Accusations about special interests and political collusion over national school reopening guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic dominated a markup hearing held by the House Education and Labor Committee Thursday.
Lawmakers debated House Resolution 1273, which calls for President Joe Biden to provide certain documents to Congress relating to communication between the executive branch and the American Federation of Teachers, a teacher union, regarding reopening of schools and supporting safe, in-person learning.
The committee voted along party lines, 28-21, to report the resolution unfavorably, which means it recommends the full House not consider or pass the measure. The vote also rejected two higher education-specific inquiries of documents related to service loan forgiveness and federal student loan debt.
The resolutions were introduced and supported by Republican members of the committee, including ranking member Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. Specifically, House Res. 1273, a resolution of inquiry, requests documents relating to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s decision to change school reopening guidelines at the request of AFT President Randi Weingarten, said Foxx at the markup.
"Collusion between America’s most powerful teachers union and the CDC is a blight upon the educational pursuits of America’s children," Foxx said. "Let me be abundantly clear, teachers unions should never be allowed to hold schools hostage again."
Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, said the resolution seeks to "find out how far Dr. Walensky went to collude with the teachers unions to keep children locked out of schoolrooms."
AFT did not respond by deadline to K-12 Dive's request for comment.
CDC school safety guidance was updated several times from summer 2020 through summer 2022 as the pandemic evolved and more was learned about transmission safety precautions. The resolution didn't refer to a specific guideline.
Democrat lawmakers said the national guidance helped provide school systems with safe approaches for in-person teaching during an evolving and deadly pandemic.
Committee Vice Chair Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., thanked school staffs and teacher unions for "making the return to in-person learning possible and safe."
"This GOP resolution of inquiry is an unfounded and disrespectful attack on the people who time and again, show up for our children," Bowman said.
Committee Chair Bobby Scott, D-Va., said everyone wanted the schools to reopen, citing the academic, social, physical and economic benefits of having schools open.
Scott added that decisions to open or close schools were made at the local level, not the federal level.
During the markup, several conservative lawmakers blamed national school safety reopening guidance for extended school closures that resulted in learning loss and student mental health struggles.
"Students have suffered the most since the onset of COVID and not from the disease itself," said Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill. "Since it poses an extremely low risk of death or hospitalization to children, most of their suffering is a result of deliberate choices by the Biden administration to reduce in-person interactions among children, which has negatively impacted their neurodevelopment."