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07-13-04 Delegates feel their voice was finally heard

By Shelley Grieshop

  Some local delegates are calling last week's National Education Association (NEA) convention historic, saying conservative educators finally got their say.

  In previous years, the conservative delegates were shouted down on the convention floor as they tried to change the wording of what they call NEA pro-choice resolutions, teacher Judy Bruns of Coldwater said.
  "This year our position was actually debated for a while on the floor," said Bruns, a delegate for the Western Ohio Education Association Region 1 (WOEA1).
  Bruns, a junior high language arts teacher at Coldwater, and others have tried to ban the words "reproductive freedom" from a family planning resolution held by the NEA. The conservative group, a minority at the convention, feel the wording of the resolution has a pro-abortion ring to it and not a neutral ring as the organization claims.
  Bruns has asked the NEA to "stick to education issues and not promote abortion." At past conventions, the pro-life backers have been prevented from speaking by shouts of "objection to consideration," a response from other delegates who do not wish to consider the subject on the hearing floor.  This year was different, she said.
  "I feel like we made progress. We weren't booed," she said. "I really felt like they wanted to hear what we had to say."
  In a vote following the 30-minute discussion on the family resolution, the proposal by Bruns was ultimately rejected. Also attending this year as a first-time Coldwater schools delegate was Marlene Springer of Celina, who seconded the motion by Bruns.
  "It was kind of frightening standing up in front of about 9,000 people," said Springer.
  Bruns co-founded the Conservative Education Caucus, which is asking the NEA as well as the Ohio Education Association to stay neutral and not show support on issues such as abortion or gay rights -- issues they say have nothing to do with teaching our country's children.
  Another first at the convention, according to Bruns, was the anti-gay booth display set up to distribute information that countered the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The GLSEN has had a booth at the national conference for several years.
  The NEA, the largest union in the United States, claims it does not financially support any political agenda.
  The dues teachers pay to have union benefits are distributed to the OEA, NEA and a much smaller amount to their own school district. Several area teachers have opted to direct their union dues out of the union into other charities, which also means they no longer have a vote in the organization.
  The annual convention, held this year in Washington, D.C., draws thousands of educators from all over the United States for more than a week of workshops, speakers and debates on a variety of issues.
  Phil Long, a sixth-grade social studies/language arts teacher at Celina schools, told The Daily Standard he, too, saw more readiness by the NEA to listen to the conservative caucuses.
  However, Long, also a WOEA1 delegate like Bruns, said he doesn't feel the NEA supports abortion and is cautious about focusing on just one issue when there are many at hand.
  "I thought the most important discussion was about the No Child Left Behind Act and (proficiency) testing -- things that are federally mandated without sufficient funding to carry them out," he said.
  Long said NEA officials explained how they were working closely with legislatures on fixing the funding problems. NEA officials also gave suggestions on how to deal with the growing problem of tight budgets and mandated programs.
  "I plan to share some of the ideas with the schools here," Long said, adding that the NEA and OEA are very aware how taxing these programs are on our schools.
  Bruns and Springer would like to see other educators get involved and attend the national convention as a delegate, although they realize it's difficult for those with family obligations.
  "Because it's a strain on families, you end up with a lot of single, much more liberal people at these conventions. Unfortunately, they don't always represent the views of the people they are representing," Bruns said. "The majority there now certainly doesn't represent the conservative majority we have here in our communities."


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