Politicized health? Teachers’ union heavily influenced CDC policy on reopening schools

by WorldTribune Staff, May 2, 2021

Team Biden was following orders from a powerful teachers’ union instead of “following the science” when it came to reopening America’s schools amid the Covid pandemic, newly-released documents show.

Documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act by the conservative group Americans for Public Trust show the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) successfully lobbied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to have some of the union’s recommendations adopted.

When he announced his team’s policy on school re-openings on Feb. 12, Joe Biden said he would “follow the science” and claimed that the CDC “has provided the best available scientific evidence on how to reopen schools safely.”

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky also claimed that there had been no political interference.

But the documents obtained by Americans for Public Trust show politics played as much, or more, of a role in Team Biden’s school reopening policy as science.

Emails between the teachers union, the CDC and White House officials show the union put significant pressure on the CDC before the agency put the brakes on a full re-opening of in-person classes.

“The documents show a flurry of activity between Walensky, her top advisers and union officials — with Biden brass being looped in at the White House — in the days before the highly-anticipated Feb. 12 announcement on school-reopening guidelines,” the New York Post noted in a May 1 report.

The documents show that the AFT considered itself the “thought partner” of the CDC when it came to school reopening policy.

“Thank you again for Friday’s rich discussion about forthcoming CDC guidance and for your openness to the suggestions made by our president, Randi Weingarten, and the AFT,” wrote AFT senior director for health issues Kelly Trautner in a Feb. 1 email — which described the union as the CDC’s “thought partner.”

“We were able to review a copy of the draft guidance document over the weekend and were able to provide some initial feedback to several staff this morning about possible ways to strengthen the document,” Trautner continued. “… We believe our experiences on the ground can inform and enrich thinking around what is practicable and prudent in future guidance documents.”

The New York Post noted that Walensky wasn’t on the Feb. 1 email, but it was forwarded to her by Carole Johnson, the White House coronavirus testing coordinator. Many emails included Will McIntee, an associate director of public engagement at The White House.

“We are immensely grateful for your genuine desire to earn our confidence and your committment to partnership,” Trautner said in another email to Walensky on Feb 3.

Emails show a call between Walensky and Weingarten — the former boss of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers — was arranged for Feb 7.

“The lobbying paid off,” the Post noted.

In at least two instances, language “suggestions” offered by the AFT were adopted nearly verbatim into the final text of the CDC document on reopening schools.

With the CDC preparing to write that schools could provide in-person instruction regardless of community spread of the virus, Trautner argued for the inclusion of a line reading “In the event of high community-transmission results from a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, a new update of these guidelines may be necessary.” That language appeared on page 22 of the final CDC guidance.

The teachers’ union also demanded special remote work concessions for teachers “who have documented high-risk conditions or who are at increased risk for … COVID-19,” and that similar arrangements should extend to “staff who have a household member” with similar risks. A lengthy provision for that made it into the text of the final guidance.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, who has written extensively on Covid, called the CDC-AFT emails “very, very troubling.”

“What seems strange to me here is there would be this very intimate back and forth including phone calls where this political group gets to help formulate scientific guidance for our major public health organization in the United State,” Gandhi told the Post. “This is not how science-based guidelines should work or be put together.”

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