Saturday, December 21, 2019

Small: Time for lawsuit reform to benefit teaching profession


Time for lawsuit reform to benefit teaching profession
By Jonathan Small

If listening to someone whack a bell at Christmas dinner “to pierce the silence in the face of all forms of oppression including racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia” sounds like your idea of a good time, then membership in the Oklahoma Education Association may be for you.

But if you think such political performance art sounds like a root canal minus any end-result benefits, then you’re among a likely strong majority of Oklahomans—including many good Oklahoma teachers. The problem for those good teachers is that current Oklahoma law prods them to financially support teachers’ unions that advocate political positions out of line with the views of many state teachers.

Here’s why: As part of its membership package, teachers’ unions typically provide insurance coverage that protects members from lawsuits. While Oklahoma law technically protects teachers from personal liability for actions taken in the normal course of employment, many educators are still at risk.

For example, when a teacher breaks up a fight, many schools will refuse to back the teacher’s action, which leaves him or her personally liable if someone decides to sue. Ask around, and you’ll quickly find that lack of administrative support is a common teacher complaint.

As a result, many Oklahoma teachers retain their OEA membership to have insurance coverage even though they disagree with much of what the OEA does.

Rather than drive teachers into the union, it’s time Oklahoma gave them an alternative.

Under legislation that could receive final approval in the 2020 legislative session, the state would provide teachers with up to $2 million in liability insurance coverage as an add-on to their payment package.

In addition to providing coverage, lawmakers should also strengthen legal protections for teachers so they can defend themselves and their students in the classroom. If teachers are not allowed to maintain classroom discipline, how are they supposed to improve educational outcomes?

Doing those two things would protect good teachers from financial ruin and also allow them to sever ties with unions, because for many teachers the only appeal of union membership is the liability insurance coverage. The politics of the union often run far from the views of typical Oklahoma teachers.

Recall that last summer dozens of OEA members attended a National Education Association Representative Assembly where attendees declared support for “the fundamental right to abortion,” called on the U.S. government “to accept responsibility for the destabilization of Central American countries,” vowed to partner with organizations “doing the work to push reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States,” and more.

And my earlier quote about the piercing bell comes from holiday recommendations put out by NEA EdJustice.

Oklahoma teachers should have the right to maintain classroom discipline without fear. And they definitely deserve the chance to teach without having to financially support political extremists.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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