Teachers' union president under fire for rebranding as school-reopening supporter

Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, said schools must fully reopen in the fall

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten is facing criticism from parents and Republicans over a speech she gave in favor of fully reopening schools this fall. 

Weingarten, and teachers' unions generally, opposed returning to in-person learning for much of the pandemic. Weingarten's late rebranding as a proponent of reopening schools prompted a fresh round of criticism.  

"Conditions have changed. We can and we must reopen schools in the fall for in-person teaching, learning and support. And we must keep them open fully and safely five days a week," Weingarten said in a speech Thursday. 

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., told Fox News that Weingarten "is attempting to rewrite history by framing her union as part of the 'solution.'"

"The truth is that students would have been in-person this spring semester if teachers unions had gotten out of the way and Biden had grown a much-needed spine to stand up to them. But instead, schools were kept closed which caused months of harm for students and families, particularly those who are low-income and have disabilities," added Foxx, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee. 

"That said, I appreciate that she is finally acknowledging the science and expects all schools to reopen in the fall, especially those that received COVID-19 relief funds."

House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., also weighed in, saying that it was "about time" that the union should "follow the science."

"Medical experts have been clear for months that there’s no reason for schools to remain closed. It’s about time that the American Federation of Teachers follow the science and go back to teaching students in-person five days a week," said Comer.

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Americans for Public Trust (APT), a government accountability organization, tweeted that AFT is doing "damage control" after pressuring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to keep schools closed for months. 

APT has been pursuing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the big teachers' union in an attempt to gain access to internal communications between the union and the CDC. APT credits its FOIA for helping to put pressure on Weingarten and contributing to the union's sudden decision to fully reopen schools this fall. 

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The co-founder and president of the National Parents Union, Keri Rodrigues, said that AFT's announcement was a "calculated political move" and the union does not deserve any credit regarding the reopening of classrooms. 

In a statement to Fox News, Rodrigues said, "The AFT's announcement seems like a calculated political move because they know they've lost the trust of American families -- and is a day late and a dollar short. Since February, national polling shows that only about 5% of American families trust teachers' unions to be making the final call when it comes to school reopening -- and even less want them calling the shots when it comes to establishing safety guidelines."

Rory Cooper, a parent of three children enrolled in Fairfax County elementary schools, accused Weingarten of "personally and needlessly" robbing children of the joy of being in the classroom for over a year.

Cooper also said in a tweet thread that the union leader's sudden change is an attempt to "whitewash what she and teacher unions did to children this year."

"Randi’s speech speaks for itself," an AFT spokesperson told Fox News. 

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Weingarten's remarks came on the heels of an interview earlier this week with Fox News host Martha MacCallum, who pressured the AFT president on reports that the union lobbied the CDC to take a more cautious approach to reopening. 

On Wednesday, top Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees called for an investigation into the CDC after emails revealed that a teachers union was involved in lobbying the government agency regarding school reopening. 

Currently, only about one half of the school districts in the U.S. are back for fully in-person learning, according to data from the Return to Learn Tracker website. 

Fox News' Yael Halon and Greg Norman contributed to this report.