Powerful Teachers’ Unions Can’t Distort The Facts: They Worked With Democrats To Keep Schools Closed

Randi Weingarten, Teachers’ Unions, And Democrats ‘Are Trying To Rewrite History’ On Pandemic School Closures As The Public Understands Just How Harmful They Were To Children And To Their Educations


Ms. Weingarten And Others Are Trying To Rewrite History Because They Realize Now, Far Too Late, That Their Lockdowns Are Unpopular … But It’s Important For Democratic Accountability That They Don’t Get Away With It’

RANDI WEINGARTEN, President of the American Federation of Teachers: “We spent every day from February on trying to get schools open. We knew that remote education was not a substitute for opening schools… We know that young people learn and connect best in person, so opening schools safely—even during a pandemic—guided our actions, which I will describe in detail.” (House Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee on Select Coronavirus Crisis, Hearing, 4/26/2023)

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD: “Alas, [Randi Weingarten’s] ‘detail’ omitted a few things. Such as her description in July 2020 of the Trump Administration’s push to reopen schools for in-person learning that autumn as ‘this reckless, this callous, this cruel.’ That summer she also endorsed teacher ‘safety strikes’ if unions deemed local reopening protocols to be inadequate. Hundreds of private and charter schools did open that fall without the surge of illness that Ms. Weingarten claimed to fear. She also left out the detail that local union affiliates were the most aggressive opponents of school reopening throughout 2021 and even into 2022. ‘We are practically begging [the Chicago Teachers Union] to come to the table so we can get a deal done,’ Chicago’s Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in February 2021. Even a year later, in January 2022, the Chicago union again voted against in-person learning. The union said it wouldn’t relent until the surge in Covid-19 cases subsided, or the school district signed an agreement ‘establishing conditions for return’ approved by the Chicago union.” (Editorial, “Randi Weingarten’s Incredible Covid Memory Loss,” The Wall Street Journal, 4/30/2023)


FLASHBACK: In City After City Powerful Teachers’ Unions Resisted Reopening Classrooms

CHICAGO, IL: “Chicago Public Schools’ decision to cancel classes for at least three days so far after the powerful teachers union voted to work remotely because of concerns over spiking COVID-19 cases marks the latest disruption to public education in the city under Mayor Lori Lightfoot…. But the latest standoff highlights a defining feature of Lightfoot’s time as mayor: contentious conflict with the Chicago Teachers Union, including the 2019 strike that put students out for more than two weeks of classes and a bitter, monthslong standoff over the reopening of schools after the pandemic’s arrival.” (“Friction With The Chicago Teachers Union Has Been A Hallmark Of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Term — Often At The Expense Of Put-Out Parents,” Chicago Tribune, 1/06/2022)

  • “As CPS prepared for the new school year [in fall 2020], Lightfoot signaled she wanted a hybrid model with remote and in-person classes, but the union objected and threatened a strike vote if the new term didn’t start remotely…. [A]s Lightfoot officials planned to reopen schools to start 2021, Lightfoot and CPS officials initially insisted they did not have to negotiate a reopening plan. But the union threatened further work actions and declined to return without a deal, forcing Lightfoot back to the table. The negotiations over reopening schools were marked by tense exchanges, often at news conferences…. [S]ome union members refused to show up for in-person classes, which led to administrators cutting off computer access and pay to some union members. It also led to a series of delays in schools reopening, part time, for families who chose to send their children back.” (“Friction With The Chicago Teachers Union Has Been A Hallmark Of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Term — Often At The Expense Of Put-Out Parents,” Chicago Tribune, 1/06/2022)

OAKLAND, CA: “A group of Oakland teachers protested a plan to bring students back to classrooms starting at the end of the month, calling an agreement between the district and their union ‘reckless and foolish’ unless staff, students and families are vaccinated. The organizers of the Wednesday protest, which included the union reps from individual schools … urged district teachers to vote against the deal, which would have the first students — in preschool through second grade — back in classrooms on March 30 …” (“Defying Union Leaders, Oakland Teachers Group Protests April Schools Reopening,” San Francisco Chronicle, 3/17/2021)

