A group of New Jersey teachers is speaking out after being alarmed by a teachers union training that instructs them to log conversations with parents and students about the COVID-19 vaccine into a progressive campaign app used by "Squad" queen Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
The National Educators Association (NEA) has been instructing teachers to upload their conversations with pupils and parents into the progressive campaign app Reach, the teachers say.
Jennifer Mess, a drama teacher for the Middletown Township Public Schools (MTPS) in New Jersey, told Fox News in an email statement that the NEA and other involved organizations do not see teachers as people who can think critically.
"Having the audacity to back this type of presentation shows that the NJEA, NEA, AFT, and any other organization involved clearly does not regard educators as professionals or critical thinkers," Mess told Fox News. "We literally teach our students to be able to look at information critically before making a decision."
"This was a blatant effort to coerce, manipulate, and even track information on students and their parents," Mess continued. "Anyone involved in this type of deception has lost their morals and purpose of education along the way."
New Jersey state Sen. Holly Schepisi, a Republican, told Fox News in an email statement that while she supports people getting vaccinated, instructing teachers to use their positions of influence in students' and their families' lives to push certain medical decisions while politically canvassing using children's data is unethical and borderline criminal.
"I strongly support vaccinations and indeed have caught heat for encouraging others to get vaccinated," Schepisi wrote.
"However, to put our teachers in the untenable position of using their 'trust and influence' over children and their parents to persuade them to make personal medical decisions, and then encourage teachers through gift cards to input the names, addresses and vaccination status of these children and parents into a searchable political progressive database created for and by Congresswoman AOC's campaign team, is an unconscionable breach of privacy and ethics, it is political canvassing using children's data and it borders on criminal."
According to the training reviewed by Fox News, teachers were encouraged to use Reach to "follow up and track" the conversations they had with parents and teachers, offering "gift cards" for the most active users.
"Look up the people you've talked to and mark down how your conversations went!" the training says with an "enter data" button at the end. "Then add them to your Reach network and add their contact info so that you or Made To Save can follow up with them later and help them get vaccinated."
Teachers were also told they were a "trusted messenger" for students and instructed them to encourage others to get vaccinated in they were told to log on the progressive campaigning app.
"As someone the person already knows and trusts, you can find out what is concerning them about the vaccine, relate on a personal level, and share information to help them on their journey to get vaccinated," one slide read.
Tips were also given on how to go about the recorded vaccine conversations.
"As an educator or school staff member, you are a trusted messenger for many students," Made to Save's tips for vaccine conversations read. "Use these tips to guide your conversations with them and help them stay safe and healthy!"
The training also provided talking points for the educators, telling them to assume "people intend to get vaccinated unless they indicate otherwise" and to "adapt" the language to the "circumstances" they were in.
"Do you want me to help you get an appointment?" one talking point read.
"I'm excited to safely see my students and their families!" another read.
The training also told teachers to listen for "what, if anything" is "holding" a person "back" from getting vaccinated and encouraged them to end vaccine conversations by planning "to check in a few weeks about vaccine concerns."
Educators were also encouraged to help those with "barriers" in the way of getting a vaccine, such as a lack of transportation, by working with them to set up a "transportation plan" to get their shot.
"We are NOT telling people what to do or what they should think," the "Our Approach" slide reads. "We ARE listening to people and responding authentically to their concerns."
"You do NOT need to be a healthcare expert to have good conversations," the slide continued. "To wrap up, help the person make a plan to get vaccinated, or plan to check in later about their concerns."
One slide, entitled "Help Them Find Their Own Reason," encourages educators to do just that, telling them to not "tell them what to do or think" but also help their "friends and family find their own reason to get vaccinated."
"The reasons that someone may choose to get vaccinated will always be those that are most compelling to them personally," the slide reads, offering an example of what to say to encourage a person to get vaccinated.
According to DeGroot’s company biography, he had "a deep involvement in the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011-2012" before moving on to Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional campaign and Reach itself.
"We built Reach for the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaign as a tool for ourselves after we realized traditional door-to-door canvassing methods were limiting who we were talking to and when we were able to effectively collect data in the field," the website’s "About" page reads.
"Reach allowed us to canvass in the streets, subway stops, and community events in so many new ways that it revolutionized the way we connected with voters," the page continues. "This is a part of how we won, and we knew that other progressive people-powered campaigns could use it to win too."
The "About" page also says the company believes "State and County Democratic parties are well-equipped to be leaders" for building voter bases and progressive grassroots efforts.
A carousel on the website also showcases its work with Ocasio-Cortez's campaign.
Reach's website also says it has clients that are "usually insurgent progressive campaigns, who may challenge the party establishment in their state and who have experienced discrimination, deprioritization, or even full-on opposition or hostility from their state party."
The teachers’ concern raises many questions on what the logged data is being used for and why the NEA is using a campaign tracking app to log conversations about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Fox News asked both MTPS and the NEA why they are encouraging teachers to log vaccine conversations in a progressive voter-tracking app and if they believe that this approach to vaccine promotion will get more people vaccinated.
Additionally, Fox News asked if students and parents would be informed if or when their conversations were being trapped and whether or not it was ethical or trustworthy for them to instruct teachers to submit people's personal conversations about their medical decisions to a clearly political organization.
"NEA members want nothing more than to return safely to in-person learning and science is clear that vaccinations are one of the best ways to keep students and educators safe and in the classroom," an NEA spokesperson told Fox News.
"Educators are leading conversations to encourage people to learn more about getting vaccinated in an effort to keep students, their families and our communities safe and healthy," they continued.
A spokesperson for Made to Save said the nonprofit is "a non-political, non-partisan organization, whose focus is to increase equitable access to the vaccines and knowledge about them to communities of color, which have been hardest hit by the pandemic."
"Made to Save relies on a careful vendor selection process that is informed by our campaign needs and the communities we serve," the spokesperson continued. "Our aim is to add capacity to and amplify the work of our on-the-ground partners across the country."
The Made to Save spokesperson also told Fox News that the data "collected during our use of the REACH app will only be used for outreach efforts to follow up on conversations with individuals about the COVID-19 vaccines."
MTPS did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
Houston Keene is a reporter for Fox News Digital. You can find him on Twitter at @HoustonKeene.