‘Teachers are not the enemy.’ Campaign pushes back against ‘parent choice’ activists

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Kansas school board elections are two years out, but a new group isn’t waiting until then to try and support the state’s public education system, which like others across the country, has been undermined by misinformation about masks, the quality of schools, teacher training and how American history is taught.

“We want to show teachers, who already have a hard enough job, that we support them,” said Sloane Heller, director of the Freedom to Learn, a Kansas political action committee launched this month. “Teachers are not the enemy.”

The campaign aims to back school board candidates who want to recruit and retain a diverse group of teachers, pay them well and celebrate dedication and hard work.

We support this goal. If large numbers of teachers continue to leave public school classrooms, the public education system cannot survive.

Ever since COVID-19 hit in the spring of 2020, we have seen a shocking escalation of verbal attacks on schools and teachers. And as a result, good teachers are quitting.

Teachers who have risked their own health returning to classrooms a year after pivoting on a moment’s notice to online instruction are fed up.

“They know that working in this toxic environment is unnecessary,” Blue Valley teacher Dianne O’Bryan said in remarks at a school board meeting that quickly went viral about an anticipated mass teacher exodus.

Jonathan Eshnaur, a high school special education teacher in the Olathe School District, sees “parents targeting school boards to attack the things teachers truly believe in, such as teaching honestly about this country’s history, and we teachers take that personally.”

After more than a decade of doing what one of his own great teachers inspired him to do, Eshnaur finds himself asking, “Am I in the right profession?”

The country is already suffering from a teacher shortage, and college teaching programs can’t grow enrollment.

Last year, a different political action committee, 1776, spent an unprecedented amount of money backing a slate of conservative school board candidates fighting for what they called “parent choice.” That PAC helped win seats on Blue Valley and Olathe school boards for candidates opposed to LGBTQ rights, sex education, teaching about race or anything related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Heller sees Freedom to Learn as a resource to counteract “misinformation that our schools are failing” and inaccuracies about what’s being taught. Yes, parents must be involved in their children’s education, and Freedom to Learn is not against that. Neither are we. But it supports working with teachers in a collaborative, not hostile, environment.

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