NJEA Makes Its Bullying Explicit in a Letter to Superintendents: Shut Down Schools or Else …

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Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey received a copy of a letter sent by a NJEA county association president to the superintendents in the county.  The letter confirms that NJEA and its members are actively seeking to block in-person instruction across the state.  In so doing, the NJEA seeks to arrogate to itself authority that it does not possess.  The NJEA wants to impose its will on these school districts: the children, the parents, the administrators, the school boards and the elected officials be damned.

In the letter (see below), the association president makes clear he or she is speaking for “our .. organization,” the NJEA, and for NJEA members across the state.  SPCNJ asks if this is part of a statewide effort by the NJEA to intimidate superintendents.

The tone is aggressive and bullying: instead of working with NJEA members, superintendents are accused of “choosing to ignore health and safety guidelines.”  Further, the superintendents’ plans are categorically dismissed: “your district isn’t ready to open its doors;” your plan to reopen “frankly … just doesn’t work.”  The president goes so far as to imply that superintendents are engaging in some sort of grotesque scientific experiment on children: “Like many of our colleagues throughout the state, we frustrated [sic] with this school reopening experiment.”

The president tries to evade responsibility for the union’s leading role by claiming broader support: “And we absolutely refuse to allow superintendents to ignore the fact that unions are not alone in this sentiment nor allow us to be scapegoated for our efforts.” The letter cites “parents and legislators” who want schools to reopen, but do these same parents and legislators support the NJEA’s demand for all-remote learning?  If so, why not have those parents and legislators speak for themselves?  And if support for the NJEA’s position is so broad, why does the NJEA need to bully superintendents with private letters?

At the end of the letter, the president resorts to an overtly threatening tone: “we DEMAND [emphasis added] you follow the lead of over 140 superintendents around the state … utilizing an ‘all virtual format.’  DON’T TELL US IT CANNOT BE DONE [emphasis added] …”  Calling the plans for reopening “destined to fail,” the president pledges cooperation with “a remote learning experience.”  In other words, do what we say and we’ll make nice with you.   Or else ….

This is the language of a bully.

It is highly likely that the large majority of superintendents who are planning some sort of reopening (whether full or hybrid) are reflecting the views of parents, school boards and elected officials in their districts.  But the NJEA wants to take this decision out of their hands.  It wants to bully superintendents into bowing to the NJEA’s demands, regardless of the views of all the other stakeholders.

All New Jersey needs to know that the NJEA is seeking to impose its will on the New Jersey public school system.  Everything else is just rhetoric.  The parents, the children, the school boards and everyone else be damned.

Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear Superintendent,
As head into the end of August, there’s only one thing on every educator’s mind: School reopening. Throughout the state, districts are rolling out various return to in-person instruction plans, with no two of them alike.

However, we cannot seem to understand why in-person instruction is even a consideration at this point. After all, our respective organizations, the NJ Association of School Administrators (NJASA) and New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) agree: it’s simply not safe to reopen.Instead of heeding their words and working cooperatively with your school employees to ensure you can deliver high-quality remote instruction, you are choosing to ignore health and safety guidelines, downplay your inability to provide concrete assurances to your staff and blame any opposition to in-person instruction on labor unions.

Even if you stand fundamentally opposed to this approach, your district still isn’t ready to open its doors. After careful review of your district’s reopening plan, it’s clear that it doesn’t guarantee the health and safety of the students and staff in your district. It doesn’t follow the recommended Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and/or NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) standards. It doesn’t adequately provide funding for PPE or other preventive equipment. It doesn’t consider the age of your school buildings and the inability to guarantee indoor air quality and reduced exposure to airborne COVID-19 particles. It doesn’t lay out a secure screening, contact tracing or quarantine process.

Frankly, it just doesn’t work and indicate, without doubt, that this district did its due diligence.

Like many of our colleagues throughout the state, we frustrated with this school reopening experiment. Also, like many legislators and parents, we also want all schools to reopen. But we refuse to do so at the expense of putting our community’s children and educators unnecessarily at risk. And we absolutely refuse to allow superintendents to ignore the fact that unions are not alone in this sentiment nor allow us to be scapegoated for our efforts.

For these reasons, we demand you follow the lead of over 140 superintendents around the state who heeded the NJASA and industry experts’ advice and will reopen their schools this September utilizing an “all virtual format”. Don’t tell us it cannot be done; if they can do it, so can you. Instead of moving forward with a plan destined to fail, let’s partner to create a remote learning experience that we can both be proud of.

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