NJ senator likens teachers union fact-check campaign to Soviet secret police
TRENTON – A state senator is accusing the New Jersey Education Association of “resorting to KGB tactics” through its effort to gather information about political skirmishes over schools through its Center for Honesty in Education.
The teachers’ union says the center aims to combat disinformation and dangerous rhetoric in local school districts. But Sen. Ed Durr, R-Gloucester, said it’s a bid to squash parents and community groups who challenge the indoctrination of children in schools.
“This is outrageous that because parents want to voice their concerns and their opinions about their child’s education that they’re encouraging teachers and board members now to start making a list of concerned parents,” Durr said. “To me, that kind of – I don’t know how you would say – goes against the freedom of expression.”
“Just because they don’t agree with you, now you’re going to make a list about them,” he said. “And who are you going to keep that list for? Where is it going to be notified to?”
The NJEA’s Center for Honesty in Education started last school year but has gotten renewed attention among union critics this summer.
Its website says the center seeks to “discredit bad actors who seek to politicize our public schools.” It says the problems for which it can provide helpful resources include book banning, anti-inclusion activity and organized political groups.
“It is shocking, but telling, that some people are so threatened by our commitment to tell the truth,” said Steve Baker, the NJEA’s communications director:
“When there are efforts to spread misinformation and disinformation in our communities, we are going to counter that with facts and truth,” he said. “That might be threatening to people who rely on fear and falsehoods to drive their political agenda, but we are committed to truth telling because we are committed to preparing students to be thoughtful, informed and engaged citizens.
“When there are efforts to ban books, to censor curriculum and to prevent students from learning important truths about the past, we are going to fight for the broad, inclusive and comprehensive education that New Jersey students need and deserve,” Baker said. “We will not sit silently while anyone tries to control and limit what other people’s children are allowed to learn.”
Durr said the union is mischaracterizing the pushback being seen at school board meetings.
“It’s not about book banning. It’s about appropriate education. We have restrictions in what can be taught already. Is that book banning? You’ve had people go to court to argue that religion shouldn’t be taught in public schools. So are they banning the Bible? Is that book banning?” he said. “Why is it all of a sudden when one person says that they don’t want this taught to their child, it’s considered book banning? That’s just what they want for their child. They should have that right.”
Durr said the NJEA is “running a de facto intelligence agency” in which teachers are monitoring what parents say, leaving them at risk of attacks by the NJEA. He said even people who don’t speak out at school board meetings are uneasy with what the union is doing.
“I’ve had overwhelming support that agree with my views on this. I haven’t had anybody say it’s for a good purpose of whatever. Nobody has said that. They’re all against this,” Durr said.
Durr said he doesn’t know what the NJEA will do with the information it gathers and whether it will be shared with the state for some purpose.
“I wouldn’t want to even speculate. I would be fearful. I guess there are wild, paranoid thoughts of what they could be trying to pursue,” Durr said. “Could they blacklist a person from a job, from employment of a sort or maybe government work or what have you? Who knows? Could it hurt someone trying to get a loan for a home or car? I don’t know.”
Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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