In recent days, Doreen Diaz, a parent at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif. has been seeking an apology from Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers’ union in the country.
Doreen’s request for an apology comes on the heels of a memo Ms. Weingarten distributed widely to journalists in August. In this memo, Ms. Weingarten wrote (among other misstatements):
“Many [of the Desert Trails] parents report feeling deceived by the for-profit charter-backed organizers who came in to gather petitions. They actually sued to take their signatures back when they found out they were being used to give their school away to a charter company."
In reality, it was the parents of children trapped in that failing school that went door to door as Doreen notes in a letter to Ms. Weingarten posted here, not representatives of an imaginary for-profit company. And in reality, Parent Revolution and Doreen’s parents union, the Desert Trails Parent Union, have a well-documented history of opposing for-profit charters.
Unfortunately, Doreen is trying to extract an apology from someone leading an organization with a detailed history of denigrating both the Parent Trigger movement, as well as individuals who advocate for parent power.
And, when called out, Ms. Weingarten is the master of the ‘non-apology apology’ as Education News once described her tactics:
“Weingarten has issued a classic ‘non-apology apology,’ which should be familiar to anyone who has ever had a fight with a loved one. There’s a big difference between ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I’m sorry that you’re mad.’” [Education News 8/4/2011]
This is part of a long history of AFT battling Parent Trigger literally from its inception. The day after the historic passage of Parent Trigger, the president of AFT’s California affiliate called it a “lynch mob” law, despite the offensive nature of that comment to the African-American and Latino parents who organized to pass the law to help their own children.
Ms. Weingarten later apologized for the offensive nature of the comment, but not the underlying sentiment.
The following year, AFT accidentally released its secret plan to “Kill” Parent Trigger. The AFT plan was called “Kill Mode” – and AFT boasted about excluding parent groups from the table and tricking them into thinking they have power when they don’t as part of their secret strategy.
Here’s a link to details of the AFTs “kill Parent Trigger” plan.
Following this debacle, Ms. Weingarten, once again, issued her ‘non-apology apology’ and claimed this AFT was not her AFT, and this plan was not her plan, despite the fact that it was authored by an AFT lobbyist, written on AFT stationery, and accidentally disclosed on an AFT website.
This year, AFT’s California chapter wrote an email to the state Democratic Party and President Obama’s reelection campaign literally threatening to withdraw their endorsement of the president’s entire re-election because his campaign had the temerity to hire one mid-level staffer from Parent Revolution who had previously worked on the president’s 2008 election campaign.
This was one of the few times that Ms. Weingarten did not issue a non-apology apology for the absurd actions of one of her affiliates. It is therefore apparently still the official policy of Weingarten’s national union that supporters of Parent Trigger are not allowed to be Democrats. Working to empower poor parents and parents of color trapped in failing schools apparently earns a spot on AFT’s blacklist within the national Democratic Party.
Parent Revolution would like nothing more than to work collaboratively with the leaders and members of the second largest educators’ union in the country on fully engaging parents in public schools. At Parent Revolution we see a powerful opportunity in this historic moment to forge a partnership of parents, teachers, and teachers unions focused on a “kids-first” agenda.
It’s also worth noting that AFT has been a leader in negotiating progressive contracts across the nation that I would love to have for my own daughters right here in Los Angeles. Ms. Weingarten has at times been courageous. I have met with her and have found her to not only be genuine, but also a nice person who deeply cares about children and the future of public education in America.
We also understand the importance of robust and honest dialogue around how to build and sustain this movement. No one can claim to have all the answers, including us. Genuine discussion and debate – rooted in the reality on the ground, not fantasy or conspiracy theories -- results in a stronger process for everyone.
For that to happen, however, Ms. Weingarten must show a genuine desire to engage with parents working to transform failing schools and the community groups supporting them. For that to happen, the day of the “non-apology apology” must end.
My hope is Ms. Weingarten will offer Doreen Diaz an unreserved apology for accusing Doreen of being manipulated by an imaginary for-profit company, rather than advocating for the interests of her own daughter. It’s time to move beyond conspiracy theories and make-belief to the reality that hundreds of thousands of parents and kids across America are trapped in a cycle of failure, and they need the adults with power to make every decision as if their own children attend these broken schools.
Ben Austin is the executive director of Parent Revolution, based in Los Angeles, Calif.