Second Largest Teachers Union in America Influenced CDC’s Questionable School Reopening Guidelines, According to Emails

Emails show that one of the United States’ largest teachers unions noticeably influenced the school reopening guidelines promulgated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in February.

A nonprofit organization called Americans for Public Trust obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and sent them to the New York Post, which subsequently broke the story Saturday evening.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and some of her top advisors hammered out certain details of the guidelines with officials from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) back in early February. Some White House officials were also privy to the discussions.

The CDC published their guidelines on February 12, which recommended universal masking, six-foot social distancing, contact tracing, and rigorous facility cleaning as conditions for holding in-person classes.

According to the New York Post report, the AFT’s “suggestions” on the language of the CDC guidelines were adopted almost verbatim in at least two instances. Kelly Trautner, the AFT’s senior director for health issues, argued that the following line should be included: “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.” The CDC listened and placed it on page 22 of their published guidelines. Trautner’s suggestion came after the agency had been “preparing to write that schools could provide in-person instruction regardless of community spread of the virus.”

In the other confirmed instance, the CDC included in their guidelines a “lengthy provision” acceding to the AFT’s demand that teachers with “documented high-risk conditions or who are at increased risk for COVID-19” ought to be granted remote work concessions. These special arrangements, the Post reports, also included any teachers who have an at-risk household member.

The AFT boasts 1.7 million members, making it the second largest teachers union in the United States, only behind the 2.3 million-member National Education Association (NEA). The New York Post called the AFT “one of the most reliable and deep pocketed donor constituencies of the Democratic Party.”

Responding to a request for comment from the Post, professor of medicine and COVID-19 researcher Dr. Monica Gandhi said that the AFT’s lobbying of the CDC is “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 States,” Dr. Gandhi said. “This is not how science-based guidelines should work or be put together.”

Many teachers unions on both the national and local levels dragged their feet for months on the reopening of schools to in-person instruction, claiming they were “fearful” of virus transmission and an unsafe work environment despite strict protocols. Evidence has been mounting, however, that children are less likely than adults to get infected and spread the virus. Schools are considered to be reliably safe and are not thought to drive increased community transmission of COVID-19.