The president of the American Federation of Teachers has sent a "pointed response" to American Jews who have criticized teachers over their perceived reluctance to reopen schools, saying that "American Jews are now part of the ownership class" in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Randi Weingarten, who is Jewish and married to Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of the Manhattan-based synagogue Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, told the Post in an interview last week that while "we are on our way to reopening school buildings for in-person learning … there is a roadmap now. But you have to actually see if people will do what the roadmap requires."
She noted that some schools, including many Jewish day schools, were able to stay open for in-person learning during the pandemic without seeing massive outbreaks because "they did a lot of testing," and "were really, really careful about it."
When asked about criticism from the Jewish community about "the perceived resistance of teachers to going back to work," Weingarten responded, "I have a very pointed response here for Jews making this argument.
"American Jews are now part of the ownership class. Jews were immigrants from somewhere else. And they needed the right to have public education. And they needed power to have enough income and wealth for their families that they could put their kids through college and their kids could do better than they have done. Both economic opportunity through the labor movement and an educational opportunity through public education were key for Jews to go from the working class to the ownership class."
She added, "What I hear when I hear that question is that those who are in the ownership class now want to take that ladder of opportunity away from those who do not have it. Am I saying that everything we do is right? No. Are people in Los Angeles fearful? Yes."
Weingarten went on to note that "one in three people have had COVID[-19] in L.A. The disease has significantly hurt Black and brown communities, many of whom are in the leadership of UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles, the main teachers union). You have to meet fear with facts, just like you have to do about vaccine hesitancy."
She also said that in a recent poll of members, which includes "paraprofessionals and teachers," 88% said that they would support the AFT plan for returning to in-person learning with testing and vaccination.
"And 85% would feel comfortable being in school with that plan, including 73% of people who were still virtual. That gives you a sense of where teachers are," Weingarten said. "They’re scared. Seventy-one percent in the same poll said they were scared about bringing COVID home to their family. So we have to meet fear with facts. I wish we had 1/100th of the power the right wing attributes to us. We’d do a heck of a lot better job in actually educating our kids and focusing on excellence and equity."
The pro-Israel group StandWithUs issued a statement to The Washington Free Beacon accusing Weingarten of making "inaccurate and dangerous" statements and was "out of touch" with the experience of Jewish students.
"As a non-partisan Israel education organization, StandWithUs takes no position on the debate over when schools should reopen," said Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of StandWithUs. "We work with many Jewish students and parents in Los Angeles and are extremely disappointed by Randi Weingarten's inaccurate and dangerous generalizations about our community."
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