MASSACHUSETTS: “The leaders of three Massachusetts teachers unions are supporting emergency legislation filed by state lawmakers that would require the state’s education commissioner to give school districts more time to prepare for the return of elementary school students to full-time, in-person lessons. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, and the Boston Teachers Union said the legislation would allow more school workers to get a vaccine before returning, The Boston Globe reported.” (“Teachers Unions Back Proposed Delay Of Return To Classroom,” The Associated Press, 3/15/2021)

NORTH CAROLINA: “Even as a bill to reopen schools across North Carolina garnered unanimous bipartisan support and was fast-tracked through the legislature, North Carolina’s teacher’s union released a statement blasting Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and lawmakers from both political parties for the compromise. In a rare instance of bipartisan agreement, Cooper joined with both Republican and Democratic leaders in the N.C. House and Senate at a news conference Wednesday, March 10, to unveil a new school reopening plan for the entire state. Fewer than 24 hours later, Senate Bill 220 has won unanimous support from both chambers of the General Assembly—a 49-0 vote in the Senate on Wednesday and a 119-0 vote in the House on Thursday. Cooper signed the bill into law later that day.” (“Teacher’s Union Continues Opposition Over School Reopening Law,” Carolina Journal, 3/12/2021)

  • “Even so, the left-wing N.C. Association of Educators remains opposed to the measure, putting the teacher’s union in rare opposition to Cooper, who has remained a staunch ally. ‘This agreement between the governor and leaders in the state legislature will needlessly encourage school boards to push students, educators, and staff into school buildings that do not comply with [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance during a pandemic, which has already claimed the lives of 11,000 North Carolinians,’ NCAE president Tamika Kelly said in a statement.” (“Teacher’s Union Continues Opposition Over School Reopening Law,” Carolina Journal, 3/12/2021)

SAN FRANCISCO, CA: “[T]he [SFUSD] school board approved plans to begin bringing back in-person learning for preschool through fifth-graders, special education students and vulnerable older groups starting April 12, following months of bitter debate with the teachers union…. [S]ome teachers have been critical of the plan, expressing concerns about proposed schedules that leave little time for planning lessons or bathrooms breaks. The union is organizing a car caravan for Sunday to demand changes to the daily schedule, which is separate from the formal agreement.” (“SFUSD Families And Breed To Protest, Demanding Full Reopening Of Schools For All Students,” San Francisco Chronicle, 3/12/2021)

  • “San Francisco’s school reopening deliberations have become among the most contentious of those roiling school districts across the country. Last month, the city sued the school district, arguing preparations were so slow it was violating state law. A spokesman for the city attorney said the case was moving forward because the district had no plans to reopen middle and high schools. A hearing is scheduled March 22. Parents have also mobilized against local school board members here, saying they have given too much priority to social justice matters, such as renaming school campuses, compared with resuming in-person instruction.” (“San Francisco Runs Public School Pods Amid Covid-19 Lockdown Frustrations,” The Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2021)

LOS ANGELES, CA: “A screenshot obtained by FOX 11 shows UTLA teachers being warned to not share spring break vacation photos to social media as the union continues to push for a safe return to in-person classes. The screenshot appears to be from a private Facebook group titled, ‘UTLA FB GROUP- Members Only,’ and it has about 5,700 members. In one of the posts from the private group, teachers from the union are being asked to not share vacation photos or show that they're traveling outside of the country. The post, obtained by FOX 11's Bill Melugin, reads: ‘Friendly reminder: If you are planning any trips for Spring Break, please keep that off of Social Media. It is hard to argue that it is unsafe for in-person instruction, if parents and the public see vacation photos and international travel.’” (“Private 'UTLA FB' Group Warns Teachers To Not Post Vacation Pics Amid Union's Push For Safe Return To Class,” Fox 11, 3/08/2021)


REMINDER: The Biden Administration Refused To Take On The Teachers’ Unions To Get Schools Open Sooner

