The National Education Association Representative Assembly Ethnic Studies Roundup

Image source: 2020 Presidential Hopefuls Court Educators at NEA Representative Assembly

by Jon Greenberg

What exactly is a National Education Association Representative Assembly? As a teacher relatively new to union organizing, I thought I knew the answer but I was quite unprepared for the scale of this event, an event so big that it attracted 10 Democratic presidential candidates, each of whom traveled all the way to Houston to get ten minutes of speaking time with this body of educators.

The NEA’s Representative Assembly is the word’s largest “democratic deliberative body,” according to the NEA, during which over 8,000 elected delegates representing over 3 million educators converge and make decisions about the “vital issues that impact American public education and set Association policy and activities for the year ahead.” 

The bulk of this work is done through introducing New Business Items (NBIs), which are presented to the body, debated, and then voted on; this year there were 160 introduced! A group of us from the Seattle Education Association attended this year to advance ethnic studies at the national level. The NEA Black Caucus, specifically caucus chair Cecily Myart Cruz, had already organized a robust racial justice agenda that included a Black Lives Matter at School NBI and two ethnic studies NBIs. 

SEA delegate Kaitlin Kamalei Jenkins put forward a third ethnic studies NBI focusing on updating that groundbreaking research by Christine Sleeter confirming the benefits of ethnic studies, “The Academic and Social Value of Ethnic Studies,” which was commissioned by the NEA and published in 2011, nearly a decade ago. 

Compiled below are the ethnic studies and Black Lives Matter at School NBIs that passed the body – all with little to no debate – as well as a few other NBIs related to racial justice too good to exclude. To check out important NBIs – on topics of lgbtqia+, climate change, union rights, #metoo movement, and more – read them all here


New Business Item 13

NEA will create an ongoing series in NEA Today using existing digital resources including and NEA Express Today, and promotion on the NEA Today social media highlight examples of the Ethnic Studies curricula and programs across the nation and connection to student growth and success of students who have access to Ethnic Studies. 


Note: This passed nearly unanimously, with perhaps one belated “nay” coming from the back of the room. 

New Business Item 16

NEA Board of Directors will consider a new policy statement on Ethnic Studies to be presented at the 2020 NEA RA for adoption.


Note: This passed narrowly, likely because of the $155,400 price tag. A policy statement, as opposed to a resolution (which is more of a belief statement) invites the NEA to invest more resources into ethnic studies. 

New Business Item 19

NEA will promote the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in schools during Black History Month in 2020.  Beginning in the fall of 2019, using existing communications resources, NEA will specifically call for clear efforts to demonstrate support for the four demands of the BLM Week of Action in schools:

1. Ending zero-tolerance policies and replacing them with restorative justice practices

2. Hiring and mentoring black educators

3. Mandating that Ethnic Studies be taught in preK-12 schools in age-appropriate ways

4. Hiring more counselors not cops


Note: this passed unanimously! 

New Business Item 40

NEA will update the existing research review on the academic and social implications of Ethnic Studies and publish the results through existing NEA resources. 


Note: Seattle delegate Bruce Jackson estimates that this passed with 80 percent in favor. 


New Business Item A

NEA will immediately call on the Trump administration, U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, and the courts, for the immediate end to the detention and criminalization of immigrant children and their families; including an end to ICE raids, which inflicts chaos, fear, and instability on entire communities.

Specifically and immediately, NEA will call on the U.S. government to address the human rights violations for which it is responsible in detention centers across the country by demanding that:

-Immigrant children currently incarcerated by the U.S. government be treated as human beings with infinite worth and potential, and not be exposed to conditions that harm or traumatize them.

-Detention facilities be open to visits by doctors, educators, social workers, clergy, and other children’s advocates.

-The U.S. government comply with the guidelines for basic standards of care of children set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

-The U.S. government stop sending children and immigrant families to for-profit detention centers.

To achieve the above, NEA will:

1. Instruct our General Counsel to challenge such policies and practices in the courts and other venues by leading or joining cases with advocacy partners;

2. Call on members and affiliates to seek sponsors and support for legislation that protects immigrant families, the rights of asylum seekers, and the humane treatment of all immigrants;

3. Oppose ICE raids that terrify peaceful communities and endanger children who are left without caregivers when parents are arrested and detained;

4. Urge all presidential candidates to develop plans for comprehensive immigration reform that include specific ways to ensure the humane treatment of all immigrants and ways to end ICE raids and family separations;

5. Partner with immigrant rights’ organizations to inform our members and the families they serve of the civil and human rights of undocumented people through community engagement and specifically partner on training such as know-your-rights training;

6. Initiate and support networking locally so that our members and public can jointly engage in initiatives and actions on immigrant justice;

7. Promote the efforts of our affiliates and partners to protect immigrant students and families from the harm and trauma caused by fear of deportation, anti-immigrant violence and family separation’;

8. Mobilize members to contact their elected officials, participate in protests, and disseminate advocacy materials on urgent immigration issues; and

9. Expand NEA’s rapid response social justice activist network to engage and activate our members and allies on key immigration priorities.

