Tuesday 5 September 2023

‘I Am Not Abandoning You’: Biden Personally Counseled Randi Weingarten While Slow-Walking School Re-Opening

 President Joe Biden personally counseled the head of one of the country’s largest teachers unions on her concerns regarding in-person learning while she slow-walked school re-openings, according to a new book released Tuesday on the White House.

Biden called Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), in January 2021 to reassure the teachers union czar that he was on her side as she came under fire for being against the immediate return to in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Franklin Foer’s book, “The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden’s White House and the Struggle for America’s Future.” In an effort to keep its peace with the teachers union, the Biden administration then reworked its goal of fully returning to in-person learning within its first 100 days, the book claims. 

“I am not abandoning you on schools,” Biden told Weingarten, according to the book. “I want you to know that.”

The president planned to slowly convince the unions to accept his plans to return to in-person learning within the first 100 days of his presidency, though he never planned to “force” teachers back into the classroom, Foer’s book claims. Biden also planned to use the first lady to warm the teachers unions up to the idea of returning to in-person learning.

Following Biden’s conversation with Weingarten, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that when Biden promised to return students to the classroom during his first 100 days, the plan was to have more than half of pre-K-8 grade schools begin in-person learning at least once a week, according to the book.

Penguin Press, the publisher of Foer’s book, states that the book draws on “unparalleled access to the tight inner circle of advisers who have surrounded Biden for decades,” as Foer’s information predominately comes from anonymous sources. Foer notes in his book that he reports on Biden “from a close distance” through “several hundred interviews with his White House inner circle, his cabinet, his old friends and members of Congress.”

Chicago Public Schools suspended in-person learning in January 2021 after the Chicago Teachers Union threatened to strike over plans to return to the classroom, according to the Washington Post. Weingarten criticized Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to reopen schools in July 2021, saying his “ignorance” will cause “millions of Floridians” to die.

The nation’s two largest teachers unions have repeatedly come under fire for working to halt the return of in-person learning; the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers union, along with Weingarten and the AFT, worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to coordinate and draft reopening guidance for schools in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic, according to emails obtained by Americans for Public Trust. The AFT criticized the CDC’s announcement that it was safe for students to return to in-person learning as “reckless and unsafe.”

“He was, in effect, conceding that for thousands of students, the rest of the school year would be lost to the pandemic,” Foer writes. “It was the price of peace.”

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