Teachers union had hotline to Education secretary on COVID policy, parents had 'no voice': watchdog
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will also be advising the Homeland Security secretary.
The country's two largest teachers unions had direct access to the Education Department during the pandemic while parents had “no voice,” says a watchdog group of retired and former public servants.
Michael Chamberlin, the director of the group, Protect the Public's Trust, made the claim in a recent episode of the "John Solomon Reports" podcast, saying research found "extensive coordination between ... the two main teachers unions and high-level officials in the Department of Education," namely the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
The group obtained the information through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Chamberlain also said the unions had “almost daily conversations” with the department, while the presidents of the unions “had a standing monthly check-in call" with Education Secretary Michael Cardona.
“[A] lot of this was going on at the same time when the department completely botched an attempt to set up a parent's advisory group,” Chamberlin said. "So while they were communicating and coordinating on an almost daily basis with the unions, they just could not figure out how to even communicate with the parents."
He also said the situation occurred at a time when parents were protesting at school board meetings about remote-only learning and just trying to get their children back in school and understand school policy regarding COVID-19 mandates.
"And the teachers unions had a direct line to the highest levels in the department, and parents had essentially no voice in the department,” he said.
Scientific evidence during the pandemic appeared to show children were less likely to spread COVID and be significantly affected by the virus – which had parents trying to get schools reopened while the unions, as representative of their teachers, advocating for them to remain closed.
Protect the Public’s Trust found the Education Department often discussed issues with union officials such as COVID policy, student loan forgiveness and Biden administration legislative proposals for higher education plans.
Chamberlain also said there was "certainly disparate treatment” between the unions and parents and that the two unions' influence was ubiquitous.
"It was in COVID policy. It was return to schools. It was all over the place," he said. "Whatever issue the department was involved in, the unions had" what “appears to be one of the largest voices of input.”
Chamberlain also said the unions' access to Education Department during the Biden administration appeared "unprecedented," compared to when he worked in the agency's Office of Communications and Outreach under the Trump administration.
"I can't imagine any organization having that level of access to the secretary of Education," he said.
The group, as is has said previously said, also has emails showing Montserrat Garibay, Cardone's senior adviser for Labor Relations, helped plan a Zoom call in 2021 between the secretary and the United Teachers of Los Angeles.
The teacher’s union purportedly had a list of demands in 2020 that it wanted met before the Los Angeles Unified District schools could be reopened, which included shutting down charter schools, defunding police, passing Medicare for All, the implementation of a statewide wealth tax, fully-funded homeless housing, and financial support for illegal immigrant students and their families.
Randi Weingarten, leader of the AFT, the second-largest union, was recently questioned by a House select subcommittee on the pandemic about her union’s influence on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID school lockdown procedures, particularly an ATF proposal for work-from-home options for teachers with high-risk conditions.
She acknowledged the proposal about the “at-risk, immunocompromised workers,” was accepted by the CDC.
She also acknowledge having CDC Director Rochelle Walensky phone number, saying, “Yes, I have Director Walensky’s direct number.”
Weingarten is a lifelong Democrat whose has backed Hillary Clinton for president and has helped the party with her get-out-the-vote efforts among her union's reported 1.7 million members.
Chamberlain spoke on the podcast the day before an announcement that she is now a member of Homeland Security Academic Partnership Council, under the aegis of the larger Department of Homeland Security.