When the Biden-era Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote guidance about reopening schools, it collaborated with a powerful union that has often fought against a return to in-person learning, according to a new report.
The American Federation of Teachers was intimately involved in developing guidance for re-opening that was issued in February, according to the New York Post. The Post’s report relied upon documents obtained by the group Americans for Public Trust using the Freedom of Information Act.
The February guidance has since been superseded by guidance that decreased the barriers to re-opening schools.
The Post report indicates there was a close pattern of communication that included CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, her top advisors, union leaders and members of the Biden White House.
“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,” AFT senior director for health issues Kelly Trautner wrote in one email in which she described the AFT as the federal agency’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“We were able to review a copy of the draft guidance document over the weekend and were able to provide some initial feedback to several staff this morning about possible ways to strengthen the document,”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 wrote days before the guidance was released.
“We believe our experiences on the ground can inform and enrich thinking around what is practicable and prudent in future guidance documents.”
A separate Trautner email said the union appreciated the CDC’s “genuine desire to earn our confidence.”
The Post report noted that in two places, the CDC slavishly followed the union’s lead in using the union’s language in its document.
In one instance, the union wanted 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 those risks. The final guidance included what the union wanted.
Dr. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, called the collaboration “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 said.
“This is not how science-based guidelines should work or be put together,” she said.
The union gushed over the guidance when it was released, claiming it was developed objectively.
“Today, the CDC met fear of the pandemic with facts and evidence,” the union said in a Feb 12 press release.
“I can assure you that this is free from political meddling,” Walensky said at the time.
The AFT invested nearly $20 million in electing Democrats in 2020, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The union said it did nothing wrong.
“The AFT represents 1.7 million educators, healthcare professionals and public employees who spent the last 14 months serving on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. So naturally, we have been in regular touch with the agencies setting policy that affect their work and lives, including the CDC,” said AFT spokeswoman Oriana Korin, according to the Post.
The CDC also said it was just doing its job.
“As part of long-standing best practices, CDC has traditionally engaged with organizations and groups that are impacted by guidance and recommendations issued by the agency.
“We do so to ensure our recommendations are feasible to implement and they adequately address the safety and wellbeing of individuals the guidance is aimed to protect. These informative and helpful interactions often result in beneficial feedback that we consider in our final revisions to ensure clarity and usability,” Jason McDonald, a spokesman for Walensky, said.
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