Joe Biden softened his campaign promise to reopen most of the nation’s schools just eight days after taking office, a new book claims, in an effort to appease powerful teachers union leader Randi Weingarten.
Biden presented a plan in July 2020, on the campaign trail, to get students back into classrooms.
After the December 8, 2020 elections, he reiterated his intention to reopen most schools within the first 100 days of his presidency.
“Getting our kids back into school and keeping them in school should be a national priority,” Biden said.
“If Congress provides the funding, we must protect students, educators and staff.
“If states and cities implement strict public health measures that we all follow, then my team will ensure that the majority of our schools can be open by the end of my first 100 days.”
Yet almost immediately after taking office, his position changed, author Franklin Foer writes in a new book about Biden’s first two terms, The Last Politician.
The move has been condemned as devastating for children’s education, particularly for those already deprived and less likely to benefit from online learning.
COVID-related school closures and mask-wearing have also been blamed for serious problems with children’s psychological development and mental health.
Joe Biden is seen with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers – which contributes millions to Democratic causes
Weingarten watches Biden address an AFT event in 2019. The two have been friends for decades
Children are seen wearing face masks in a classroom in California in January 2022.
Weingarten was a major Democratic fundraiser, through her union, and the new president needed to keep her on his side.
Foer, in extracts from his book analyzed by The New York Post, called the dilution of the electoral promise the “price of peace”.
Foer’s book will be published Tuesday
Foer writes that on January 28, 2021, Biden called Weingarten – who had initially praised his campaign plan to reopen schools but was now calling for a pace check.
Biden, Foer writes, told Weingarten that “he knew she was getting a lot of heat around reopening schools.”
Teachers were concerned about resuming in-person classes, and Biden told Weingarten that he had heard their fears and “was a faithful friend.”
He told her: “I will not abandon you at school. I want you to know that.’
The previous week, on January 21 – Biden’s first full day in office – his wife Jill, herself a teacher, invited Weingarten and Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, to the White House.
Jill Biden told the two men that Weingarten was the “type of general who is never far from the front lines.”
Jill Biden is seen with Randi Weingarten in December 2022. She welcomed Weingarten to the White House on her husband’s first day in office.
A child wearing a face mask is seen in January 2021 attending a school, with socially distanced desks
Biden pledged during the election campaign to reopen most schools, but that commitment quickly eroded
The first lady added, according to Foer: “I said I was going to take you with me to the White House. And from day one, you are there.
On February 9, the White House subtly adjusted school reopening guidelines, to water down the promise to reopen “the majority of our schools” within Biden’s first 100 days.
Under the new plan, only schools through grade 8 would reopen — and they would be considered “open” if they had students in their classes one day a week.
“His goal that he has set for himself is to have the majority of schools – so more than 50 percent – open by the 100th day of his presidency,” said Jen Psaki, the press secretary of the White House.
“And that means some teaching in the classrooms.
“So at least one day a week. Let’s hope it’s more.
“And obviously it’s as safe as possible in every local school and district.”
Subsequent text messages and emails between Weingarten and Biden administration officials showed Weingarten was concerned about schools reopening too quickly.
Weingarten’s group is an important force in Democratic politics. She is seen in March 2017 in Boston
On February 12, 2021, guidelines on the reopening of schools were published by the government.
In a draft copy obtained by The New York Times, the guidelines stated that “all schools can provide in-person instruction.”
Weingarten objected, Foer wrote, and the language was changed to read: “all schools have the option to provide in-person instruction.”
Weingarten’s union, the AFT, donated more than $2.6 million to Democratic candidates during the 2020 election cycle, according to the political donation tracking site OpenSecrets.
Pringle’s group, the NEA, donated more than $2.4 million.
Biden himself received more than $245,000 from teachers unions during the campaign, more than four times the amount received by the closest candidate, Bernie Sanders.