The National Education Association will create toolkits for its members to conduct walkthroughs at their workplaces to record and report unhealthy and unsafe conditions as a result of the efforts of Waiakea High teacher Mireille Ellsworth.
Ellsworth, a delegate from HSTA’s Hilo Chapter to the NEA’s 100th annual Representative Assembly, proposed the school safety measure that passed with an overwhelming 74 percent of the vote Friday, July 2. The NEA RA concluded its first-ever all-virtual convention on Saturday, attended online by about 6,127 delegates from across the country.
“This is the first step. We need to identify what the problems are so we can effectively advocate,” said Ellsworth, who teaches English, drama as well as speech and debate at Waiakea.
In a speech to the NEA RA Friday, Ellsworth said, “We all know our public school facilities have long been neglected, and many buildings where we work and teach our children are old and crumbling. Even those facilities that have been renovated have toxins within the walls, ceilings, and floors.
“Some of the buildings that appear newer and well-maintained could have hazards that are not being fixed,” she added.
“This NBI (new business item) calls for NEA to research these dangers and provide us members with a toolkit so that we can be empowered to do walk-throughs to scrutinize our schools and workspaces in order to draw attention to what is, in many cases, poisoning us, and creating generations of kids with chronic conditions like asthma, which has been increasing steadily,” Ellsworth said.
“The pandemic has brought to light the importance of knowing if our classrooms, bathrooms, and cafeterias are well-ventilated and if our HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems have the right filters to make the air safe to breathe,” said Ellsworth.
Christine Kosar, an NEA RA delegate from the New Jersey Education Association, spoke in favor of Ellsworth’s proposal.
“During this current pandemic many of our school districts have been held accountable for providing greater safety environments for our New Jersey students and staff,” Kosar said. “The NEA must not lose the progress already made and must continue to increase the standards of health and safety to push for funding for crucial remediations in our schools.”
Ellsworth also successfully advocated for an amendment to NEA’s legislative lobbying priorities, adding language calling for “a federally funded program that would train health and safety experts at the school and district levels to conduct school building air and/or water inspections, using the most current science and research available.”
Kaʻu High teacher successfully advocates for anti-trafficking, health care access proposals
Angie Miyashiro, a teacher at Kaʻu High and Pahala Elementary on Hawaii Island, successfully introduced a proposal at the NEA RA that calls for the NEA to “advocate for continued support through existing publications and communications with members, encouraging them to contact Congress for concerted efforts to resolve human trafficking of our students and address negative impacts on our students and school community.”
An overwhelming percentage of NEA RA delegates — 93 percent — voted in favor of Miyashiro’s proposal.
“Human trafficking is occurring in our community, even at the elementary level, middle school level, not just high school campuses,” Miyashiro told fellow delegates in a speech before the NEA RA vote.
“Human trafficking impacts women, children, men, both boys and girls. It’s not just females,” said Miyashiro, who is the career and technical education (CTE) coordinator at Kaʻu High, teaching CTE health pathways, health and physical education.
“Human trafficking continues to increase, especially in our rural areas and with this COVID, it’s even been worse. The numbers are way up,” added Miyashiro, a delegate from HSTA’s Hilo Chapter who teaches at a rural school.
“Chronic safety and health issues, the absenteeism, the dropouts, even suicide has increased because of this issue. There needs to be a concerted effort to advocate and push legislation to address this problem so that students can learn and teachers can teach,” Miyashiro said.
“I urge NEA to continue to advocate and create restorative, sustainable solutions that will shed light for renewed hope, empowerment, bringing freedom not just for the survivors, but also for the buyers and traffickers. We need to address these issues. We need to educate,” she said.
“Eradicating this issue is vital so that our students are healthy and safe and become the individuals they were meant to be,” said Miyashiro.
Miyashiro authored a second NEA measure calling on the NEA to advocate “through existing publications and communications to members encouraging them to contact Congress for the need of equal access to health care services for all to minimize health disparities of educators, students and families in rural and/or multicultural areas.”
A total of 90 percent of the NEA delegates voted to approve her health care proposal.
“Rural residents often encounter barriers to health care that limit their ability to obtain the care they need. In order for rural residents to have sufficient access necessary, we need appropriate healthcare services that must be available and obtainable in a timely manner,” Miyashiro said in a speech advocating for her NBI.
“Even when there’s adequate supply of health care services and they exist in a community, there are other factors to consider in terms of health care, including being treated in a timely manner, geographical barriers, respectful cultural beliefs and values, insurance availability and being treated with equal, quality care,” she said.
“The request is to advocate for more opportunities and resources in the rural areas so there is equal access to healthcare services, allowing students a chance to be successful in school and in life,” added Miyashiro.
She concluded in her speech by saying, “‘There is no greater gift than health.”
Anita Carson, an NEA RA delegate from the Florida Education Association spoke in favor of Miyashiro’s health care measure.
“Educators definitely face health disparities, especially in rural areas,” Carson said.
“The city in which I currently teach does not have a single mental health provider in our area and that is hugely detrimental to our students, and our educators and their families,” Carson added.
Oahu teacher’s ‘period poverty’ proposal also garners strong support
On Thursday, NEA RA delegates overwhelmingly approved a proposal authored by a Leeward Chapter delegate that directs the NEA to raise awareness about public school students’ lack of access to menstrual supplies.
Sarah Milianta-Laffin, a teacher at Ilima Intermediate in Ewa Beach and first-time delegate to the NEA RA, introduced the proposal which said, “NEA will use online platforms to raise awareness about the impact of period poverty (the lack of access to menstrual supplies) on our students.”
Milianta-Laffin, Miyashiro and Ellsworth were among 95 HSTA delegates who attended this year’s online NEA RA. Next year’s event is scheduled to be held in person in Dallas, Texas.
President Biden and first lady, an NEA member, address NEA RA
On Friday, delegates heard from President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden, a college professor and longtime member of the NEA.
President Biden said one of the top priorities of his federal budget proposal unveiled in April would be to pay for higher teacher salaries and give them the resources they need.
“This is absolutely necessary if we are going to compete in the 21st century. Unions and teacher protests across the country made it clear that you deserve a raise, not just praise!” Biden said.
Biden’s budget proposal calls for a 40-percent increase in education funding, including an additional $20 billion that would be dedicated to students in under-resourced schools and communities.