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Members of Congress investigating policy decisions made during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic focused on education Wednesday as the head of one of the country's largest teachers' unions appeared on Capitol Hill.American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten testified before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus pandemic, some of whose members allege she and her organization helped edit federal guidance for reopening schools.
Republicans accuse the AFT of changing guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Feb. 2021 to reopen schools; the guidance was revised last-minute after union leaders were allowed to review the draft proposal and submit feedback.
Lawmakers propose that during this review period, the union added language that would purposefully keep schools closed longer.
“Do you remember how many edits that you suggested?” asked House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. James Comer, R-Ky.
We suggested concepts, sir,” Weingarten said during her testimony, including one edit.
In a memo she submitted to the subcommittee before her testimony Wednesday, Weingarten said the CDC consulted with over 50 different organizations before releasing the guidance and not including the AFT in that process would have been “governmental malpractice of the highest order."
Critics say Weingarten’s involvement in making alleged edits to CDC reopening guidance led to severe learning loss, among other problems, because students were not in the classroom.
“You have students that are not ready to do college level work, they can’t do grade level work, they can’t write,” said Nicholas Giordano, a higher education fellow with Campus Reform and professor of political science at Suffolk Community College . “Our education system has been crumbling for years, and I fear that the coronavirus was the final nail in the coffin.”FILE - In this May 15, 2021, file photo American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten looks on during a rally for Scranton school board candidates at the Scranton Federation of Teachers union offices in Scranton, Pa. (Christopher Dolan/The Times-Tribune via AP, File)
While Weingarten admitted in a tweet from January, that “remote education didn't work," she maintained concern for teacher and student safety during her testimony Wednesday.
Some lawmakers say, she’s being used as a scapegoat, blaming the Trump administration for a lack of guidance.
What we were simply looking for was clear scientific guidance, and when we couldn’t get it, we did it ourselves, and we worked with doctors,” said Weingarten at the hearing.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., claimed during the hearing that “President Trump never produced a school reopening plan" and "Education Secretary DeVos never offered any guidance.”
However, DeVos alleges there was no prompt effort by Weingarten to get students back in school in an interview with The National Desk. She said there were political motivations affecting such considerations behind the scenes.
“The only science at play here in the U.S. with teacher union-run, government-run schools was political science, it was all about the politics,” DeVos said. “What we need to do now is make sure we enact policies and pass policies that are going to support kids, their families, their parents, rather than a system.”