AFT Exposes House GOP’s Failed Plot to Scapegoat Educators and Their Unions for Political Gain
WASHINGTON—A multiyear scheme waged by extremist lawmakers to exploit the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic to attack teachers and their unions was based on a flagrant misrepresentation of the facts, a new report reveals.
“In Search of Scapegoats: The GOP’s Failed Scheme to Blame the American Federation of Teachers for School Closures During the Pandemic,” released today, documents in exhaustive detail how the worthy founding goals of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic were hijacked by a false narrative designed to smear and sully the nation’s educators.
At the center of the Republican-led majority’s claim was that the AFT had “uncommon access” to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s reopening guidance for schools issued in February 2021. In fact, the union’s access was the opposite of “uncommon”—the guidance was shared with numerous organizations before the AFT was even aware of it. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stated publicly on multiple occasions that the CDC consulted with approximately 50 organizations in developing and revising the guidance.
The other debunked allegation was that the AFT had the ability to substantially edit and revise the draft guidance to “align with the AFT’s agenda of keeping schools closed.” The AFT and its president, Randi Weingarten, had instead fought to reopen schools safely from the earliest days of the pandemic, releasing multiple reopening blueprints before many other groups, beginning in April 2020.
“Despite the clear evidence that the AFT had as its core objective reopening schools safely for in-person learning and despite clear evidence that the AFT had neither privileged access nor improper influence over the contents of the draft guidance, the Select Subcommittee has continued its vilification campaign against the AFT and Ms. Weingarten,” the report reads.
The AFT made two commonsense suggestions to the draft guidance that were accepted by the CDC, and later embraced by the subcommittee chair, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio). One was to encourage schools to provide options for teachers and staff who had high-risk conditions—such as being immunocompromised. The second was to include a statement that the guidance might need to be revised if a more virulent coronavirus variant emerged.
In a subcommittee hearing where Weingarten testified at length in April 2023, Wenstrup stated that he “agreed” with the AFT’s suggestions and “didn’t have a problem with them.” Moreover, neither recommendation had any impact on states’ or school districts’ decisions to close or open schools.
Weingarten accepted the subcommittee’s invitation to testify as part of a good-faith effort to try to learn lessons from the bitter experience of the COVID-19 pandemic to help address student learning loss and loneliness with accelerated instruction and academic and other support programs. Instead, she and her family were met with a barrage of personal abuse from extremists on the committee, who used the proceedings to grandstand and refused to let her answer basic questions. Wenstrup has subsequently appeared on right-wing talk shows to re-air the majority’s lies and misrepresentations.
The AFT has timely and fully responded to the subcommittee’s overly broad document requests. The documents produced have failed to provide any evidence of the majority’s core contentions. Meanwhile, the subcommittee has refused to make public the documents demonstrating which organizations obtained copies of the draft guidance before the AFT and which were invited to forums to discuss the draft guidance before the union.
“Unless it changes direction, the Select Subcommittee’s work will constitute a sad missed opportunity,” the report’s executive summary concludes. “Fighting a public health emergency and addressing its effects are an essential public service, and the country needs to take the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and do better next time. That is why the AFT files this report: to urge the Select Subcommittee to change course, and rather than scapegoat and demonize, to find solutions that will help prepare for the next pandemic.”
A copy of the report can be viewed here.
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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.