American Federation of Teachers Union Influenced CDC on In-Person-Learning Guidelines

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten speaks to the media as then-Senator Kamala Harris (at right) listens in Detroit, Mich., May 6, 2019. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

The American Federation of Teachers influenced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s February guidelines on reopening schools, according to emails reported by the New York Post on Saturday.

At least two language suggestions made by the AFT were adopted in some form in the final text of the CDC’s guidelines, the Post found. The emails were provided to the paper by Americans for Public Trust, a conservative watchdog group that obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request.

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While the CDC was preparing to declare that all schools could provide in-person learning regardless of the degree of community spread of coronavirus, AFT senior director for health issues Kelly Trautner proposed adding new language.

“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,” Trautner’s suggestion read. The language was added as part of the CDC’s guidance on reopening.

The AFT also pushed for exemptions from in-person work for teachers and staff at higher risk of susceptibility to coronavirus, as well as staff with a family member at high risk for COVID-19. Language outlining these exemptions was adopted as part of the final 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,” Trautner wrote in a February 1 email. “We were able to review a copy of the draft guidance document over the weekend and were able to provide some initial feedback to several staff this morning about possible ways to strengthen the document.”

That email was forwarded to CDC director Dr. Rachel Walensky by White House coronavirus testing coordinator Carol Johnson.

The CDC and AFT said discussions between the two agencies are routine, in comments to the Post.

“Naturally, we have been in regular touch with the agencies setting policy that affect [school employees’] work and lives, including the CDC,” AFT spokeswoman Oriana Korin said, noting that the union held similar conversations with the Trump administration.

The Biden administration initially struggled to reopen schools for full in-person learning before the summer vacation. Reopening has faced significant pushback from some teachers unions, with the head of the Los Angeles teachers union alleging in March that California’s reopening plan propagated “structural racism,” while in Chicago a reopening agreement was reached in February after months of failed negotiations between the city and teachers union.

As of May 2, 4 percent of U.S. school districts are holding all-remote classes, with 47 percent holding full in-person learning. Meanwhile, 48 percent of districts are operating a hybrid schedule of in-person and remote learning, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Return to Learn Tracker.

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Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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