How the Teachers Union Politicized COVID

Randi Weingarten is confronting unwanted headlines for her politicizing the COVID epidemic as president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Her most formidable critic is the financial newspaper of record, the Wall Street Journal, that lambasts the union leader for her “interference as a non-scientist” to push the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reverse its recommendation to open schools as far back as early February. Weingarten’s success in applying pressure on the CDC was summed up with the WSJ headline: “The Centers for Politics and Unions.”

“The chronology of (Weingarten’s) non-scientific political intervention is even worse than it sounds,” wrote the editorial board. Weingarten admitted the AFT was regularly in touch with the CDC, and her COVID-related recommendations that best serve her members made their way into the CDC revised guidelines.

School closures offered Weingarten more negotiating room for stimulus funds for higher teacher salaries and pensions (see figures below). She, and her union friends, would not be disappointed.

Whereas Rochelle Walensky, new CDC director, naively relied on countless studies that have shown children attending schools are not incubators for the spread of COVID, and younger children are considered extremely low risk for the spread of the virus.

Flipflopping on reopening schools enraged millions of parents. They were watching their children experience learning losses with the virtual education provided by school districts throughout the U.S. It is understood that parents rejoiced at the news of Director Walensky, declaring that “schools were safe to reopen” at a widely-covered press conference in early February.

If any of the parents doubted the long reach of Weingarten and her union friends, they wouldn’t repeat their mistake. The AFT now numbers 1.7 million members, in more than 3,000 local affiliates nationwide. That accounts for a lot of bureaucratic firepower.

Parents learned the extent of Weingarten’s attempts to shutter schools through an unlikely source: The New York Post had leaked e-mails between Weingarten and her AFT’s contacts in the CDC. In the embarrassing exchange, Weingarten offered the CDC recommendations that she asserted would “strengthen” the agency’s guidelines in the education sector. She proved most helpful as a nonscientist. The CDC caved in and adopted new guidelines, prolonging school closures.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki came to the rescue of the AFT and helped explain away the CDC’s “scientific” reversal to the media. Apparently. Dr. Walensky made the announcement at a press conference in a “personal capacity,” according to Psaki, and was not providing “official guidance” from the CDC.

Psaki sounded more like a spokesperson for the AFT -- engaging in a nonsensical explanation that amounted to political double-speak.

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, Weingarten was the next major figure to engage in her own case of flipflopping on issues of paramount importance in the lives of millions of parents, who felt their children were pawns in a game to satisfy the objectives of the teachers union.

“There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week,” Weingarten proclaimed in a public speech last week. There is a method to Weingarten’s maddening strategy and the dollar signs spell out the reasons behind the maneuvering.

Most of the children enrolled in public schools would be hard-pressed to identify the number of zeroes allocated to education from the stimulus package, according to today’s math scores. The most eye-popping numbers are drawn from the “$1.9 trillion spending bill that Democrats passed in March includes $129 billion for K-12 schools, which was on top of the $13.2 billion allocated in last spring’s Cares Act and the $54.3 billion in the December COVID bill,” according to the WSJ.

Parents found it particularly galling that teachers' unions were being rewarded with fat payoffs while their children were relegated to virtual learning. “It’s a disgrace,” summed up former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) on ABC’s “This Week’s” panel. He pointed out billions have yet to be spent from the last stimulus package while hammering the teachers' unions on the network show.

This chorus of disgust finally made an impact on Randi Weingarten. It was as if the billions of stimulus dollars magically contributed to the end of the COVID lockdown. She, too, decided to become a cheerleader for children returning “five days a week” to the classroom.

“That’s nice of her to say now that nearly all school districts have announced plans to return to in-person learning,” wrote her persistent detractors at the WSJ. One of the writers couldn’t resist a sardonic headline alerting readers to the union chief’s change of heart. “Randi Weingarten Sees the Light,” with the subhead: “The teachers union chief finally says schools can open -- next fall."

Seeing the light included calling for “reducing class sizes and adding more building space for social distancing.” And “both will require hiring more teachers -- i.e. more dues-paying members. Cha-ching.”

Among the many requests -- Weingarten called for hiring more mental health counselors to help children cope with the year-long shutdown. Parents couldn’t help but notice the irony of the pandemic resulting in a learning catastrophe for children in the past year, with their tax dollars now being requested by the teachers union to clean up the very mess it created.

Image: AFGE

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