The head of one of the largest teachers unions in the U.S. subscribes to the debunked conspiracy theory that Florida manipulated its COVID-19 data to protect the DeSantis administration’s reputation.
In a Twitter direct message exchange with journalist Samuel Bravo in March, Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, endorsed the theory that Rebekah Jones was fired from her position as a health department dashboard manager last year because she refused to artificially lower the state’s reported COVID deaths.
“The person who organized the data for COVID was Rebekah Jones,” Weingarten wrote in a series of direct messages to Bravo. Weingarten wrote that Jones was fired from the Florida health department because “she told the truth.”
“As I understand it, she was transparent on Covid cases and she was fired. Then she continued privately and her computer was seized in a police raid,” Weingarten said.
Second batch: pic.twitter.com/UMffnlay4F
— Samuel Bravo (@realsamuelbravo) May 25, 2021
Weingarten alleged that Florida might be hiding cases after Bravo challenged her regarding the AFT’s position on school closures during the coronavirus pandemic. Bravo noted that Florida schools were open since September 2020, and coronavirus case numbers in the state were similar to California, where many schools were still closed.
“Your contention is that, had Florida been accurately reporting their cases, this would have demonstrated that their numbers are actually worse than California’s numbers. Is that correct?” Bravo asked Weingarten.
Weingarten responded that she and the AFT “don’t know but we think it could be as bad.”
Asked to comment on her exchange with Bravo, Weingarten told National Review that Jones’s claims were substantiated by internal emails.
“Gainesville’s PBS affiliate, WUFT, has a good backgrounder on Jones…which includes information about why her detractors view her as unreliable, as well as info about her original claims and the backlash to those claims” Weingarten wrote in a Twitter direct message. “The article notes that emails, obtained by FOIA request, appear to substantiate her claims.”
Weingarten appeared to be referring to a WUFT story entitled “Rebekah Jones And The Consequences Of Whistleblowing.” The story claimed that “internal emails” “confirm that [Jones’s] superiors asked her to remove raw data from the dashboard” following reports that coronavirus was circulating in Florida in January 2020. However, Jones’s superiors told her to remove that data because she botched the presentation, and the data was uploaded to the dashboard the next day, not concealed as Jones alleged.
Public records support the DeSantis administration’s claim that Jones was actually fired for performance issues, as Jared Moskowitz, a progressive Democrat who runs the Florida division of emergency management, has maintained for the better part of a year. But that didn’t stop prominent Florida Democrats, including Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried, and media outlets such as MSNBC from parroting her falsehoods.
Weingarten and the AFT have pushed to keep schools closed throughout the past academic year, claiming that in-person learning would lead to a rise in community transmission, though data drawn from Florida and other countries which reopened schools in the fall suggest schools don’t meaningfully contribute to the spread of the virus.