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Report: Teachers’ unions did not unduly influence pandemic school closures

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Suzanne Potter

(California News Service) Democrats on the House Oversight Committee say a GOP probe into whether teachers' unions had too much influence on pandemic school closures has come up empty. 

A spokesperson for the Democrats says that in fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consulted a wide range of stakeholders before the American Federation of Teachers was even aware of the guidance to close schools. 

At a hearing in March, California U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz - D-Indo - blamed the lengthy school closures on the Trump administration's attempt to minimize the threat of the virus.

"Instead of working to efficiently manufacture personal protective equipment, scale up testing, and promote basic public health measures - like masking and social distancing," said Ruiz, "President Donald Trump chose to politicize this virus calling it a hoax and downplaying its severity, saying it would go away just like the flu."

Republicans said students suffered trauma during the period of remote learning - and alleged teachers' unions prolonged the return to onsite classes. 

In a statement, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said, "the right wing's attempt to blame educators and their unions for the effects of the pandemic was both wrong on the facts and a callous undermining of the very people who tried to help children and families in their darkest hour." 

Virginia Gentles, director of the Education Freedom Center and the Independent Women's Forum, testified at the same hearing - alleging that school administrators knew that school closures were ineffective at preventing transmission of the virus, but went along with the closures for fear of crossing the unions.

"Many feared the political consequences for prioritizing open schools," said Gentles. "Let's be honest, school stayed closed primarily because the teacher's unions in our country have enormous political power, and parents do not."

Maryland U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume - D-Baltimore - criticized Republican members who focused on the negative effects of school closures, but opposed funding for President Biden's American Recovery Act.

"Many of my colleagues," said Mfume, "who sometimes seek to assign blame and suggest that there was some sort of weird evil plan in effect, are the same persons who have a long track record of pushing draconian cuts to programs that support American schools and American children."