10. NEA will provide information to state affiliates on how they can gain access to assist refugees being held in detention centers, how they can teach, provide social work servicing, psychology services, provide soap, toothbrushes and other sanitary needs to refugees. Please inform our members how we can take direct action of detentions centers.


New Business Item 11

Using existing resources, NEA will incorporate the concept of “White Fragility” into NEA trainings/staff development, literature, and other existing communications on social, gender, LGBTQIA, and racial justice whenever and wherever context and expense allows.


New Business Item 14

NEA will create model legislative language that state affiliates can use to eliminate the Praxis or alternative standardized test used for teacher certification.


New Business Item 17

The convenings created as a result of the 2018 NBI 117 Task Force report will recommend specific annual numeric goals for the recruitment of, and retention of, educators of color.  NEA will create a pilot cadre of educators of color (a minimum of 2 per state affiliate for at least 10 states) whose purpose is to identify and recruit high school and college ethnic students (African American, Hispanic, Indigenous People of America, Asian American, Pacific Islander) to enter the teaching profession starting with states that have Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges, Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander Serving Institutions.


New Business Item 21

NEA will create an electronic toolkit that will assist locals in developing member allies who will serve as diversity ambassadors to engage in courageous conversations in an effort to support educators of color and other targeted and marginalized educators.


New Business Item 25

NEA will collaborate and partner with organizations and individuals who are doing the work to push reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States and to involve educators, students, and communities in the discussions around support for reparations. NEA will write an article in NEA Today to pay homage to educators who have been and are currently fighting for reparations, such as Ernie Smith, and to highlight the organizations and individuals involved in the fight for reparations. NEA will actively network and collaborate with organizations such as ACLU, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA), and individuals such as Darrick Hamilton, to hold national teletown halls in different regions of the United States in order to educate members and the general public about the importance of reparations.


New Business Item 31

Utilizing existing communication resources, the NEA shall publicize the investigation that has uncovered state and federal funding for confederate museums, shrines, and groups that present a distorted view of history and perpetuate racist idealogy (


New Business Item 34

NEA will disseminate current information developed in partnership with the National Indian Educational Association and/or the National Congress of American Indians regarding missing and murdered indigenous women and girls during the month of May 2020.This will be in solidarity with Red Shawl Day. Information will be disseminated through established modes of communication.


New Business Item 41

The NEA will support an initiative to hire more diverse leadership staff such as assistant principals and principals in our schools, by notifying state affiliates to encourage their members of color to pursue a career in school leadership. In addition, the NEA will work to support this goal.  

As NEA continues to promote and push forward on improving diversity and inclusion of educational professionals, we direct NEA to include assistant principals, principals, and other administrators in work that we are already doing.


New Business Item 64

At the beginning of ALL NEA convenings, NEA will acknowledge the native people of whom the lands originated from. 


New Business Item 84 

The NEA will use existing resources by utilizing the Racial Justice Education program to provide quality anti-racist, anti-biased culturally competent virtual professional development opportunities. To continue to build upon already existing work by identifying regional, state, leaders, and volunteers or whomever the Committee deems to expand learning to facilitate and train the trainer model using an interactive virtual curriculum to build capacity in members at the state and local level.


New Business Item 87 

NEA will publish in the NEA Today the impact of voter suppression in the United States. 


New Business Item 91 

NEA will use existing resources to digitally publicize a list of resources educators can use to teach their students about the history of the U.S. government programs of detention and internment, deportations and repatriations, to include but not limited to the Mexican Repatriation (1929-1931), Bracero Program (1942), and Operation Wetback (1954).


New Business Item 93

NEA will use existing channels to call on educators to refrain from discouraging or explicitly telling students to not speak a language other than English at school.  NEA may also include information about:

·     The benefits of being multi-lingual;

·     How linguistic oppression is traumatic to children and stifles their academic achievement;

·     The white supremacy culture associated with “English only” movements; and

·     The history of violence inflicted on children for speaking a language other than English at school.


New Business Item 116 

NEA will create a sub-category of ethnicity under the race category on NEA360 and conference registration sites to help the association better understand the ethnic makeup of our membership and make sure that the needs of all members are met. They will also provide a report to state leadership detailing the ethnicity breakdowns of our membership. 


New Business Item 118 

The NEA will call on the U.S. government to accept responsibility for the destabilization of Central American countries (including, but not limited to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua), and that this destabilization is a root cause of the recent increase of asylum seekers in the United States. 


New Business Item 121

NEA will create a task force to examine means of data collection on discrimination, harassment, and bullying of members by the National Education Association leadership on the basis of race, gender identity and expression, or sexual orientation. The task force will also develop a process of grievance submission and accountability, as well as development and dissemination of reporting procedure and protocol.


Note: This NBI was originally targeting racial discrimination but was sanitized and diluted through an amendment. 

New Business Item 143

NEA will use its existing communication vehicles to educate members and the public about the negative impact of excluding students from academic and extracurricular programs based on their natural hairstyles and from their hair being modified by any school officials, school staff, referees, or any other individuals in a public school or higher education environment.


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