Unions Will Not Protect Your Children

Unions Will Not Protect Your Children
Anna Reed/Statesman-Journal via AP
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During my years as a teacher, I was a National Education Association (NEA) member in two states. The NEA did not prioritize the academic development or well-being of children then, and it certainly doesn’t today. 

Parents often confuse the teachers they love with the powerful and well-funded unions their children’s teachers have to join. That is a mistake. The teachers unions are among the most well-funded and influential lobbyists in the country. When adult interests and political ideology conflict with the needs (and rights) of children, as they often do in K-12 education, the unions will always protect the adults and the ideology.

Here’s an example: Four years ago, I discovered a massive flaw in my state’s consent law that makes it legal for teachers and other school staff members to have sex with students once they turn sixteen. As I dug deeper, I learned that Rhode Island state law allows sexual touching between teachers and students as young as fourteen—if the student “consents.” The Rhode Island Attorney General’s office has verified all of this.

I was sure this law could easily be fixed. After all, who could oppose protecting fourteen-year-old children? Every single teacher and parent I spoke with agreed with me. 

Efforts to change the law, however, have repeatedly failed in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The teachers unions (and the ACLU) have opposed these efforts, and both the NEA and the AFT have gone on record defending the existing standards. In other states with consent ages of sixteen, the consent laws include an exception clause for adults in positions of authority who have custodial care of minors. The language varies but, in each case, the law makes it clear that it is a crime for a teacher or other school employee to engage in sexual activity with a minor child in their care. Those of us seeking to change the law provided sample text from laws in Michigan, Illinois, Alaska, and New Hampshire, but it didn’t matter; the teachers unions would not budge. 

At a public hearing, one union official wondered why educators were being “singled out” and “insurance agents” weren’t included in the bill, as if other people’s children are compelled, by law, to spend six hours a day during nine months of the year in the care of insurance agents.  

Two years ago, NEA delegates at the annual July conference refused to support a measure that prioritized “increased student learning” and “a renewed emphasis on quality education.” Most parents do not know that the same organization that has just doubled down on critical race theory in classrooms, and objects to making it a crime for its members to have sex with students, also resists efforts to set higher standards for student learning and actively fights efforts to hold teachers accountable for the quality of their teaching.

Teachers unions exist to protect teachers, not children. Whether it’s enabling sexual abuse, promoting school closures, misleading the public about the fact that critical race theory is being taught in our schools, or doing nothing about alarmingly high rates of illiteracy, our children are pawns in the unions’ battle for political power. 

The NEA and AFT’s ideological goals are at odds with the goals of increasing adolescent safety and educational achievement. Their tattered mask has slipped at a moment when the world is watching more than ever before. Now is the time to stay vigilant, expose with documented specifics the myriad ways they stand in the way of what our children need and deserve.

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