“President Biden made it clear… that he is not blaming teachers and their unions for schools remaining closed during the coronavirus pandemic, telling reporters at the White House that reopening is ‘complicated’ and that all the teachers he knows want to get back to their classrooms. At a time when the Chicago Teachers Union is refusing an order by district and city officials for educators to return to their classrooms, Biden said that districts should prioritize fixing ventilation systems, securing sufficient personal protective equipment and establishing coronavirus testing systems. … Asked by one reporter how the president defines his message of ‘unity,’ Biden talked about Americans coming together to solve problems, including reopening schools. He said people know ‘we have to do something about figuring out how to get children back in school,’ and he rejected blaming teachers and their unions.” (“Biden: I Don’t Blame Teachers Or Their Unions For Schools Staying Closed,” The Washington Post, 1/25/2021)

“Following weeks of standoff in some cities and states where teachers unions are demanding vaccines as a condition of reopening, the issue came to a head Wednesday when Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said vaccination of teachers ‘is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.’ But in a juggling of positions, the White House declined to back Walensky, saying she was speaking ‘in her personal capacity.’ Asked [February 5th] about her earlier comments, Walensky punted.” (“School Reopening Debate Tests Biden’s Ties With Teachers Unions,” The Associated Press, 2/05/2021)

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL BOARD: “Mr. Biden figured that his support for the teachers union agenda, along with more money, would get the unions to reopen the schools. Instead he’s discovering what America’s parents have learned in the last year: Unions run the schools, and no one—not parents, not school districts, not mayors, and not even a new Democratic President—will tell them what to do…. This really is one of the great scandals of the pandemic…. If Mr. Biden really wants to lead, he’d use his bully pulpit to say school districts that don’t reopen classrooms won’t get the money.” (Editorial, “The Teachers Unions Roll Over Biden,” The Wall Street Journal, 2/10/2021)

The Biden White House Let Teachers’ Unions Write CDC Guidelines While Democrats In Congress Voted Against Keeping Schools Open When Unions Preferred Them Shuttered

SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADER MITCH McCONNELL (R-KY): “[In 2021], Ms. Weingarten bragged publicly that the Biden Administration had invited her own hyper-political teacher’s union to basically author the scientific guidelines for school reopening. The Biden Administration took the pen away from doctors and experts and handed it to Big Labor. She boasted, quote: ‘They asked us for language, and we gave them language.’ Reporters found multiple instances where the union’s words were copied and pasted directly into the final CDC document.” (Sen. McConnell, Remarks, 2/14/2022)

Weingarten’s AFT Union ‘Lobbied The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention On, And Even Suggested Language For, The Federal Agency’s School-Reopening Guidance’

“The American Federation of Teachers lobbied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on, and even suggested language for, the federal agency’s school-reopening guidance released in February. The powerful teachers union’s full-court press preceded the federal agency putting the brakes on a full re-opening of in-person classrooms, emails between top CDC, AFT and White House officials show. The emails were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative watchdog group Americans for Public Trust and provided to The Post. The documents show a flurry of activity between CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, her top advisors and union officials — with Biden brass being looped in at the White House — in the days before the highly-anticipated Feb. 12 announcement on school-reopening guidelines. … The lobbying paid off. In at least two instances, language “suggestions” offered by the union were adopted nearly verbatim into the final text of the CDC document.” (“Powerful Teachers Union Influenced CDC On School Reopenings, Emails Show,” New York Post, 5/01/2021)

  • “Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, admitted that the Biden administration asked her union for ‘language’ the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could use in creating guidelines on school reopenings. Asked about The Post’s expose on how the powerful teachers union influenced the administration’s decision on when and how to reopen schools, Weingarten said the union indeed gave the Biden White House the input. The Post reported that the union’s desires were included nearly verbatim in the guidelines.” (“AFT’s Weingarten Says CDC Asked Union To Weigh In On School Reopenings,” New York Post, 5/18/2021)
  • RANDI WEINGARTEN: “[T]hey asked us for language, and we gave them language when they asked us for it.” (C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal,” 5/18/2021)

