“You need a lot of brainpower. No one should think the president or any one person has all the answers.”

-Laurie Folsom, President, Lawrence Education Association

LEA Members Distributing Lunches to Students in Need


By Angela Deines, KNEA Communications

It didn’t take long for many local affiliates of Kansas NEA to harness the power of technology to keep member engagement strong during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We jumped on the Zoom train just like everyone else,” said Laurie Folsom, president of Lawrence Education Association and journalism teacher at Free State High School. “We have an active exec board that’s comfortable with technology.”

During a recent meeting to discuss contract issues and other concerns, Folsom said the Zoom “waiting room” feature was used, allowing two members to confirm the membership of those who were checking in 15 minutes before the meeting started.

“We turned away three people who we couldn’t verify who they were,” she said.

The importance of verifying whether someone should be attending a Zoom meeting was illustrated recently in Florida. According to the Associated Press, a man allegedly hacked into an online Zoom classroom and exposed himself to students. Even more recently, members are sharing their experiences with “zoom-bombing”- where an uninvited guest (or even an invited one) attempts to hijack a web-meeting by displaying illicit images or by perpetrating other disruptions.

“This virtual learning, this distance, digital learning, is opening up all kinds of interesting problems and challenges,” Tom Jelneck, a Florida-based cyber security analyst told an Orlando news station. The FBI also has tips for using online meeting tools to reduce the chance your session will be “Zoom bombed” by cyber actors who want to take advantage of the environment created by COVID-19. The FBI is also urging educators to file a complaint with the agency in the event an uninvited guest appears in a Zoom meeting and does something inappropriate.

While many educators across the U.S. are taking increased precautions with Zoom, others are turning to other platforms such as Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams for collaborating with each other or holding a virtual class with their students, according to a recent article in Education Week.

In the meantime, Folsom suggests local affiliates using Zoom should have a handful of members with different jobs. She said during Lawrence EA’s call on March 26, someone took notes, two people monitored the chat comments and there was a moderator. Folsom also suggested someone from the negotiations team be on the Zoom call to answer contract-related questions.   

“You need a lot of brainpower,” she said. “No one should think the president or anyone one person has all the answers.”

Folsom said Lawrence EA has previously used Facebook Live to host interactive meetings with the district’s superintendent and share information when the local and USD 497 were at impasse two years ago. However, she said using Facebook or Zoom “doesn’t solve all the communication problems” a local may be experiencing.

“But people are at least getting first-hand knowledge,” she said, “instead of that game of telephone.” 

Folsom said she and the Lawrence EA leaders were happy with the process used during the March 26 call and plan to hold a building representative call the week of April 6 using the same format.  

Tara Florentin, president of Rolling Hills Uniserv and ESP at Ottawa Middle School, said Zoom has been a useful tool for communicating with her leaders.

“Right now we have found that Zoom works best for our ad board meetings,” she said.

For upcoming elections, Florentin said they used JotForm for nominations.

“(We’re) currently looking into secure ways of holding elections,” she said.

The use of technology to communicate with Rolling Hills locals has been nothing new, Florentin said. 

“I send out emails as much as possible and my exec board, we use email and text messages,” she said. “My local is also using Zoom and emails to communicate with each other. With all my locals being rural, Zoom is best for internet usage.”

Aaron Edwards, president of Lansing Education Association USD 469, said his local is accustomed to using technology as a means to communicate with members and is continuing to do so during this time of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Besides personal email groups, we have started using a closed LEA members-only group on Facebook to share info,” he said. “We are also hosting a LEA members Zoom meeting next week for members to ask questions and as a check-in.”

Georann Whitman, president of Spring Hill Education Association, said she’s adjusting to online learning for her students and virtual meetings for her local members.

“I’ve had to dive into this technology thing now that we’re in a brand new world,” said Whitman, a Spring Hill High School vocal music teacher who said she’s been using Google Hangout to meet with her local members.

“We were able to use that pretty easily. I can put that directly on their calendars,” she said. “It’s part of our school district culture.”

Whitman said she recently convened a Google Hangout meeting of Spring Hill EA’s advisory board which includes the executive committee and building representatives, an estimated 18 members.

“It was just good to see everyone’s faces,” Whitman said of the meeting. “It was like ‘old home week.’ I was never so happy to see their faces since we’ve been so isolated. We’re almost like a family than an association.”

While technology has helped, Whitman said as a “mother by nature”, not being able to see her members nor her students in person has been difficult.  

“I love to hear [students] laugh,” she said. “I really miss my kids.”