The Provocateurs Cohort (Nebraska)
Dr. Ferial Pearson is an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she specializes in teacher education.
Dr. Pearson has earned three national and several local awards for her work in education and social justice, including the Kennedy Center’s Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher award. She is the founder of the Secret Kindness Agents Project, which is the subject of two published books, her dissertation, and a TEDx Talk. The project is in over 500 K-16 schools worldwide and has been highlighted by Hallmark, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, and SPLC’S Learning for Justice Magazine.
Her decorated tenure as a leader in public education kept her alert to public disinformation regarding COVID-19 in schools.
“When the pandemic began, I noticed that there was a lack of data coming from the school districts about where cases were, the number of cases, the lack of mitigation efforts and resources in local schools, etc.,” Ferial said. “Soon, school employees and families began sending me their stories, the emails they were getting from schools about cases, and how they are feeling about what is really going on. I publish all this on my Facebook page after verifying they are true, and I will blur out people’s faces and names to protect identities.”
Much like Florida, Nebraska never issued a mask mandate, and there’s no consistent policy on when or why schools should open partially or completely.
“They also do not seek input from teachers or the community or look at actual data about whether or not it is truly safe to have hundreds of children and teachers in a school building that is not properly ventilated,” she said. “I hear from custodians, teachers, administrators, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, students, family members, and school nurses. “
“We are hoping that getting the truth out there will at the very least make more parents choose to keep their kids at home, and at the most, convince public officials to do the right thing and keep our school communities safe. Unfortunately, many people in power – including superintendents – have contacted my dean and senior vice chancellor asking them to censor me online and accusing me of stirring up drama with misinformation.
“However, I have kept the evidence, and have had to stand up to my administration about my right to post as a private citizen, parent, and concerned community member. Getting in trouble at work will not stop me from posting as I refuse to be complicit with abusive behavior towards school employees.”
A few words from those who nominated Ferial:
“She has fearlessly, after repeated retribution and complaints from district administrators across Nebraska, continued to share information regarding the spread of COVID and the lack of safety in schools locally and nationally, as well as the lack of safety at local businesses in Omaha and Lincoln metropolitan areas. She has become the voice for those without one, often receiving posts from teachers and other workers about their working conditions, and she posts it all for them anonymously. Without her, few would know about the state of COVID in schools. She is not yet tenured, but is on the tenure track at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the College of Education, and is literally risking her career due to her activism. I can think of no one more deserving, nor anyone for whom this award would be more impactful, than for Dr. Ferial Pearson.”