Newly obtained emails show the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teacher's union in the United States, successfully lobbied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from recommending earlier this year that schools could fully reopen in a safe manner.
The damning emails were provided to the New York Post by the conservative watchdog group Americans for Public Trust, which obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The bombshell reporting is particularly significant because, not only did the AFT donate nearly $20 million to Democrats during the 2020 election, but CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky insisted the guidance was "free from political meddling."
Teachers unions have infamously bucked a return to in-person learning, despite health officials saying in-person learning in safe for students and adults.
What are the details?
According to the New York Post, the emails "show a flurry of activity between CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, her top advisors 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."
In one email from Feb. 1 — which called the AFT a CDC "thought partner" — AFT senior director for health issues Kelly Trautner wrote:
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We were able to review a copy of the draft guidance document over the weekend and were able to provide some initial feedback to several staff this morning about possible ways to strengthen the document. … We believe our experiences on the ground can inform and enrich thinking around what is practicable and prudent in future guidance documents.
In another email two days later, Trautner thanked Walensky for her "committment (sic) to partnership" and Walensky's "genuine desire to earn our confidence." Then, four days later on Feb. 7, the emails indicate a call took place between Walensky and Weingarten.
The relationship apparently paid off for the AFT.
When the CDC finally released its guidance for schools on Feb. 12, they included two suggestions from the AFT almost verbatim.
More from the Post:
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 AFT 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.
How did the CDC, AFT respond?
Both organizations defended working together on the guidance.
"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," a spokesman for Walensky said.
Meanwhile, AFT spokeswoman Oriana Korin told the Post the AFT also worked with the Trump administration.
"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," Korin said.