Healthy schools and honesty in education seem like goals everyone would embrace. In some embattled districts, however, misinformation threatens those goals. Small but vocal groups have been

pushing back against everything from COVID safety protocols to social justice education. Debates over masking,

testing, vaccinating, and how or whether to teach the history and impact of racism in America have put undue pressure on teachers, entangled school boards, and engulfed local politics.

Take a stand for safe schools and honesty in education. Participate in board of education meetings. Get to the polls November 2 and vote for candidates who will represent your goals and values as a public school teacher. Some candidates are active or retired teachers who not only share your perspective but also know firsthand the challenges you face. (See stories, facing page.)

When it comes to education, says CEA President Kate Dias, local politics matter. A number of districts around the state are facing attacks and criticism for honest, culturally relevant curricula and discussions of social justice and racial inequality. Connecticut has long fostered the teaching of equity in its public schools, including through recently passed legislation—strongly championed by CEA—that requires high schools to offer courses on Black and Latino history, contributions, and struggles. In spite of these advances, threats to an honest curriculum and academic integrity are mounting in various districts. Guilford, for example, has seen organized opposition from a group calling itself “Truth in Education,” which—in contrast to its name—is looking to censor teachers and micromanage classrooms. Regina Sullivan, a health and physical education teacher and president of the Guilford Education Association, says, “There have been suggestions in the national news, and locally here in Guilford, that public school teachers are indoctrinating their students in a progressive and racist agenda. In Guilford, there have been direct allegations that what is being taught in our schools is ‘evil’ and un-American. As a proud teacher in the Guilford public schools, let me be clear. There have been no professional development activities in which teachers were told that all white people are racist or that the country is irremediably racist. Teachers have been asked to consider texts and instructional techniques that will be supportive and representative of all students and to approach difficult topics like historical and current racism in open and critical conversations. Teachers in this school system today, as always, strive to help their students develop into reflective and critical thinkers. To suggest that we are doing anything less or other than that is uninformed and misplaced.” She adds, “Our association supports the board of education and endorses its position on equity and social justice. The teachers of Guilford, who have been working long and hard to bring students through this pandemic, support the district goal of making our schools more equitable and just places for all our students. The teachers of Guilford are here first and foremost for our students. To suggest less or otherwise is offensive and absurd.” Fellow teacher Kara Davis adds, “Over the past year, lies and misinformation in regard to Guilford schools, our administration, and our teachers have been disseminated throughout the community.” Behind the false claims, a group of critics has accused teachers of indoctrinating students with words such as diversity, inclusion, social emotional learning, underrepresented communities, multiculturalism, equitable, and racial prejudice . The list of words that the group objects to numbers close to 100, says Davis, and eliminating those concepts from the curriculum would prohibit teaching anything from To Kill a Mockingbird to the civil rights movement to mental health awareness. “It ties our hands from discussing history, literature, and current events from multiple viewpoints, limiting students’ ability to engage in critical thinking,” she says. Members of the controversial group are running for seats on Guilford’s Board of Education. “That’s why it’s so critical to vote in your local elections on November 2 and support candidates who are pro-education,” says CEA’s Dias. “It’s our duty as educators to provide an honest and complete education about race in America. Teachers are the experts and professionals when it comes to educating children, and their voices need to be heard. In the spaces where conflicts are bubbling up, we want our teachers to know they are not alone. CEA’s leaders, UniServ Representatives, and government relations and communications staff are here for them and will help them speak up. We will not allow teachers to be silenced.” She adds, “Students depend on their teachers to provide the information they need to think critically and make choices based on facts and sound reasoning, not false assumptions or lack of information. They should graduate from school ready to engage with others, investigate different perspectives, and thrive as respectful, informed, and productive citizens in a diverse, interconnected world.” EDUCATION UNDER ATTACK Lessons about inequality, civic engagement hit home

CEA Assists in Handling Threats to Academic Integrity On September 28, CEA held a webinar—Honesty in Education—open to all members interested in learning more about the issues and how to defend academic integrity. CEA President Kate Dias and Vice President Joslyn DeLancey shared tools, resources, frameworks, and talking points to support members in discussions centered on hot- button issues. “As educators, you are on the front end of supporting our students and colleagues through complicated issues surrounding race and equity in our school systems, and we want you to be prepared to face a large range of challenges,” said DeLancey. Teachers described angry residents raising complaints at board of education meetings or harassing teachers directly. “They are talking about subjects and issues not even being taught in our classrooms,” said one teacher. “So much disinformation is being spread.” “I literally, this afternoon, had a colleague come up to me and tell me that a parent accused him and the whole faculty of being ‘socialists’ because we are invested in the social emotional well-being of every child,” said another. “This is what we are up against.” “Particular books that feature LGBTQ characters—age-appropriate, award-winning books—are being called into question by a small yet vocal parent group,” a teacher added. “Teachers have valid concerns about these encounters and their chilling effect on honesty in education,” said Dias. “Classrooms are not personal soapboxes; they are places to teach critical thinking and facts. As teachers, we must honor the curriculum, and we want to make sure the people spreading disinformation don’t become the only voices out there.” How should you respond to unfounded accusations or criticism about what you are teaching? Dias and DeLancey shared these tips: • Reassure critics that you are teaching your curriculum. Your curriculum is the work you are guided to do; it’s your job. • Focus on student learning and academics, and ask your district/administration for guidance and talking points on controversial subjects. • If parents object to the curriculum being taught in your school, ask them to direct their concerns to your administration. • If you believe your curriculum is problematic, talk to your administrators. If they are silent on the subject, do not put yourself in the line of fire or risk your job—instead, reach out to your local union president or CEA, who can promote change. “You want to be thoughtful and judicious—not impulsive—about when you engage and how you respond to complaints,” says Dias. “You need to know that in your role as a teacher, your First Amendment rights are limited. You need to be careful not to disparage your school or community members, as that could jeopardize your career.” Other ways of getting involved include • Serving on curriculum, climate, equity, and other committees. • Participating in board of education meetings. If you are not comfortable speaking up during the public comments portion of these forums, you may submit your remarks and have them read by the board. • Writing an op-ed or talking to the media. “CEA’s Communications Department is happy to help you,” says Dias. “Our communications director, Nancy Andrews, is a media expert who can provide feedback and help you craft your message.” Call 860- 525-5641 for tips and talking points. • Joining a CEA committee or commission. Visit cea.org/commissions-and- committees for a list of groups whose goals might interest you. • Running for office. “There’s nothing that makes us happier than seeing our members represented on boards of education, town councils, and other governing bodies,” says Dias. “We’re here to provide support every step of the way if you are interested in running.” Email CEA Political Engagement Coordinator Gus Melita at gusm@cea.org . • Voting. Many people who are misinformed about what you teach and how you do your job are seeking seats on local boards of education to gain influence over what is taught in your classroom. Conversely, a growing number of teachers and pro- education advocates are also running on the promise that they will protect your right to teach the facts.

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