The president of the second-largest teachers union in the United States said Monday that she supports schools fully reopening for the fall semester but would not commit to doing so.
In a contentious interview, Fox News host Martha MacCallum and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten argued about school reopenings and whether teachers unions had successfully lobbied to keep schools closed even though scientific evidence suggested children are at low risk for spreading COVID-19, as the New York Post reported last week.
Weingarten told MacCallum that she hopes schools will be open in the fall and that her union would not require children to be vaccinated before schools reopen. She did not definitively state that schools would be fully opened this fall. She defended the teachers unions' record on school openings, casting blame for the slow return to in-person instruction on the Trump administration, and on vaccine hesitancy among Fox News viewers.
In this insane clip, teachers union head Randi Weingarten refuses to commit to fully reopened schools by the fall a… https://t.co/rM79qUrjzY— Curtis Houck (@Curtis Houck) 1620675805.0
"Right now 97% of schools are open," Weingarten claimed, but MacCallum interjected to clarify that only 67% of schools were reopen for full-time in-person instruction.
"We believe that the conditions have changed now so that everybody can be back in full time, but the bottom line is this: I begged the Trump administration, I can show you — I have many, many letters right now. I went to my office to find them," Weingarten said. "I begged the Trump administration to do exactly what the Biden administration did, which is real safety guidance that Trump, that the former president didn't mock every other day."
Weingarten went on to praise the Biden administration for issuing the safety guidance AFT had lobbied for, but MacCallum interrupted her to point out that the Trump administration had aggressively pushed for schools to reopen because studies were showing viral "transmission among children is very low."
She added that the U.S. has lagged behind countries like China and Russia in sending children back to school for in-person instruction.
Weingarten blamed the teachers union opposition to reopening schools on former President Donald Trump.
"If we had actually listened to Dr. [Robert] Redfield and the CDC last May and that the president — the former president — hadn't kept on changing his mind and changing these things, we would have gotten more schools back in session," she claimed.
"Really?" An incredulous MacCallum responded. "Because, what you told me was that there wasn't money, that some of these schools had problems like mold, I mean, all these things started getting into the mix that were not part of the equation at all when parents were just wanting to get their kids to go back.
"Obviously, you didn't have the pull with the prior administration, but in this administration there's been $20 million that has gone from — to Democrats — from teachers unions and teacher organizations," MacCallum continued, referencing the Post's report that AFT donated $20 million to the Democratic Party during the 2020 election. "So that money seems to be working."
Weingarten dismissed the accusation, pointing out that school reopenings were complicated by COVID-19 spikes in November and December and adding that the availability of vaccines, thanks to the Trump and Biden administrations, is now "a real game changer" for schools reopening.
MacCallum countered that virus transmission rates among students in the classroom "was very low" even during the COVID-19 spikes.
"The bottom line, Martha, is it's time for our kids to be back in school," Weingarten responded. "I am grateful that the Biden administration is listening to parents and to teachers and to administrators and to even Fox to try to figure out how we get people vaccinated, how we get our kids back to school and how we get our country back to being back."
Asked what needs to happen for schools to fully reopen in the fall, Weingarten said Fox News needs to tell its viewers that the vaccine is safe, implying that the network is responsible for spreading misinformation on vaccines.
"I would hope that Fox would do what everybody else in public health is doing, which is, 'We have to get our kids vaccinated once the vaccination is ok," Weingarten said, though earlier she said students would not be required to get a vaccine for schools to reopen. "I would hope Fox says to all of these people that don't want the vaccines that think there's a problem, 'Why don't you and I do things together to get our kids back to school.'"
"This is what we need to do," she added. "We have to stop the misinformation, we have to stop the disinformation, we have to stop the chaos."