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A conservative father and former Bush administration official confronted teachers union boss Randi Weingarten Thursday over her claim that she worked to reopen schools during the COVID pandemic, telling the labor leader during a live CNN panel discussion that parents know better.
The tense moment came on “CNN Tonight,” as Scott Jennings, former deputy director of political affairs for President George W. Bush, appeared with Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) on a panel moderated by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. Weingarten insisted that the AFT “wanted to reopen schools more fulsomely,” and “knew schools needed to be open.” A dumbfounded Jennings called Weingarten out on the spot.
“We don’t know each other, but speaking on behalf of millions of American parents, I have four at home,” Jennings said. “I had to teach them at home; my wife had to teach them at home. I am stunned at what you have said this week about your claiming to have wanted to reopen schools. I think you’ll find that most parents believe you were the tip of the spear of school closures.”
Jennings accused Weingarten of revising history, and her own role in the school shutdowns that began in the spring of 2020 and, by some accounts, set American school children back as they struggled to keep up with their studies online. Weingarten’s advocacy for school closures, ostensibly to protect teachers from COVID, is well documented, he said.
“There are numerous statements you made over the summer of ’20 scaring people to death about the possibility of opening schools,” Jennings said. “And I hear no remorse whatsoever about the generational damage that’s been done to these — I have two kids with learning differences. Do you know how hard it is for them to learn at home and not in a classroom that was designed for them?”
“And for you to sit in front of Congress and the American people and say, ‘Oh, I wanted to open up the whole time,’ I am shocked. I’m stunned. I’m stunned. And there are millions of parents who feel the exact same way,” Jennings stated.
Weingarten, who earlier this week told the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic she couldn’t remember key details of her union’s discussions with the Biden Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about school closures, insisted that she had sought to balance reopening schools with the safety of her union members.
“I have worked for the last 20 or 30 years helping kids every single day,” Weingarten said. “I have been a schoolteacher. I’ve been a union leader. I knew and understood the importance of reopening schools and the importance of making sure that people were safe. And poll after poll that we did of parents, and I spent a lot of time with parents, said that they basically understood and supported that we needed to do both.”
Records, obtained by conservative watchdog Americans for Public Trust, revealed Weingarten spoke twice with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in the days leading up to the CDC releasing in February 2021 updated guidance on reopening schools. But those talks only came after researchers began to find that schools were not major spreaders of COVID. Further, in the two years since, studies have shown profound negative effects from prolonged remote learning, including on children’s well-being and academic accomplishments.
.@ScottJenningsKY to @rweingarten: "I am stunned at what you have said this week…I think you'll find that most parents believe you are the tip of the sphere of school closures…I hear no remorse whatsoever about the generational damage that's been done…" pic.twitter.com/gVCDgpP3dN
— Kevin Tober (@KevinTober94) April 28, 2023
On Wednesday, The New York Post editorial board noted that Weingarten was a driving force behind keeping schools closed for more than a year in some areas.
“She took zero responsibility for pushing medically needless, prolonged school closures that led to historic learning losses for kids,” the board wrote. “Even as a new report showed that she and her union were key to Biden-era Centers for Disease Control directives that restricted so many kids to the farce of ‘remote learning’ for so long.”
In February 2021, in an interview with Axios, Weingarten said in reference to children who had been out of school for months, “Kids are resilient and kids will recover.”
When asked if there could be a point at which schoolchildren kids have been out of in-person school for so long that the damage cannot be fixed, Weingarten answered “No.”
“I don’t believe that,” she said. “I believe that kids are resilient and kids will recover.”
.@danprimack: Is there a point at which kids' lost education isn't recoverable?
— Axios (@axios) February 22, 2021