Republicans expose 'uncommon' CDC, teachers' union ties on COVID school reopening guidance in report

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EXCLUSIVE: Republican lawmakers who sit on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis are releasing a report Wednesday revealing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official’s testimony claiming that the agency coordinated with teachers’ unions at an extraordinary level in crafting its schools reopening guidance, despite the agency’s earlier claims that such coordination was routine and nonpolitical. 

In the interim report, exclusively reviewed by Fox News Digital, Republicans wrote that emails between the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the White House, and the CDC showed that the AFT’s “cozy relationship with the Biden administration’s political leadership at the CDC positioned the union to impose line-by-line edits” to the reopening guidance, despite the CDC’s “past practice to keep draft guidance confidential.”

TEACHERS UNION INFLUENCED LAST-MINUTE CDC SCHOOL GUIDANCE RECEIVED COPIES BEFORE PUBLIC RELEASE, EMAILS SHOW

Fox News previously reported in October on emails that showed the AFT and the National Education Association, the two largest teachers unions in the U.S., received a copy of the 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 high-community transmission results from a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, a new update of these guidelines may be necessary.”

Rochelle Walensky, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.

Rochelle Walensky, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.
(Photographer: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The emails revealed that Walensky forwarded the email to 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 emails also revealed that CDC officials coordinated an early release of the final guidance to the AFT before releasing it to the public.

The Republicans’ report Wednesday says 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,” says the report.

The report features new testimony from 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.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky gives her opening statement during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on "Next Steps: The Road Ahead for the COVID-19 Response" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 4, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky gives her opening statement during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on “Next Steps: The Road Ahead for the COVID-19 Response” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 4, 2021.
(REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz)

The report states the Biden administration’s lawyers would not allow Walke to answer questions pertaining to 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 re-opening 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.

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In a joint statement provided exclusively to Fox News Digital, Republican Reps. Steve Scalise and James Comer accused President Biden of rewarding one of his biggest political donors while millions of children suffered from school closures.

“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. 

“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.

“Millions of Americans are still outraged at what these Washington Democrats put their children through, and all because union bosses demanded they keep schools closed longer,” they continued.

 “America’s children are suffering, academically and mentally, because of the Biden Administration enabled school closures. Republicans will not rest until we uncover all the facts and hold everyone accountable who was involved in holding back millions of children from having equal opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) delivers remarks during a Republican-led forum on the origins of the COVID-19 virus at the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. 

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) delivers remarks during a Republican-led forum on the origins of the COVID-19 virus at the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. 
(Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

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.

At the time of the guidance’s release, Walensky reportedly said it was “free from political meddling.”

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The AFT also previously defended its role in shaping federal policy, saying, “we have been in regular touch with the agencies setting policy” that affect its 1.7 million members.

In response for a request for comment, an AFT spokesperson told Fox News Digital that the CDC also worked with dozens of other groups and organizations in crafting the guidance.

The CDC did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on the Republicans’ report.

Fox News’ Kelly Laco and Joe Schoffstall contributed to this report. 

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