National Teachers Union Head Defends Resisting Return to Schools, Blames Trump and DeVos

February 15, 2021 Updated: February 17, 2021

Randi Weingarten, the head of America’s largest teachers’ union, on Monday defended the public school teachers’ push back against calls to return to classrooms, blaming the Trump administration for not providing resources and guidance they need to safely resume in-person work.

“Every school teacher I know would rather be in person with their kids,” said Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), during an interview with the Washington Journal on C-SPAN. “We know what kids are missing right now. But everyone has a right to be safe.”

Weingarten moved on to blame former President Donald Trump and his Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, for “refusing to create the guidance we needed,” although DeVos, while emphasizing that there isn’t an one-size-fits-all reopening plan for every American school, has been consistently demanding public school districts to reopen according to the “flexible” guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“In any public health pandemic, you need guidance, and they refused to do it,” Weingarten said. “Teachers all across the country need to make sure the ventilator system work in schools. We need to make sure that you can open windows in a respiratory disease. You need to sure that places are cleaned. Ultimately, this is what we are asking for.”

Weingarten’s comment comes as the AFT, which represents some 1.7 million teachers, including 1 million in preK-12 grades, commended the CDC’s latest school reopening guidelines for relying on “facts and evidence.”

“For the first time since the start of this pandemic, we have a rigorous road map, based on science, that our members can use to fight for a safe reopening,” Weingarten wrote in a statement on Friday.

The new CDC guidance, described by Weingarten ad “an informed, tactile plan,” recommends a host of measures including staff and older students wearing face coverings when feasible, staggered arrival and drop-off schedules to reduce physical contact, and 6 feet social distancing enforced by physical barriers. It also says middle and high schools in areas of “high” transmission should continue to rely on remote learning, unless they can “strictly implement all mitigation strategies” and have “few cases.”

The guidance was issued as President Joe Biden faces pressure to fulfill his campaign promise to reopen America’s schools for in-person learning within the first 100 days of his presidency. Earlier this month, the Biden administration was accused of flip-flopping on that promise after White House press secretary Jen Psaki suddenly claimed that the goal was actually getting a “majority, or more than 50 percent of” children back into classrooms for a minimum of one day a week.