meaningful social interaction. Of course the lengthy, isolating periods of languishing on screens—for over a year in many places across the country—harmed students academically, behaviorally, and emotionally. The nation’s students returned to classrooms with deteriorated behavior and lagging social skills, and school districts’ problematic or non-existent “discipline” policies left teachers without the tools to address the resulting chaos.

Anecdotal reports abound of teachers leaving the profession because of schools’ dangerous discipline problems. Rather than communicating support for safe teaching conditions, the National Education Association (NEA) adopted a new policy statement that calls for an end to the “criminalization and policing of students.” The teachers union has already found ways to expand the organization’s dues-paying membership beyond working teachers; “community allies,” retirees, and education support professionals also submit dues to the union. In addition, school districts are awash in Covid-era federal “emergency” funding and hiring even more dues-paying staff than usual, so perhaps the NEA isn’t concerned about current teachers feeling unsafe and, therefore, quitting.  

Teachers, parents and concerned community members should be very worried, though, that the NEA’s annual representative assembly ignored school safety and discipline, and instead focused on radical policies like climate change, gender ideology, mask and vaccine mandates, and foreign policy. The business items the union discussed during the July annual meeting were not made public, likely in response to social media firestorms in recent years. Terry Stoops with North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation, however, identified and shared many discussion items on Twitter.

The NEA revealed its members’ support for radical gender ideology with a proposal to replace “mother” with “birthing parent” and “father” with “non-birthing parent” in union contracts. “Maternity leave” would be replaced with “parental leave.”

According to Education Week, “That measure was never even discussed or voted on.” 

Union members did discuss a proposed measure to “work with state affiliates to support a national policy of mandatory masking and COVID vaccines in schools,” but the proposal was defeated. While the proposal to erase mothers and fathers received the bulk of media attention, many parents and public school employees are understandably alarmed that union members continue to push mask and vaccine mandates. 

Also of concern is the measure to “take all necessary steps” to overturn Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law and similar ones across the country, which the union voted to adopt. The union also approved plans to create letter writing campaigns to legislators, file amicus briefs in civil lawsuits challenging parental rights laws, and organize protests. When media outlets eager to promote gender ideology enthusiastically cover those protests over the next year, legislators and parents will know that the unions are behind them.

The union will also be behind a smear campaign that seeks to discredit organizations that support both parental rights and protecting children from radical ideologies and early exposure to highly sexualized content. The NEA plans to spend $140,625 to research and “create fact sheets about the largest 25 organizations that are actively working to diminish a students’ right to honesty in education, freedom of sexual and gender identity, and teacher autonomy.”

The NEA had an opportunity to acknowledge that teachers and students are struggling, but chose to push a radical agenda instead. Despite keeping this year’s business items behind a password-protected firewall and limiting media access to the representative assembly, parents are increasingly aware that the union prioritizes activism over all else. It’s long been obvious the NEA didn’t care about students’ learning, COVID showed they don’t care about parents, and now it’s clear they don’t care about teachers either.