Former Chief Medical Advisor to the President, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, have denied responsibility for shutting down schools during COVID-19 lockdowns.
In an interview with the New York Times Magazine in April, Dr. Fauci stated that he had only given recommendations and never criticized anyone’s decisions. He denied having personally shut down any schools or factories. He explained that he had provided a public health recommendation that echoed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance, and people made their own decisions based on that. However, during the early stages of the pandemic, Dr. Fauci had advocated for a federal lockdown and had urged people to do “whatever it takes” to contain the virus.
Dr. Fauci’s stance on masks also evolved over time. Initially, he had said that there was no need for anyone to wear a mask and that it could even be harmful. However, he later changed his position and began advocating for a universal mask mandate for anyone over the age of two. In a PBS documentary in March, he expressed regret for not supporting mask mandates earlier.
Regarding school reopenings, Dr. Fauci and the CDC had insisted on six feet of distance between students to prevent the virus’s spread, which made in-person classes difficult to organize. Dr. Fauci had also supported CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in criticizing states like Florida that had not implemented mask or vaccine mandates for teachers and students.
Similarly, Randi Weingarten, the president of one of the nation’s most powerful teachers’ unions, testified before Congress that teachers “wanted to be in school” and that her union had demanded that schools reopen. However, her union had also listed a number of conditions for reopening, including six-foot physical distancing, contact tracing, retrofitted ventilation systems, and the authority to “trigger” school closures in case of a COVID-19 outbreak.
In 2020, Weingarten had criticized the Trump administration’s plan to reopen schools in the fall, calling it “reckless” and “cruel.” She had also demanded more funding for schools and threatened a strike if her union’s demands were not met. She had also stated that schools would not operate the same way they did in the past.
At the start of President Biden’s term, both Dr. Fauci and Weingarten had praised the American Rescue Plan’s funding for schools, which they claimed would provide the resources necessary for safe school reopenings. However, after the plan’s passage, Weingarten demanded billions more in funding for teachers to return to teaching safely.
According to the New York Post, Weingarten’s union was in constant communication with top CDC officials days before the Biden administration released school reopening guidelines in 2021. Some of the suggestions made by the American Federation of Teachers were included in the guidelines. The CDC had originally planned to issue guidelines that would allow for in-person instruction regardless of transmission rates, but after consulting with the union, a provision was added to address high community transmission rates resulting from new COVID-19 variants.
The American Federation of Teachers also requested remote work access for teachers with documented risk conditions or who are at increased risk, as well as staff with household members at high risk. According to Fox News, the union received copies of the CDC guidelines before they were made public.
In defending her union’s actions, Weingarten stated that this was normal rulemaking and that previous administrations had done the same thing. She emphasized the importance of following science-based guidelines and protecting the health and safety of teachers and students.