The second largest teachers' union in the United States is arriving in the nation's capital on Friday to instruct teachers to bring LGBTQIA+ ideology, racial equity, and climate justice into classrooms for all ages, according to a conference agenda.
The American Federation of Teachers' (AFT) "Together Educating America’s Children" conference, scheduled for July 21-23 in Washington, D.C., will feature sessions aimed at all teachers from preschool through high school titled "Affirming LGBTQIA+ Identities in and out of the Classroom," "Education for Liberation: The Role of the Racially Conscious Educator in Combating Oppression," and "Strategies for Integrating Climate Change into Your Teaching." Attendees will also hear from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and AFT president Randi Weingarten on "What Kids, Teachers, and Communities Need."
The conference comes as student learning continues to lag after AFT and other teachers' unions worked with federal agencies and local school districts to keep kids out of classrooms. Recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress found test scores are at decade lows nationwide. Math scores for 13-year-olds fell to their lowest level since 1990, and reading scores dropped to their lowest since 2004.
The teachers' union came under scrutiny for its position on school closures during the coronavirus pandemic, and its work to make those policies a reality. A report released by House Republicans last year found the Centers for Disease Control "allowed AFT to insert language into the Operational Guidance that made it more likely schools across the country would remain closed after February 2021." AFT-affiliated unions in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other cities kept schools closed until February 2021 and later.
Weingarten has since claimed AFT "tried to reopen schools safely since April 2020." She defended the collaboration in House testimony earlier this year, saying "any claim that the contact the AFT had with the CDC was unusual or inappropriate ... is simply wrong." Attendees at this weekend's conference will be required to show proof of COVID vaccination and pass a rapid antigen test at the door. Any attendee who is vaccinated and boosted may still be prevented from attending these and all other sessions if they test positive for COVID upon entrance.
The AFT did not respond to a request for comment.
At the conference, a session focused on "Affirming LGBTQIA+ Identities in and out of the Classroom" will feature "Elementary Learning Behavior Specialist" Mari Garvonado, who works "towards dismantling white supremacy," according to her biography. The second speaker, Omar Salem, is "an educator committed to anti-racist, anti-biased, and pro-Black practices in and out of the classroom," according to his biography. The session is labeled grades "PK-12" and will "model an identity-affirming space that centers on LGBTQIA+ voices" and help teachers "gain actionable skills toward transforming school culture," according to the session’s description.
The session titled "Education for Liberation: The Role of the Racially Conscious Educator in Combating Oppression" will explore "what it means to lead for racial equity in education" and how "innocuous complicity in inequitable systems plays a role in perpetuating inequities in schools." Tracey Benson, "Racial Equity Workshop Facilitator and Coacher" and founder of the Anti-Racism Leadership Institute will lead the session. The session targets grades "PK-12."
Another session advertised as "Strategies for Integrating Climate Change into Your Teaching" is also labeled "PK-12" and will explain how "climate change education can fit into any subject area." Julie Kwong, a chief product officer for SubjectToClimate—a nonprofit aimed at bringing climate change materials to K-12 leaders, according to its website—will co-lead the session with Sylvia Scharf, a "climate education specialist" with the Environmental Solutions Initiative at MIT, which recently hosted an online event on "how K-12 education can be an effective force for climate action." The AFT session description invites educators to help make "pressing climate issues" a "topic accessible for all students."
Elisa Waters, teacher of "Spanish and Social Justice," will lead the session on "The TGNCNB Inclusive School and Classroom," which highlights how "cisnormativity can be limiting for TGNCNB (transgender, gender nonconforming, nonbinary) and cisgender folks alike." The session targets third through 12th-grade teachers.
Across the nation, enrollment in non-public schools is up. Private school enrollment rose 4 percent in the 2021-22 school year as homeschool enrollment increased by 30 percent, according to the Urban Institute. The National Catholic Education Association reported a 0.3 percent increase in the 2022-23 school year.