The president of the nation's second-largest teachers' union has denied likening parents wanting to direct their children's upbringing to those who wanted racial segregation in public schools after her comments sparked outrage from supporters of the movement.
"I never made the comparison. I said I was gobsmacked that the same language was used. I was shocked by it precisely because I don’t see today’s parents that way," Randi Weingarten, who heads the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), told Fox News Digital. "I believe that parents and teachers are each other's partners."
Ms. Weingarten's original comments, which drew a parallel between the word choices of modern-day parental rights activists to those of pre-Civil-Rights-era segregationists, came during a Sept. 12 interview with Seth Harris, a professor at Northeastern University and former labor department official under Clinton and Obama administrations.
"The same kind of roots that happened in the aftermath of Brown v. Board, those same words that you heard, in terms of wanting segregation, post Brown v. Board of Education, those same words you hear today," the union boss told the professor in response to a question about how political discussion surrounding schools today are different from that of the last century.
"I was kind of gobsmacked when I was talking to Southern Poverty Law Center, and they showed me the same words: 'choice,' 'parental rights' and attempts to divide parents versus teachers, and at that point, it was white parents versus other parents," she continued. "But it's the same kind of words."
Each year, the Southern Poverty Law Center updated its online map of what it calls "hate groups" across the United States. The map now lists prominent parental right organizations like Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education alongside the Ku Klux Klan, characterizing their members as "far-right anti-government parents" seeking to advance a "reactionary anti-student inclusion" agenda.
Ms. Weingarten's remark was met with much ridicule and criticism from parental rights advocates, as well as from other critiques of her organization.
"If Randi is actually interested in addressing modern-day segregation in schools, she should unequivocally condemn the practice of racially segregated 'affinity groups' & 'healing circles' that are used in K-12 schools," Nicki Neily, the president of Parents Defending Education, wrote on X in response to the union leader's comments.
Since 2021, Parents Defending Education has filed numerous complaints with the U.S. Department of Education against public school districts for their alleged establishment of "affinity groups" and "safe spaces" that separated the students by race. Instead of creating opportunities for students to connect based on shared interests, the group argued, those schools unlawfully lumped students together based on skin color.
"And yet she was the one blocking the schoolhouse doors," Ilya Shapiro, director of constitutional studies at conservative think tank Manhattan Institute, wrote on X, apparently referencing the AFT's well-documented resistance against the return of face-to-face schooling in despite of all evidence that children are least likely to spread or becoming seriously ill from COVID.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, also said Ms. Weingarten should not label something that isn't racial in nature as a matter of racism.
"There might not be anyone that's done more damage recently than Randi Weingarten to the kids living in distressed communities ... especially like the ones where I grew up," the North Charleston-born Senator said.
"It's so frustrating to hear these liberal lies, hearkening back to a day that no longer exists. Yet they're the ones with their teachers unions standing in the doorway of the schoolhouse trapping poor kids in as if the house is on fire, but they won't let a single soul out."
Ms. Weingarten had previously come under fire for making a similar comparison in 2017 when she said at a union convention that "the real pioneers of private school choice were the white politicians who resisted school integration."
During that speech, Ms. Weingarten fiercely criticized then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a Michigan billionaire and school choice sympathizer, claiming that the expansion of tax-money-funded programs that offer parents more educational choices would undermine public K-12 education and resegregate students along a perceived line of racial poverty disparities.
"This privatization and disinvestment are only slightly more polite cousins of segregation," she told union delegates at that time. "What better way to pave the path to privatize education than to starve public schools to the breaking point, then criticize their shortcomings, and let the market handle the rest. All in the name of choice."