One of the nation's top labor and teachers unions is debating whether to call for the mandatory vaccination of all children before returning to school. The organization already this week has agreed to support and lead campaigns to advance critical race theory.
The National Education Association, the largest labor union in the country with 3 million members, is holding its annual meeting this week. One of the most controversial topics up for debate is whether the organization will demand that all students be vaccinated before returning to school this fall.
According to the group's meeting agenda, up for debate is whether "the NEA will call for mandatory safe and effective COVID-19 vaccinations and testing for all students and staff before returning to face-to-face instruction in the fall, subject to medical exceptions in accordance with existing law, and will widely publicize this position via social media. We will further call for and publicize that safety measures such as social distancing, masking, and proper ventilation be mandatory for all."
The agenda item was submitted by 50 delegates for debate to "increase educator voice, influence, and professional authority" and "enhance organizational capacity."
"COVID-19 has already killed over 600,000 people," the agenda says. "Black and Latinx communities have suffered twice the deaths, and this inequality will deepen as variants spread. The pandemic respects no boundaries. We must fight for a policy that puts human life first."
News of the potential stance sparked backlash among critics.
"At this point, in terms of the science and the medical aspect it's not appropriate," said Edmund Haislmaier, a health care policy expert at the Heritage Foundation. "We don't have vaccines approved even under emergency use authorization for children under 12. In terms of people being at risk of the illness, [children are] about as low on the priority list as you can get. This is clearly a case where, at the moment at least, any potential risk from being vaccinated is greater than the risk of serious complications from contracting the illness."
Haislmaier pointed to health complications many are having from the vaccine and said people should be asked to consult their physician, not submit to "blanket mandates."
"Until such time as they sort that out, there are people who are at low risk of having a severe event if they contract the virus, and therefore the risk of some kind of severe event caused by something in the vaccine would suggest that those people are better off not getting vaccinated at the moment until that is cleared up," he said.
The NEA has already adopted new provisions that support critical race theory, a controversial school of thought that emphasizes racism in American history and maintains that it is systemic in U.S. law and institutions.
According to the NEA measure, the organization has now agreed to lead and support campaigns that "result in increasing the implementation of culturally responsive education, critical race theory, and ethnic (Native people, Asian, Black, Latin(o/a/x), Middle Eastern, North African, and Pacific Islander) Studies curriculum in pre-K-12 and higher education."
Teachers unions in the U.S. have taken fire for their handling of the COVID pandemic, especially around their advocacy for delaying the reopening of schools. They grabbed headlines earlier this year after reports that teachers unions gave millions to Democratic causes in the 2020 election before advising the Biden administration on CDC guidance for schools.
Both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers donated to Democrat-tied causes before emails surfaced showing their heavy involvement in CDC guidance around schools reopening.
AFT President Randi Weingarten defended the unions' actions after the controversy surfaced.
"The AFT represents 1.7 million educators, healthcare professionals and public employees who spent the last 14 months serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic," Weingarten said. "So naturally, we have been in regular touch with the agencies setting policy that affect their work and lives, including the CDC. We appreciate that under Dr. Walensky's leadership, the CDC welcomes stakeholder feedback, as opposed to ignoring it."
The NEA also plans to debate gender identity provisions this week, including a proposal "to codify current practice that the Association not deny membership to individuals on the basis of gender identity/ expression."