- Nearly 6,000 educators at NEA’s RA approved a new policy that further cements the association’s vision of schools as spaces where all students and educators can thrive.
- The policy focuses on a variety of actions to ensure that today’s educators have the resources, training, and supports they need to help all students succeed.
- Ensuring safe, just, and equitable schools requires a philosophy of restorative justice and commitment to cultural competence, among other practices.
At the core of an educator is the commitment to give students an amazing education. Over the years, educators are increasingly aware that the education students need and deserve must include a commitment to safe, just, and equitable schools. To help NEA members fully realize this vision, NEA Representative Assembly delegates today adopted a new NEA policy statement that will help students thrive.
Nearly 6,000 delegates gathered for the first time in person since 2019 for NEA’s 101st Representative Assembly (RA) and approved an NEA policy statement that further cements the association’s vision of schools as thriving spaces that are safe and welcoming for all students, discriminatory toward none.
The RA delegates approved the policy in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic, as students, educators, and communities face politicians and institutions that are taking away freedoms and rights, brushing off a gun violence epidemic, increasing restrictions on what educators can teach and what students can learn, and attempting to divide communities along race and place.
“Our public schools should inspire imagination, cultivate critical thinking, and ensure that all students—regardless of their race, background, or ZIP code—can pursue their dreams,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “The new policy also meets the present moment and the challenges facing our students, educators, and communities … by prescribing ways in which students and educators can flourish and eliminate the obstacles and policies that harm students and impede their success.”
The policy focuses on a variety of actions guided by the following principles:
- Adopt a restorative justice philosophy to create a school climate that rejects the criminalization and policing of students.
- Provide training and support for culturally competent instruction.
- Develop and implement plans to end disparities in disciplinary and behavioral practices.
- Create a community-centered school environment to foster safe, positive environments and engage all members of the public school.
WHY SAFE, JUST, AND EQUITABLE MATTER
The work embodied in the NEA policy hits close to home for James Frazier, an NEA board member and school resource officer of 25 years, in New Jersey. Frazier shares that had his school experience in the 1980s been safe, just, and equitable, he could have had the supports he needed—at the time he needed them the most.
He was born in the mid-1970s, and by the time he entered first grade, his mother and father were gone. Both were addicted to drugs and alcohol. Frazier, along with his younger brother, was placed in foster care.
“I lived out of plastic bags,” he shares, explaining that he often moved from home to home, sleeping on couches—all of which impacted his school experience.
“I’m in class wondering where my father and mother are … if this foster home is going to be my permanent location … and teachers are trying to teach me something that is already foreign to me. As a 7-year-old boy, I lashed out,” he says.
And with no school counselor or mental health supports available at the time, Frazier’s challenges manifested into bigger problems. He was pegged a “problem child” by some educators and the words that came from them were hurtful: “I’ll never amount to anything and I’m going to end up in jail,” Frazier recalls.
Over the years, a lot has changed for Frazier, who now leads a successful career in education. He also was one of several educators appointed to serve on the task force that developed the criteria behind the new policy, which continues to build on the existing and ongoing racial and social justice work of the association.
Frazier is excited about the work ahead and how educators will be able to create positive, nurturing school communities for students to flourish in a diverse and interdependent world. Equally important, he is ready to help lead the work of the policy so that today’s educators have the resources, training, and supports they need to help all students succeed, especially those with backgrounds similar to his own.
“This policy statement allows NEA to provide the avenues for educators to have what they need so that education is safe, just, and equitable across this nation and to feel supported in their work,” says Frazier. “In turn, our entire school community will be affected in a positive, nurturing way—and our students will leave their communities and flourish in whatever community they go into next—that is what this policy will help do.”