Teachers' unions and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coordinated closely on policies to keep schools shut longer during the pandemic, according to a new report released by Republican lawmakers who sit on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
The CDC earlier claimed that such coordination was routine and nonpolitical.
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) had a "cozy relationship with the Biden administration," according to emails in the interim report, reported Fox News Digital.
In fact, the AFT and the National Education Association, the two largest teachers' unions in the U.S., received a copy of the schools reopening guidance before the CDC released it to the public.
On Feb. 11, 2021, one day before the CDC publicly posted the guidance, AFT's senior director of health issues, Kelly Trautner, emailed CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky asking her to insert the line: "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," Fox Digital reported.
The Republicans’ report released on Wednesday shows that the Biden administration provided the teachers' unions "unprecedented access to the policymaking process for guidance on re-opening schools."
"Documents and testimony show, however, that Director Walensky downplayed the degree to which CDC departed from past practice to allow AFT to affect the policymaking process. In fact, CDC allowed AFT to insert language into the Operational Guidance that made it more likely schools across the country would remain closed after February 2021," the report states.
Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative watchdog group Americans for Public Trust show that Walensky communicated with Dr. Henry Walke, director of the CDC’s Center for Preparedness and Response, who then revised the guidance in accordance with AFT’s request.
The report quotes Dr. Walke in a Feb. 18, 2022, interview, saying the level with which the CDC coordinated with the teachers unions was "uncommon," and that the CDC does not typically share draft guidance outside the agency.
The Biden administration’s lawyers would not allow Walke to answer why the CDC allowed this level of coordination with the teachers' unions.
"When Republican staff asked Dr. Walke questions to that effect, a Biden Administration lawyer instructed him not to answer," says the report. "Because lawyers for the Biden Administration prevented a key witness from explaining why the CDC allowed AFT to write key portions of its guidance for reopening schools, there are still several unanswered questions. This matter should be investigated further."
The AFT’s edits were intended to make it more likely that schools would close to in-person learning, according to the Republicans' findings.
Republican Reps. Steve Scalise and James Comer accused President Biden of rewarding one of his biggest political donors: the teachers' union.
"The facts are clear: Biden’s CDC overrode routine practice to allow a radical teachers' union that donated millions of dollars to Democrat campaigns to bypass scientific norms and rewrite official agency guidance," Scalise and Comer wrote in a joint statement provided to Fox News Digital.
"The damaging edits by union bosses effectively kept thousands of schools shuttered across the country, locking millions of children out of their classrooms. The Biden Administration abandoned medical science and replaced it with political science to reward one of their largest donors, harming millions of children in the process. They bypassed the science to put union bosses ahead of children."
The CDC previously defended its conversations with the unions as routine, saying, "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."
The AFT and its affiliates have long been one of the most reliable and deep-pocketed donor constituencies of the Democratic Party, dropping almost $20 million to elect party members during the 2020 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the New York Post reported.
The union defended its role in shaping federal COVID policy.
"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, adding the union also worked closely with the Trump administration.
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