American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten contended that her union neither extended the lockdowns which shuttered government schools for several months nor improperly helped the CDC draft their pandemic response policies.
Weingarten, who is scheduled to testify on Wednesday before members of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic about her organization’s conduct amid the pandemic, said in prepared remarks that the entire hearing is based on a “faulty” and “patently false” assertion that the union wielded its influence with Democrats to keep schools closed even after data indicated that young children were at minimal risk from COVID.
“Even before COVID-19, we knew that kids learn best in person, and that remote, hybrid and simultaneous instruction are not adequate substitutes,” she told lawmakers. “Being in school is essential to children’s academic, social and emotional well-being. We know this not as a matter for study or the grist for a congressional investigation. We know this because we live it every day.”
Weingarten claimed that the AFT “acted quickly” to implement “science-based measures needed to resume in-person schooling safely.” The union, however, threatened a strike days ahead of a planned reopening of District of Columbia Public Schools in February 2021, even as Weingarten insisted that her organization was “not trying to stand in the way of reopening.” As late as July 2021, Weingarten remained cagey on school lockdowns and insisted that increasing vaccination rates was necessary to “keep kids safe” and “keep our members safe.”
She instead blamed former President Donald Trump, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, suggesting that those officials were responsible for school closures in her Wednesday remarks because they did not implement the health measures the AFT deemed necessary.
“We knew that the safety protocols we advocated for were not an obstacle to reopening schools, as some officials claimed at the time,” she continued. “Health and safety protocols were the pathway for students and staff to get back to school and stay in school and to create trust throughout the school community.”
Weingarten additionally claimed that polls now show parents believe “schools acted appropriately in pivoting to remote and hybrid learning and back to in-person learning.” The school lockdowns, however, drove unprecedented learning loss among children who attended government schools: average reading scores plummeted five points and average mathematics scores dropped seven points among 9-year-olds who took the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Parents have since responded to disruptions in the nation’s education system, which also included the spread of radical gender theory and other Left-wing ideologies, over the past three years by homeschooling their children at record levels, a phenomenon which Weingarten called an “extremist scheme” to “erode trust in public schools by stoking fear and division.”
The AFT also provoked controversy after House Republicans revealed that the CDC offered Weingarten and other union officials “unprecedented access” to view and shape pandemic response guidelines, a privilege that the officials reportedly used to implement a “trigger” provision that would cause schools to automatically close should COVID test positivity rates reach certain thresholds. Weingarten claimed on Wednesday that the involvement of the AFT in crafting public health policies was “completely fitting and proper” since the CDC should be expected to “consult with education groups.”
“Not surprisingly, the CDC would want to consult with the leadership of the country’s largest teachers union to consider our insights, expertise and suggestions on a strategy that would directly affect our membership in matters of life and death,” she asserted. “AFT leadership was keenly aware of the hopes and fears of our members, whose trust and acceptance were necessary for the success of any operational strategy.”