“The American Federation of Teachers was more deeply involved with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s school reopening guidance from February 2021 than previously known, emails and documents seen by The Post show. Powerful AFT boss Randi Weingarten spoke twice by phone with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in the week leading up to the Feb. 12, 2021, announcement that halted full re-opening of in-person classes — including the day before the guidance was released, according to records obtained by the conservative watchdog Americans for Public Trust. AFT and its fellow union, the National Education Association, also asked the White House and CDC for help shaping its press strategy to show the rank-and-file they and the Biden administration were on the same page, emails reveal.” (“Randi Weingarten, Teacher’s Union Helped Coordinate CDC’s 2021 School Reopening Guidance, Records Reveal,” New York Post, 4/25/2023)


From The Summer Of 2020 On, Senate Republicans Tried To Get Schools To Reopen, But Democrats Consistently Voted With The Teachers’ Unions To Block Those Attempts

In July 2020, Senate Republicans Introduced A COVID Relief Bill That Tied Education Funding To Schools Reopening For In-Person Instruction

“Reopening Schools Safely – $105 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund, including $70 billion for elementary and secondary schools, with more funding going to schools that physically reopen so they can do so safely; $29 billion for institutions of higher education; and $5 billion in flexible funding for governors to use for early childhood education, elementary and secondary education, or higher education, based on state needs.” (Sen. Blunt, Press Release, 7/27/2020)

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): “What our bill does is it deals with schools, elementary, secondary colleges, and universities, makes sure that we get our schools open in a safe way this fall.” (Sen. Thune, Press Conference, 7/28/2020)

In Fall 2020, Senate Democrats Twice Filibustered Senate Republicans’ Targeted COVID Relief Funding That Would Have Prioritized Schools Physically Reopening

In September 2020, 46 Democrats voted to block Senate action on the relief bill. (S.178, Roll Call Vote #168: Motion Rejected: R: 52-1; D: 0-44; I: 0-2, 9/10/2020)

In October, 44 Senate Democrats voted to block the targeted COVID relief bill. (S. 178, Roll Call Vote #207: 51-44, R 51-0, D 0-42, I 0-2, 10/21/2020)

In Spring 2021, All 50 Senate Democrats Refused To Ensure School Funding Went To Support In-Person Learning

In March 2021, all 50 Senate Democrats voted against Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) amendment to ensure that school reopening dollars are going to support in-person learning, conditioning funding on schools reopening. (S.Amdt. 1026 to S.Amdt. 891, H.R. 1319, Roll Call Vote #80: Rejected 48-51: D 0-48; R 48-1; I 0-2, 3/06/2021)

In Summer 2021, Months After The Vaccine Rollout, Not A Single Senate Democrat Voted To Ensure K-12 Schools Were Open For In-Person Learning

In August 2021, all 50 Senate Democrats voted against Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-SC) amendment to ensure elementary and secondary schools are open for in-person learning. (S.Amdt.3073, S.Con.Res.14, Roll Call Vote #324: Rejected 49-50: D 0-48; R 49-0; I 0-2; 8/10/2021)


Nationwide Test Scores Show ‘Historic Learning Setbacks For America’s Children’ Over The Course Of The Pandemic

“The COVID-19 pandemic spared no state or region as it caused historic learning setbacks for America’s children, erasing decades of academic progress and widening racial disparities, according to results of a national test that provide the sharpest look yet at the scale of the crisis.” (“Test Scores Show Historic COVID Setbacks For Kids Across US,” The Associated Press, 10/24/2022)

The Tests Revealed ‘The Largest Drop In Math Scores Ever’ Combined With ‘A Nationwide Plunge In Reading That Wiped Out Three Decades Of Gains’

“The nation’s schools recorded the largest drop in math scores ever this year, with fourth- and eighth-grade students in nearly every state showing significant declines … [and] … a nationwide plunge in reading that wiped out three decades of gains…. The data comes after federal test results released in September revealed the largest drop in fourth-grade reading scores since 1990 and the first-ever decline in math.” (“Math Scores Dropped in Every State During Pandemic, Report Card Shows,” The Wall Street Journal, 10/24/2022)

