School Climate & Safety

Policymakers Scramble to Deal With Closings

By Erik W. Robelen — October 31, 2001 4 min read

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.

Events

School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online
School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing
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.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Building Equitable Systems: Moving Math From Gatekeeper to Opportunity Gateway
The importance of disrupting traditional American math practices and adopting high-quality math curriculum continues to be essential for changing the trajectory of historically under-resourced schools. Building systems around high-quality math curriculum also is necessary to
Content provided by Partnership for L.A. Schools

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 What the Research Says Teens Are Driving COVID-19 Surges. Can Schools Counteract That?
Teenagers and young adults are now driving COVID-19 cases in some states, and experts say schools may be critical in preventing outbreaks.
4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Climate & Safety Opinion Empowering Teachers and Parents to Speak Up on School Safety
Rick Hess shares practical suggestions from Max Eden on how to ensure school discipline reforms are indeed keeping students and staff safe.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Climate & Safety Audio Driving the School Bus, Waiting for a Vaccine
A veteran bus driver holds out hope he won't get COVID-19 while awaiting his first vaccination.
3 min read
Eric Griffith, 55, poses for a portrait in front of a school bus in Jacksonville, Fla. on Thursday, March 18, 2021. Griffith, who has been a school bus driver for 20 years, delivered meals and educational materials during the first couple months of the coronavirus pandemic when schools shifted to remote learning.
Eric Griffith has been a bus driver for Duval County schools in Jacksonville, Fla., for 20 years. He's been driving students all year and hopes to get his coronavirus vaccine soon.
Charlotte Kesl for Education Week
School Climate & Safety When Toxic Positivity Seeps Into Schools, Here's What Educators Can Do
Papering over legitimate, negative feelings with phrases like "look on the bright side" can be harmful for teachers and students.
6 min read
Image shows the Mr. Yuck emoji with his tongue out in response to bubbles of positive sayings all around him.
Gina Tomko/Education Week + Ingram Publishing/Getty