National teachers union boss Randi Weingarten likened the rhetoric of supporters of school choice and parental rights initiatives to that of segregationists, sparking an outcry from supporters of the movements.
The explosive comparison of Jim Crow-era racists to modern-day activists pushing for school districts to allow parents to have more input in their children’s education was made by the American Federation of Teachers president during a Tuesday interview with Northeastern University’s Burnes Center for Social Change senior fellow Seth D. Harris.
“I was kind of gobsmacked when I was talking to Southern Poverty Law Center, and they showed me the same words: choice’, ‘parental rights’ and attempts to divide parents versus teachers, and at that point, it was white parents versus other parents. But it’s the same kind of words,” she added.
Weingarten argued that only a “small group of extremists,” who want to see an end to public education, back school choice and parental rights policies. She specifically named former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, New College of Florida board member Christopher Rufo and the conservative nonprofit group Moms for Liberty, which touts a 115,000-strong membership across 45 states.
“If Randi is actually interested in addressing modern-day segregation in schools, she should unequivocally condemn the practice of racially segregated ‘affinity groups’ & ‘healing circles’ that are used in K-12 schools,” Nicki Neily, the president of Parents Defending Education, tweeted in response to the union leader’s comments.
“And yet she was the one blocking the schoolhouse doors,” Ilya Shapiro, director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute, argued in a tweet.
The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled Moms for Liberty and other parents’ rights organizations “hate and antigovernment groups” – alongside groups such as the Ku Klux Klan – in June.
Weingarten claims that the “vast majority” of parents reject the “noxious words” of school choice and parental rights advocates.
The extremism watchdog argues that “Today’s so-called parental rights activists have also copied and pasted from the scripts of past groups, adapting old racist and homophobic ideas, as well as conspiracy theories asserting Marxist indoctrination. They are now adding a dash of QAnon rhetoric, accusing progressives of attempting to groom and sexualize children.”
Weingarten responded to the outcry in a tweet Tuesday, calling it “an example of the extremism we face.”
“I said I was shocked that a small group of extremists were using the noxious words of segregationists and observed the vast majority of parents and educators reject it,” she said.
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