  • “In the test’s first results since the pandemic began, math scores for eighth graders fell in nearly every state. A meager 26 percent of eighth graders were proficient, down from 34 percent in 2019. Fourth graders fared only slightly better, with declines in 41 states. Just 36 percent of fourth graders were proficient in math, down from 41 percent. Reading scores also declined in more than half the states, continuing a downward trend that had begun even before the pandemic. No state showed sizable improvement in reading. And only about one in three students met proficiency standards, a designation that means students have demonstrated competency and are on track for future success.” (“Math Scores Fell in Nearly Every State, and Reading Dipped on National Exam,” The New York Times, 10/24/2022)

Students Struggling Academically And Minority Students Were Hurt The Most

“Most concerning, however, are the gaps between students. Confirming what many had feared, racial inequities appear to have widened during the pandemic. In fourth grade, Black and Hispanic students saw bigger decreases than white students, widening gaps that have persisted for decades.” (“Test Scores Show Historic COVID Setbacks For Kids Across US,” The Associated Press, 10/24/2022)

“Inequities were also reflected in a growing gap between higher and lower performing students. In math and reading, scores fell most sharply among the lowest performing students, creating a widening chasm between struggling students and the rest of their peers. Surveys done as part of this year’s test illustrate the divide.” (“Test Scores Show Historic COVID Setbacks For Kids Across US,” The Associated Press, 10/24/2022)


The Test Results Reinforce Studies That Show How Disastrous Keeping Schools Closed Was For Students

‘Remote Learning Was A Failure’: ‘Students Who Stayed Home For Most Of 2020-21 Fared Much Worse’

“When Covid-19 began to sweep across the country in March 2020, schools in every state closed their doors. Remote instruction effectively became a national policy for the rest of that spring. A few months later, however, school districts began to make different decisions about whether to reopen. Across much of the South and the Great Plains as well as some pockets of the Northeast, schools resumed in-person classes in the fall of 2020. Across much of the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast, school buildings stayed closed and classes remained online for months. These differences created a huge experiment, testing how well remote learning worked during the pandemic. Academic researchers have since been studying the subject, and they have come to a consistent conclusion: Remote learning was a failure. (“‘Not Good for Learning,’” The Morning Newsletter, The New York Times, 5/05/2022)

“On average, students who attended in-person school for nearly all of 2020-21 lost about 20 percent worth of a typical school year’s math learning during the study’s two-year window. Some of those losses stemmed from the time the students had spent learning remotely during the spring of 2020, when school buildings were almost universally closed. And some of the losses stemmed from the difficulties of in-person schooling during the pandemic, as families coped with disruption and illness. But students who stayed home for most of 2020-21 fared much worse. On average, they lost the equivalent of about 50 percent of a typical school year’s math learning during the study’s two-year window.” (“‘Not Good for Learning,’” The Morning Newsletter, The New York Times, 5/05/2022)

‘Were Many Of These Problems Avoidable? The Evidence Suggests That They Were’

Were many of these problems avoidable? The evidence suggests that they were. Extended school closures appear to have done much more harm than good, and many school administrators probably could have recognized as much by the fall of 2020. In places where schools reopened that summer and fall, the spread of Covid was not noticeably worse than in places where schools remained closed. Schools also reopened in parts of Europe without seeming to spark outbreaks…. The Washington Post recently profiled a district in Colorado where schools reopened quickly, noting that no children were hospitalized and many thrived. ‘We wanted it to be as normal as possible,’ Chris Taylor, the president of the school board, said. Hundreds of other districts, especially in liberal communities, instead kept schools closed for a year or more. Officials said they were doing so to protect children and especially the most vulnerable children. The effect, however, was often the opposite.” (“‘Not Good for Learning,’” The Morning Newsletter, The New York Times, 5/05/2022)



Related Issues: Education, Senate Democrats