As the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on, teachers are facing real challenges at school from substitute teacher and bus driver shortages to mental health crises and significant behavioral problems among students. On top of these many stresses, teachers are being further burdened by unfounded attacks on what they teach when the subjects of race, equity, or diversity are part of the conversation. Small but vocal groups have in some cases targeted specific teachers for harassment.
“These attacks must stop. Those who seek to censor what our children are taught and prevent students from learning in age-appropriate ways about the history of racial injustices in our nation do our children great harm,” says CEA President Kate Dias. “When students learn the truth about our history, they are better prepared to confront injustices when they see them and build a more perfect union.”
CEA has joined together with AFT Connecticut and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) to support educators and counter baseless attacks and misleading information about what is being taught in Connecticut classrooms.
During a recent webinar Dias hosted with AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel and CAPSS Executive Director Fran Rabinowitz, the three education leaders spoke about the challenges these attacks present and the supports that the three organizations have to offer any educator being targeted.
“Schools are becoming increasingly diverse, and most of them are trying to address this new reality in a way that upholds the value of diversity and promotes fairness and equity,” said Hochadel. “Public education is paid for by taxpayers for the public good—and public means everybody. Public education requires that everyone’s needs are met and everyone’s stories are told.”
As educators became the targets of attacks for teaching about racial justice, Dias said she, Hochadel, and Rabinowitz knew they had to take action and send a firm message that these attacks are not acceptable.
“We recognized that this needed to be something that we, as a coalition of education leaders, stood up to,” Dias said. “We are not going to let attacks on our hard-working educators go unanswered. We will not let curriculum be manipulated. We will not let the reality of what students are learning in our classrooms be distorted.”
Dias, Hochadel, and Rabinowitz were recently featured on an episode of an AFT Connecticut podcast in a conversation with Senator Chris Murphy, who voiced his support for teachers facing unfair attacks.
Murphy said attacks on educators are part of a political agenda to divide the country and make us fear each other. He said that those fomenting these divisions are inventing a narrative that educators and school curricula are teaching white students that they should be ashamed of their race or background.
“That is not happening,” Murphy said. “Are we teaching American history? Yes. Are there things in American history that we shouldn’t be super proud of? Of course. But the story of America is that we’re always getting better. The miracle of America is that we never were perfect, aren’t perfect, but we are the one country in the world that does a self-evaluation continuously and commits to do better and better and better. That’s the story of American history. That’s something to be proud of.”
What to do if you’re targeted
During the November 30 webinar, Dias said that any teacher who is targeted with an attack shouldn’t hesitate to seek help.
“It’s immensely stressful for any educator to be attacked,” says Dias, “and it’s often really challenging, because the person who’s the focus of an attack doesn’t want any more attention—they just want it to stop.”
That might lead some educators to shut down.
“You don’t have to just take it,” says Dias. “Together, we will stand with you and stand up for what is right.”
She adds, “Don’t let lies go unanswered, and if you’re concerned about responding to attacks and lies, reach out to your union leaders. We will challenge false narratives.”
She also stressed the importance of reaching out and forming relationships with parent allies and empowering them to speak out.
Legal challenges to attacks can be tricky, Dias said, because educators are public employees. “However, when criticisms take on a personal or vilifying angle or are blatantly untrue,” she explains, “that makes a case more viable and helps to meet the elements required to prove a defamation case.”
If you experience an attack on your teaching, Dias recommends reporting it to your local union president, who will contact your CEA UniServ Representative and CEA’s legal department when appropriate. “Your district has a legal obligation to have a safe working environment for everybody in the building.”