Caren Firger reads letter from the NEA at the Dec. 19 School Committee meeting / Credit: The Needham Channel

With a membership that includes some 400 education associations across the state the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) often functions as a cohesive force acting in concert with its sizable constituency.

But when the MTA weighed in on the Israel-Hamas war last month, their local affiliate the Needham Education Association was among those who objected strenuously to the MTA’s position.

On Dec. 9, the MTA issued a relatively brief statement “calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire” in the conflict, which it went on to characterize as “the Netanyahu government’s genocidal war on the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

The language concerned Caren Firger, president of the local union, who questioned both the content of the statement and the fact that the MTA felt compelled to weigh in on the topic in the first place.

“Honestly, it’s distracting to the work that we have to do, because weighing in on something like this is divisive to our membership,” said Firger.

“It makes students and families wonder and question about what our educators are thinking and feeling. And that’s not at all conducive to the environment that we’re looking to have within the Needham public schools, which is that people are accepted no matter what their backgrounds are.”

The NEA responded with a letter to the MTA on Dec. 19 disavowing the MTA statement and requesting the union retract it and apologize to its members. The teachers’ union in nearby Newton similarly disavowed the MTA statement, which it characterized as “antisemitic dog-whistling.”

Firger said the NEA was troubled by both the content of the statement and the process by which it was produced.

“My concern was that as a local organization leader, I was not consulted,” said Firger. “It was done without our knowledge. And so for the organization to speak on behalf of the locals on such a complex issue that we have little to no influence on, that was the thing to me that was incredibly problematic.”

As for the content of the statement, Firger said foreign policy is not usually top of mind when the NEA convenes to discuss issues of concern.“These types of conflicts do not come up in our board meetings. That’s not something that we discuss because there’s enough local issues for us to be working through and discussing with the administration.”

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