School Climate & Safety

Policymakers Scramble to Deal With Closings

By Erik W. Robelen — October 31, 2001 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It was a rough week for education policymaking in Washington.

With congressional office buildings closed all or most of last week after anthrax spores were detected on Capitol Hill Oct. 15, displaced lawmakers and staff on the education committees did their best to keep working. But several education-related events were postponed amid the tumult.

“I am calling from the second floor of the gigantic GAO facility at G and 4th Street,” said David Schnittger, a spokesman for Rep. John A. Boehner, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The General Accouting Office, Congress’ investigative arm, provided space in its nearby headquarters.

“It’s actually very nice,” Mr. Schnittger said from his cellular phone early last week. “I mean ... when we learned last night that we would be operating out of a building made available by GAO at the last minute, we were envisioning a warehouse like at the end of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’ ”

Only a skeleton crew from the committee was working at the GAO building, and computers and phones had to be shared. Many aides worked from home or other locations. The Department of Education, which is a few blocks from Capitol Hill, offered up some space for education committee aides from the House and the Senate.

There were a few wrinkles, however.

“We crashed the GAO computer system not long after staff [first] arrived,” Mr. Schnittger said. It was fixed by midafternoon that day. “It’s not disrupting things as much as it is forcing us to be a little more resourceful than usual. ... Work is continuing on the education bill,” he said.

By last Thursday, the Rayburn House office building, site of the House education committee offices, reopened.

Committee Chiefs Meet

Mr. Boehner and Rep. George Miller of California, the House committee’s ranking Democrat, met twice last week with their Senate counterparts—Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee—for talks on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Each chamber has approved differing bills to reauthorize the law.

But Congress has had trouble convening the 39 members of the House-Senate conference committee that’s supposed to hash out differences. The conferees last met Sept. 25. Since anthrax spores were discovered on Capitol Hill, lawmakers have twice canceled meetings. At press time, a meeting was scheduled for Oct. 30.

Other Delays

Other education events also were postponed last week, including a House hearing on international-student visas. And the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based public policy group, called off a Capitol Hill press conference to release a book on school choice.

The group had arranged to hold the event Oct. 24 at the House Triangle, just outside the Capitol, but congressional leaders announced that the space was reserved for terrorism-related announcements. The backup plan was to use a room in the Rayburn building, which was still closed. Distributing the books to lawmakers was also impossible, as the internal mail system had been shut down.

Unfortunately for the group’s president, John C. Goodman, the cancellation occurred after he boarded a plane from Dallas. He returned home the same day.

“He called it the $3,000 lunch,” said Jack Strayer, the group’s vice president of external affairs.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Sen. Kennedy, said Oct. 23 that he and a few Senate education committee aides were working out of the chairman’s “hideaway,” a private office space in the Capitol like that enjoyed by other long-time senators. Mr. Manley said that most committee aides were working from home or elsewhere.

“We’re not getting mail right now, so we’ve got that going for us,” he said.

The House did manage to pass a bill that would allow extra time for repayment of college loans by reservists called up for active military duty.

Meanwhile, the Education Department has been affected by the heightened security concerns.

For years, anyone entering the headquarters has had to pass through metal detectors; employees have had to show identification, and visitors have needed an appointment to enter. And even before Sept. 11, security officials searched the trunks of cars entering the garage under the building.

But now the department has joined other federal agencies in taking additional steps.

The Federal Protective Services, a branch of the federal government that provides security for federal offices, released new guidelines this month for handling mail, including tips for identifying and handling suspicious packages. It also advises agencies to keep mail in one area until it can be examined, and to allow only authorized employees to enter.

Following those guidelines, the department has added new precautions. And the agency stopped releasing Education Secretary Rod Paige’s weekly schedule in advance after the September attacks.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Teaching Live Online Discussion Seat at the Table: How Can We Help Students Feel Connected to School?
Get strategies for your struggles with student engagement. Bring questions for our expert panel. Help students recover the joy of learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Science Webinar
Real-World Problem Solving: How Invention Education Drives Student Learning
Hear from student inventors and K-12 teachers about how invention education enhances learning, opens minds, and preps students for the future.
Content provided by The Lemelson Foundation

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center What Would Make Schools Safer? Here's What Educators Say
Respondents to a national survey of educators said measures like red flag laws, more school counselors are key to any school safety law.
7 min read
Photograph of crime scene tape and school.
F.Sheehan/Education Week and Getty
School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center 'The World Feels Less Stable': Educators' Sense of School Safety Right Now
6 in 10 educators said a mass shooting by a student or outsider was their biggest source of fear.
7 min read
Woman standing on a paper boat with a tsunami wave approaching.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School Climate & Safety Texas Top Cop: Uvalde Police Could Have Ended Rampage Early On
The head of the Texas state police pronounced the law enforcement response an “abject failure.”
5 min read
FILE - Law enforcement, and other first responders, gather outside Robb Elementary School following a shooting, on May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Law enforcement authorities had enough officers on the scene of the Uvalde school massacre to have stopped the gunman three minutes after he entered the building, the Texas public safety chief testified Tuesday, June 21 pronouncing the police response an “abject failure.”(AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)
School Climate & Safety 2 Police Officers Had Chance to Shoot Uvalde School Gunman, Deputy Says
The unidentified officers said they feared hitting children playing in the line of fire outside the school.
2 min read
Flowers are placed around a welcome sign outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Wednesday, May 25, 2022, to honor the victims killed in Tuesday's shooting at the school.
Flowers are placed around a welcome sign outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, to honor the victims killed in the May 24th shooting at the school.
Jae C. Hong/AP