We are fortunate, in our district, to have fine schools with many fabulously dedicated and qualified teachers and administrators. It is unfortunate, however, that the teachers’ union mandates that teachers carry out tactics in the schools, as a strategy to gain momentum in their contract negotiations. These tactics walk a very fine ethical, if not, legal line.
The idea that teachers may limit their work to the strictest interpretation of their contract is one that can be argued, but I believe it is absolutely in bad faith for teachers to make statements, like wearing bright colored “I am SOMEA” t-shirts in school or , to their young students that are meant for their parents. It is indisputable that they are using children as pawns of their negotiation tactics.
The Maplewood - South Orange community is traditionally supportive and sympathetic to the union’s interests. In the past, parents in our community were so disappointed by the disruptions in schools that they pressured the Board to settle with the union, regardless of the terms. It is understandable that the teachers and the union would feel the strategy worked in the past and will work now.
We are living in different times now and this strategy may backfire. Challenging times challenge people's perceptions and beliefs; and realities are exposed. We are all grappling with difficult fiscal choices in strained economic times for everyone.
In the past, the union was perceived to be the voice of the teachers in pursuit of our educational mission — high standards for children’s achievements, good pay for an under-appreciated job, and rewarding qualified people dedicated to the interests of our children’s education. Now, we are questioning the mission, structure and strategy of the union as a voice of our educational goals and ideals. The best interests of the students and the quality of our educational system have been neglected in the struggle to secure salaries and balance budgets.
In reaction to a bureaucratic and political stranglehold that is destroying our public school system and abandoning our ideals, parents are at the forefront of a national movement to advocate for students’ interests. The primary focus is on students’ achievements and fostering a culture of educational excellence and merit-based rewards rather than on salaries and budgets. It is time for our community to challenge the status quo and reigning assumptions. Our children deserve it.
I have confidence that our elected members of the Board of Education will negotiate in good faith without compromising the best interests of the students and the ideals of academic excellence and fairness that our community expects.
Meredith Caplan is a resident of Maplewood and a mother of three children in the Marshall and Jefferson Schools.