Why were American public schools closed for months, and in too many places, over a year? “There was terror,” according to American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten.
The teachers union president who did everything in her power to spread fear among teachers and their communities and, therefore, prolong school closures appeared before the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic earlier this week. Throughout the hearing, in her written testimony, and in subsequent media interviews, she attempted to rewrite history by claiming that she wanted schools open since April 2020 and tried to open them “safely.”
Weingarten repeatedly claimed that she knew that “kids learn best in person” and “remote education was not a substitute for opening schools,” but refused to take responsibility for fomenting fear and requiring unscientific metrics that kept schools closed. Even when questioned about the devastating consequences of the closures, Weingarten callously showed no regret for denying students access to education, services, meals, extracurricular activities, and community.
Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R, Iowa) echoed the anger of parents across the nation by admonishing the union leader, “The effect on children has been vast and to have no remorse on closing schools and keeping them closed for the length of time is unconscionable.”
Parents in areas that closed schools in March of 2020 and refused to open them recall the tactics employed by the AFT and the National Education Association (NEA) and their local affiliates. Weingarten irrationally demanded conditions and constraints that prolonged school closures. When leaders who aren’t beholden to unions prioritized opening schools, Weingarten called them “reckless, callous, cruel.”
As IWF Fellow Kaylee McGhee White wrote in the Washington Examiner, “Weingarten pushed for highly restrictive and usually impossible reopening requirements, such as low community transmission, quarantine guidelines, and obnoxious testing regimens. The effect of this was to keep schools closed for much longer.”
Parents who watched their children suffer during lengthy, union-inflicted closures know that the union also actively whipped up fear and scared communities into prolonged closures.
Parents remember Weingarten saying that she watched former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in July 2020 “with disbelief that turned to anger when she appeared on TV this week to call on schools to be ‘fully operational’ this fall.” Parents know that Weingarten kept school closures in areas where she had power in order to pressure Congress to provide additional “emergency” school reopening funding. Once she got what she wanted—$190 billion in highly flexible Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds—she allowed schools to consider opening full-time.
When I appeared before the select subcommittee in March to testify about the consequences of school closures, I made it clear that Weingarten needs to take responsibility for keeping schools closed and creating a learning loss crisis. School closures were not a good or necessary response to the coronavirus, and closure decisions were not grounded in data.
School district superintendents, school board members, and state leaders knew early on that children were extremely low risk, but many feared the political consequences of prioritizing open schools. They also knew that school closures were an ineffective strategy for preventing the spread of the virus. Schools stayed closed primarily because the teachers unions in our country have enormous political power and parents do not. As parents pleaded for open schools, services for our children with disabilities, and a response to the learning loss crisis created by prolonged closures, we found out just how little leverage we possess.
Randi doesn’t care that she kept schools closed. She cares about her immense political power. Fortunately, the American public and reality-embracing legislators plan to hold her accountable. According to the select subcommittee, “Ms. Weingarten is attempting to rewrite history. This investigation isn’t over.”