The head of the second-largest teachers’ union in the U.S. has been mocked for lamenting the damage from two years of remote learning – a policy which she promoted.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, on Tuesday hosted a Facebook Live discussion entitled: ‘Social Media is Having Negative Effects on Kids and Teens.’
Weingarten, 64, began by noting how two years of inconsistent schooling during the pandemic have harmed students, pointing out the toll on mental health and learning.
She noted that May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
‘Our kids are in crisis,’ she said. ‘And we had a mental health crisis before COVID – but for two years of disruption, two years of looking at the screens, two years of not having a normal kind of routine and rhythm, recovery is really tough.
‘It’s not a shock that a lot of kids, frankly a lot of adults, are still under tremendous stress and anxiety.’
Randi Weingarten is seen on Tuesday speaking during a Facebook Live discussion, under the headline ‘Social Media is Having Negative Effects on Kids and Teens’
A teacher is pictured at Stark Elementary School in Stamford, Connecticut, in September 2020, during an experiment in hybrid learning – part in class, part remote. Weingarten on Tuesday admitted the disruption had been damaging
Weingarten’s views on school re-openings and remote learning have fluctuated.
In January 2021, she wrote a letter urging New York to resume remote learning, amid a COVID-19 surge.
Yet four months later, in May 2021, she was demanding that all public school classrooms reopen.
‘There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week. With the space and facilities to do so,’ she said.
‘We know that’s how kids learn best and that prolonged isolation is harmful.’
Yet Weingarten’s critics seized on Tuesday’s remarks, pointing out that in February 2021 her union had corresponded with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pushing for language that appeared to delay the reopening of schools.
Emails show Weingarten lobbying the CDC to tighten their policy, managing to include an opt-put for schools in high-transmission areas, and secure remote work concessions for teachers ‘who have documented high-risk conditions or who are at increased risk for COVID-19’.
Corey DeAngelis, national director of research at the American Federation for Children, described her remarks as ‘peak gaslighting’.
‘Teachers unions fought to keep public schools closed for over a year,’ he told Fox News.
‘At least six studies have found that school districts with stronger teachers unions were significantly less likely to reopen in person. These union-induced school closures hurt kids socially, mentally, and academically.
‘Randi Weingarten’s union even lobbied the CDC on school reopening guidance to prolong school closures.
‘Teachers unions constantly engaged in fear mongering and hypocrisy, while private schools, daycares, and other businesses reopened.’
Many took issue with Weingarten’s failure to acknowledge the unions’ role in keeping the schools closed.
‘I’m sure you’ll find the culprit someday,’ CNN’s Mary Katherine Ham tweeted to Weingarten.
Ted Cruz, Republican senator for Texas, tweeted: ‘Remind me again who wanted to keep schools closed.
‘Oh right… teachers union boss Randi Weingarten.’
Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, called Weingarten’s remarks ‘nonsense’.
‘The teachers unions pushed Biden to keep schools closed, masked our kids, and kept parents out of classrooms,’ she said.
‘Now they’re making excuses and treating us like we don’t know better.’
Kevin Hern, a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, added: ‘Parents, pediatricians, and mental health experts have been saying this for two years.
‘What was Randi doing during that time? Lobbying the Biden Administration to keep schools closed and kids home.
‘Her faux concern for our children now is insulting.’
Daniel Buck, editor of teachers’ newsletter Chalkboard Review, said: ‘Hmmmm… and who’s fault could that be? I wonder…’
Conservative commentator @PolitiBunny said: ‘Awful woman.
‘@rweingarten is trying so hard to pretend she and @NEAToday aren’t responsible for those two years … that they didn’t actively work with the CDC to keep kids stuck in front of screens, without normal or routine, for their own political gain.’
TV host Jedediah Bila said Weingarten’s remarks were ‘shameful’.
‘Imagine being responsible for so much destruction and acting like you had nothing to do with it and were on the right side all along,’ she said.
‘Shameful, @rweingarten. Really, really shameful.’
Talk radio host Buck Sexton concluded: ‘The education arsonist has thoughts on the devastating effect of fire.’
Randi Weingarten’s changing position on school re-openings
Jan 2021: Weingarten urges New York to return to remote learning, stating: ‘New York schools should immediately go to remote learning if positivity rates exceed 9 percent, as calculated by the state’.
Feb 2021: Emails show Weingarten lobbying the CDC to tighten their policy on school re-openings, managing to include an opt-put for schools in high-transmission areas, and secure remote work concessions for teachers ‘who have documented high-risk conditions or who are at increased risk for COVID-19’.
May 2021: Weingarten now says all public schools should reopen for in-person learning in the fall. ‘There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week,’ she said.
Aug 2021: Weingarten signals an openness to vaccine mandates for teachers, in a bid to keep classrooms open.
Oct 2021: Weingarten condemns those who push back against mask mandates for school children. ‘You get to the South, where there’s been really heroic work done by superintendents, and school boards, and teachers to keep kids safe and to get back to school. And the politics have been crazy.’
Jan 2022: Weingarten comments on a school district in Newark, NJ, returning to remote learning, noting they do not have enough staff.
She also weighs in on Chicago’s school shutdown, but avoiding antagonizing either side, stating: ‘We got it right for most of this current school year. Now the adults must work together and double down to get it right as we confront this surge.’
May 2022: Weingarten acknowledges that the two years of remote leaning and uncertainty have caused a ‘crisis’ in the mental health and education of children.