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CDC Records Show Teachers Unions Gave Guidance to CDC Director on School COVID Restrictions

(Washington, DC) Judicial Watch announced today that it received 12 pages of *records showing the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA) influencing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director and the White House with their own their own “embargoed vaccine research,” as well as school reopening policy. Additionally, the CDC Director states that she used the unions’ language in the CDC’s school reopening policy.

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Gloucestercitynews.net files

The documents were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the CDC asking for:

  • All emails exchanged between CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky and email accounts ending in aft.org and/or nea.org.
  • All emails exchanged between CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat and email accounts ending in aft.org and/or nea.org.
  • All emails exchanged between CDC Acting Associate Director for Communications Abbigail Tumpey and email accounts ending in aft.org and/or nea.org.
  • All emails exchanged between CDC Associate Director for Policy and Strategy Robin M. Ikeda and email accounts ending in aft.org and/or nea.org.

The records reveal:

  • On February. 8, 2021, Rebecca Pringle, president of the National Education Association (NEA), emailed Director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, requesting an advance copy of the CDC school-related COVID-19 guidance:

I am writing to request an advance copy of CDC school-related COVID-19 guidance that I understand are to be released this week. We will, of course, keep them confidential until they are public. I want to be prepared for any media or internal questions that come after they are released.

Any other information you can offer about the timing of their release is appreciated….

P.S. Our team will be briefing the CDC and White House staff today on our embargoed vaccine research. I will be sure you receive the research memo with our findings after they meet today.

  • In an email exchange on February 1, 2021, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Senior Director of Health Issues, Kelly Trautner to CDC officials, White House officials, and AFT colleagues, Trautner thanks everyone for the “rich discussion about forthcoming CDC guidance:”

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. We are hopeful that lines of communications will remain open, and that we can serve as a true thought partner as you continue the important work toward safe reopening of schools.

***

We crafted the language below using a NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) document, as well as language in some of our agreements with school employers. Thank you for considering it

White House official Carole Johnson forwards Trautner’ s email to Walensky writing, “AFT followed up w suggested lang[uage] on accommodations per your exchange with Randi.”

On February 3, 2021, Walensky replied to CDC, HHS, White House, and AFT officials:

I just wanted to circle back and extend my gratitude for the language you have provided below. Regrets for my delay in reply but I wanted to be certain you knew it is being worked into (with just a few small tweaks) the school reopening guidance. We have also included the executive summary you suggested.

Please know that we are listening and working hard to ensure your confidence and partnership in this endeavor.

Within the “language” provided by Trautner to the White House officials, she suggested adding,

Employers should provide reassignment, remote work, or other options for staff who have documented high-risk conditions or who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 to limit the risk of workplace exposure. Options for reassignment include telework, virtual teaching opportunities, modified job responsibilities, environmental modifications, scheduling flexibility, or temporary reassignment to different job responsibilities.

Trautner replied to Walensky:

Thank you so much for your responsiveness to the suggestions made by Randi and our team. We are immensely grateful for your genuine desire to earn our confidence and your commitment to partnership. We will pass this message along to Randi. She will certainly be most grateful.

On February 11, 2021, Trautner continued the exchange, emailing Walensky:

Thank you for your continued openness to our suggestions and input. We would like to share some thoughts regarding the paragraph below which was apparently leaked from the imminent guidance on reopening schools:

“At any level of community transmission, all schools can provide in-person instruction (either full or hybrid), through strict adherence to mitigation strategies. Recommended learning modes vary to minimize risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in school by emphasizing layered mitigation, including school policies requiring universal and correct mask use. The recommended learning modes (in-person, hybrid) depend on the level of community transmission and strict adherence to mitigation.”

It would be great to see the insertion some variation of the following: “In the event high-community transmission results from a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, a new update of these guidelines may be necessary.”

We are deeply concerned about likely implications this language will have in schools where strict adherence to mitigation strategies is lacking or is impossible to implement, particularly those schools in high-density, crumbling infrastructure areas, and particularly when community transmission is high. We don’t believe that any current research has demonstrated that all schools in those areas can safely reopen.  

  • On March 17, 2021, Trautner emailed Walensky about a call from Weingarten, saying: “Randi is hoping to schedule a call with your folks about reopening issue, including maintaining mitigation protections and what might be needed in the context of higher vaccination numbers.”
  • On March 23, 2021, AFT President Randi Weingarten emailed Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Walensky, saying that she had noted the “shift” in CDC’s guidance regarding physical distancing in schools with “keen interest.” 

On March 20, 2021, the CDC issued new “guidance” reducing suggested physical distancing from 6 feet to 3 feet for students.

Weingarten stated:

[A]lthough I was very worried about the implications of the shift, I reserved judgment until we could review the new studies that were presented….

***

[W]e are not convinced that the evidence supports changing physical distancing requirements at this time. Our concern is that the cited studies do not identify the baseline mitigation strategies needed to support 3 feet of physical distancing.

***

[W]e conclude that any shift from 6 feet to 3 feet must be accompanied by, at a minimum, universal and correct masking; effective ventilation; thorough cleaning of buildings; regular COVID-19 testing of teachers, staff and students; effective contact tracing and quarantine/isolation protocols; and the availability of vaccines to all people in schools who are eligible.

Weakening one layer of layered mitigation demands that the other layers must be strengthened. We strongly urge you, in any discussion of this shift, to forcefully insist on strict and strengthened adherence to the other mitigation strategies….

After months of mixed messaging and misinformation, consistency from our public health officials is a welcome change. But as educators with the expertise on how physical distancing works in schools, we have immediate logistical questions….

Weingarten added a list of questions regarding how school personnel can move about, whether simulcasting lessons was still necessary, and what the government’s mitigation strategies timeline was.

  • On April 9, 2021, Weingarten emailed Walensky about “Requesting Meeting about Variants,” stating: “On behalf of the AFT we would request a meeting with the CDC on the impact of the Covid variants, particularly what we are seeing in schools and communities.”

Walensky replied, “Dear Randi, Many thanks for reaching out. I’ll connect with my team and work to make this happen.”

“What qualifies partisan teachers unions, other than generous contributions to allied politicians, to provide the CDC with public health guidance on reopening schools? The CDC is corrupted by politics and is dishonest when it suggests it is merely ‘following the science,’” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

*Some of these emails have been previously disclosed.

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