- In a letter sent this week to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Republican Reps. Virginia Foxx and Burgess Owens, both members of the House Committee on Education and Labor, stated "significant concerns" about the "outsized influence" teachers unions like the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association had on the development of school reopening guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Education, citing an article in the New York Post.
- In response to the inquiry, a Department of Education spokesperson told K-12 Dive the agency has followed the guidance of "scientists and experts." When questioned further, the department spokesperson did not clarify if the "experts" included teachers unions.
- Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, said in an email the Republican Party is trying to "pit teachers against parents to score cheap political points,” adding, "It's disappointing their leadership seems to believe bashing the teachers who’ve dedicated their lives to engaging kids through this pandemic is good politics."
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, district leaders have noted the politically charged nature of major decisions impacting everyday school operations, including school reopening decisions, mask-wearing mandates and vaccinations.
"Even just selling football tickets has become fraught with peril," Kevin Brown, executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators, told K-12 Dive as the state's schools were reopening in the fall. "Because first of all, half the people don’t get to go, and so who doesn’t get to go? How do you sell the tickets and do it in a responsible way?"
Parent organizations and teachers unions have in the past year sometimes backed district leaders into a corner on these decisions.
"What does a district do in this case?" asked Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, when schools were discussing reopening options prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year. "That is adding to the problem. The clock is ticking, time is running out."
Unions have been especially vocal when it comes to school reopening requirements and have had a say in local decisions including personal protective equipment, social distancing measures in schools, ventilation and disinfection plans.
The pandemic has also brought to the forefront issues of local versus federal control. States and districts pushed back, for example, when the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers urged making a portion of funds conditional upon schools reopening for in-person learning. At the time, Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for advocacy and policy at AASA, said the federal government's involvement created "a national school board."
Another issue cropping up in recent weeks has been the debate over school vaccination decisions and mandates. While many district leaders are encouraging staff, students and families to get inoculated, they are waiting for state leaders to step in before making it a requirement.
In making decisions, it is common for federal agencies to consult a variety of stakeholder groups — which include teachers unions, district leaders and state education leaders — on the viability and efficacy of proposed plans. The U.S. Department of Education spokesperson added that the department worked with schools, districts, educators and other stakeholders to implement guidance from the CDC.
Foxx and Owens have requested that Cardona respond to their inquiries by May 24.