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Lawmakers question why schools closed during COVID-19 pandemic

  • / Updated:
  • Edwin Viera 

GOP lawmakers are re-evaluating policies about how and why schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics of the effort say it’s a back-handed attempt to weaken teachers’ unions.

This week in the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten was called in to testify about the union’s pandemic response.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., implied that AFT “bought its way” into helping the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention draft school reopening guidance through political contributions. But throughout the hearing, Weingarten asserted that student and teacher safety was the guiding priority.

“From the earliest days of COVID, the AFT knew that safety was the pathway to opening schools and keeping them open,” Weingarten said. “We – along with parents and administrators, and health officials – needed clear, science-based guidance to keep students and staff safe in schools.”

She added that AFT was right to consult the CDC in developing a plan for schools to navigate the pandemic.

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This comes as GOP faith in educators declines. In a Pew Research Center survey, 52% of Republicans said they’ve “lost faith” in K-through-12 school principals, down from 72% in early 2019.

One issue plaguing students in a post-pandemic world is learning loss. In New York, math scores have sharply declined throughout the state, according to the Empire Center for Public Policy. In her testimony, Weingarten encouraged lawmakers to look to the future of education.

“Let’s work together now, to help kids recover and leap academically,” she said. “Let’s expand community schools. Let’s increase experiential learning and career-connected learning. Let’s address educator burnout.”

Burnout is leading many to leave the teaching profession, but an AFT report found that even before the pandemic, almost 300,000 teachers were leaving the profession on a yearly basis.