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Tipsheet

Randi Weingarten Grilled on Teachers Union’s Influence on COVID-19 School Closures

AP Photo/Seth Wenig,File

On Wednesday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten appeared in a House hearing held by the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic to discuss the impact of school closures due to COVID-19. In the hearing, Weingarten was pressed about the union’s influence on the federal government during this decision making process throughout  the pandemic.

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In her opening remarks at the hearing, Weingarten claimed that in-person learning was the driving force behind the decisions made during the pandemic about school closures and re-openings.

Once questioning began, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), who is a doctor, asked Weingarten if AFT ever provided suggestions to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about school closures and reopenings. Weingarten claimed that the union suggested “ideas” but did not specify what they were. She claimed that she couldn’t remember when the union first met with the CDC because of her age. She noted that the Biden administration transition team first reached out to the union.

Weingarten told Kentucky Rep. James Comer (R-KY) that the union suggested “concepts” to the CDC regarding “reasonable accommodations” for teachers and that there should be a review of the policies if a new variant were discovered. 

“It’s unusual for a political union to have such a role in the scientific guidance process,” Comer said. 

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Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (NY) shared that in her district, some schools were closed for two years and that families believe that the closures did a “disservice” to the family. 

“Your union, as we have found through the committee’s investigations, undoubtedly played a role in ensuring that these would remain closed far longer than they should have,” she said.

“But after lobbying for, and securing $122 billion in the American Rescue Plan to safely reopen schools, after $60 billion had already been allocated through the CARES Act, the AFT still continued to push for schools to be closed. Private schools opened a year earlier than the public schools did in New York City. You got $190 billion to reopen schools safely, but guess what, as of November, do you know how much, what percentage of that funding was actually used?” the congresswoman asked. She then said only 15 percent was spent as of November.

“Fifty percent [of students in New York] are failing their reading exams. Seventy percent are failing their math exams. One in three children can’t read at their grade level. New York is now lowering their test scores as a result,” Malliotakis added. “School closures had a lot to do with it.” 

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Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko (AZ) questioned Weingarten about school closures, pointing out that non-essential businesses were opening up before some schools did. In their exchange, it was revealed that Weingarten has a phone number to directly reach CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

“I don’t have a direct number to Ms. Walensky, do you?” Lesko pressed.

“I do not talk to representatives of the government-” Weingarten responded. 

“Do you have a direct number to Director Walensky?” Lesko interjected. 

“Do I have Director Walensky’s direct number?” Weingarten retorted.

“Yes.”

“Yes, I have Director Walensky’s direct number,” she answered.

“Well hopefully, she’ll give it to me too. Thank you.” Lesko said.

Since lockdowns, Townhall has covered how lower academic performance, chronic absenteeism and mental health challenges have become prevalent among students across the country. In 2022, a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that more than 40 percent of teenagers felt "sad" or "hopeless" during the pandemic.

“I cannot believe that you still have a job after the role that you and your organization played in the destruction of our children over the last few years,” Republican Rep. Ronny Jackson (TX) told Weingarten during the hearing. “I think it’s disgraceful and I think you should be ashamed of what happened over the last few years and you should take some responsibility for it.”

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Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R)  pointed out that “none of your advice had to do to stop the spread of COVID-19, it was all about teachers staying home.” Greene was previously suspended from Twitter for sharing “misinformation” about the pandemic. 

“You, as a political activist and the president of the teachers union, were not advocating for anything good for our kids. And our kids have suffered greatly,” Greene added. “Suicides increased. Their rates of learning went down…Anxiety, depression.”

“You know what else happened? While kids were forced to stay home, and you approve of this, the diagnosis of youths with gender dysphoria surged,” Greene continued. “So kids were forced to stay home to so-called virtual learning where they were spending a lot of time on social media, and all of the sudden we see a direct result of this. And this is a major problem…now we have a nation of children who have suffered because of it [Weingarten’s guidance to the CDC]. People like you need to admit that you’re just a political activist. Not a teacher. Not a mother, and not a medical doctor.”  

In September, Townhall reported how teachers were refusing to work and going on strike despite extorting taxpayers for money throughout the pandemic. Teachers unions organized strikes in Ohio, Washington, and other areas over issues like wages, class sizes, and building conditions. However, funding provided to school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic was meant to be spent to raise teacher salaries and bring teachers out of retirement to get students back on track after lockdowns. In addition, the funding was meant to be used to update school HVAC systems for better ventilation post-pandemic. However, reports in the months that followed indicated that most of the funding was never spent and teachers went on strike over issues that were meant to be resolved.

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In 2020, the Wall Street Journal pointed out that teachers unions used COVID-19 as a “political weapon” and came up with an “ideological wish-list” to return to school.

“Americans are getting a closer look at the true, self-interested character of today’s teachers unions. They are allies of the political left,” the WSJ Editorial Board wrote in August 2020. “And they wield monopoly power that they are now using to coerce parents and taxpayers to dance to their agenda if they want their children to learn.”

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