PoltiFact can’t turn Randi Weingarten’s fiction into truth

Randi Weingarten. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

PoltiFact can’t turn Randi Weingarten’s fiction into truth

Washington Examiner May 06, 12:01 AM May 06, 12:01 AM Video Embed

Last week, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten testified before a House Oversight subcommittee investigating the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Incredibly, one of the nation’s foremost opponents of reopening schools, heading an organization that did nothing but resist reopening schools, delivered testimony straight out of opposite world.

“We spent every day from February on trying to get schools open. We knew that remote education was not a substitute for opening schools,” she said. “We know that young people learn and connect best in person, so opening schools safely, even during a pandemic, guided our actions.”


Weingarten has been brutally slammed for her obvious deceptions, but this week, PolitiFact incredibly chose to come to her rescue. Omitting all of the crucial context of what happened from 2020 to 2022, the fact-checking website tried to split the baby. The writer naively takes at face value Weingarten’s periodic claims that she actually wanted schools to reopen and was trying really hard to make it happen. But this was precisely what she was saying throughout the pandemic to keep critics at bay, even as she was doing everything she could to keep the schools closed and her union’s members from having to go in.

Weingarten’s actions during the pandemic, not her carefully hedged and slippery words in media interviews, are the true measure. And they tell the story of how she and her union fought, at all levels and by whatever means were available, to resist a return to in-person instruction for as long as possible and in as many places as possible.

When then-President Donald Trump called for a push to reopen schools in fall 2020, Weingarten reacted hysterically. “It’s almost as if Trump and [Education Secretary Betsy] DeVos want to create chaos and want to jeopardize reopening,” Weingarten said. “There’s no other reason why they would be this reckless, this callous, this cruel.”

This hyperbolic quotation came in July 2020, by which time it was already clear that learning loss was a huge problem and the spread of the coronavirus through schools was not. PolitiFact tried to downplay this — as if the real problem had been that there wasn’t a sufficient safety plan in place. But this wasn’t the real problem. The real problem was that Trump wanted schools to prepare to reopen in the fall. Weingarten’s basis for opposition was that fall 2020 was too soon for any plan. This becomes clear enough if you browse Weingarten’s own proposed safety plan. Her 2020 position paper, titled “A plan to safely reopen America’s schools and communities,” contains ludicrous, deliberately impossible requirements for schools to reopen. Had her demands been respected, no school would be open to this day.

One demand was for $750 billion in additional federal funds. The schools would ultimately get about $120 billion, which was more than they were even able to spend on coronavirus safety. The AFT position paper also demanded a number of education policy changes (curtailment of standardized testing and teacher assessments, for example) that had nothing to do with the pandemic but are long-standing goals of the union. In fact, Weingarten’s “plan” was designed both to delay the reopening as long as possible and to reduce accountability for the union’s actions by hiding from parents the harm that remote schooling was doing. After all, if the children aren’t taking tests, how does anyone put a number on how much worse they are performing academically?

In February 2021, long after most school districts had already reopened, Weingarten used her organization’s influence with the Biden Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make its officials reverse their scientific determination that schools should reopen. The email trail shows that AFT officials demanded and received, almost in the exact language they proposed — a politically corrupted CDC guidance that schools should remain closed or even reclose every time the number of local positive COVID-19 tests rises.

At the local level, Weingarten’s union fought all the way into 2022 to make sure that as many of its members as possible were not required to return to school and do their jobs. Who could forget the even more ludicrous, insane demands that various AFT locals made as conditions for going back to school? After smearing parents who wanted their children to learn, claiming that the push to reopen schools was “rooted in sexism, racism, and misogyny,” United Teachers Los Angeles demanded $500 billion in federal money and the adoption of a “Medicare for All” government healthcare system before they would return to the schools. Demands in other cities, such as Houston and Chicago, were similarly unhinged — all obvious poison pill efforts to delay or prevent reopening. In February 2021, even after vaccines were available, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, complained that she was “practically begging” the Chicago Teachers Union (AFT Local 1) to discuss reopening the city’s schools, even as she implored teachers to go back to work anyway.


Weingarten, no matter what she was saying out of both sides of her mouth, consistently took the side of keeping schools closed where it mattered, with her own and her organization’s actions, against the children suffering learning loss and against the parents who depended on the services that public schools provide. In fact, she and other teachers union officials were so unbending in their resistance to in-person instruction that it backfired. Her actions, which she now claims didn’t even happen, were what gave the national school choice movement a massive boost. Weingarten accidentally helped prompt several states to create new options for parents to circumvent school systems evidently dominated by union politics and run by unreliable people such as herself.

When Weingarten went in front of Congress this week and claimed to have done the exact opposite of what she did, it was just too much for most people to take. Her efforts and those of other teachers union leaders to keep children out of school have harmed an entire generation of students, retarding academic achievement and causing the racial achievement gap to widen. Weingarten should be ashamed of her conduct, as should anyone who writes in her defense.

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