A powerful teachers union allegedly pressured the Biden administration to put the brakes on schools reopening, it has been revealed – as cases surge in Oregon leaving 15 counties in lockdown.
The American Federation of Teachers sent emails to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before it issued guidance on re-opening schools to in-person teaching, New York Post reported. White House officials were copied on them.
The union lobbied the CDC to tone down language about returning students to classroom regardless of community spread of COVID, and also to allow teachers the right to work from home.
The emails were provided to the outlet by the conservative watchdog group Americans for Public Trust – which reportedly obtained them through Freedom of Information Act requests.
The revelation comes as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown placed 15 counties in an ‘extreme risk’ category on Friday after cases rose by 51% in just two weeks, the Los Angeles Times reported. Oregon marks the fastest increase in the nation.
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris listens to American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten speak to the media in 2019
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention testifies during a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing
Students walk the hallways in between classes at Benson High School during Portland Public Schools first day of hybrid instruction for middle and high schools on April 19, 2021
Monique Adams leads her class at White Plains High School, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in White Plains, N.Y. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited the school Thursday as part of the ‘Help is Here’ tour. The school reopened to all students on April 12
Chunhuei Chi, director of Oregon State University’s Center for Global Health, told the Los Angeles Times that Brown’s placement of teachers ahead of senior citizens for vaccines in January in order to open schools was partly to blame for the increase.
Critics claim that Brown placing teachers ahead of seniors was evidence of her own loyalty to teachers unions.
In the AFT emails obtained by the New York Post, the union even suggested language for the CDC’s school-reopening guidance released on February 12.
Kelly Trautner, the senior director for health issues for AFT, wrote an email on February 1 in which she thanked the CDC for ‘openness to the suggestions’ made by the union’s president Randi Weingarten, the New York Post reported.
‘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,’ Trautner wrote.
‘We believe our experiences on the ground can inform and enrich thinking around what is practicable and prudent in future guidance documents.’
That email was forwarded to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky by Carole Johnson, the White House coronavirus testing coordinator, according to the outlet. Will McIntee, an associate director of public engagement at The White House, was included on many of the emails.
The New York Post noted that suggestions made by the AFT were included ‘nearly verbatim’ by the CDC.
Trautner argued for the inclusion of a line noting that updates to the guidelines ‘may be necessary’ if there is ‘high community-transmission results from a new variant’ of the coronavirus. That line appeared on page 22 of the final CDC guidance.
The AFT also lobbied to allow teachers the right to work from home if they or someone they live with ‘have documented high-risk conditions or who are at increased risk’ for COVID-19, the New York Post reported. That was also included in the final draft by the CDC.
‘Today, the CDC met fear of the pandemic with facts and evidence,’ the union said in a February 12 press release when the new guidance was issued.
A child holds a ‘zoom sux’ sign at event to support fully reopening NYC public schools on Saturday
Protesters angered by lockdown measures rally in front of Gov. Kate Brown’s residence, Mahonia Hall, on November 21, 2020 in Salem, Oregon
Students get off the bus at Roseway Heights Middle School on the first day of in-person hybrid learning
AFT spokeswoman Oriana Korin defended its role in advocating for its teachers in a statement to the New York Post and noted that the union also worked closely 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,’ she said.
‘So naturally, we have been in regular touch with the agencies setting policy that affect their work and lives, including the CDC.’
Jason McDonald, a spokesman for Walensky, told the outlet that the 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,’ he said.
‘These informative and helpful interactions often result in beneficial feedback that we consider in our final revisions to ensure clarity and usability.’
McDonald noted that other groups that received advance copies of the guidance include the National Education Association, National Association of School Nurses and National Association of State Boards of Education.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown visits Sitton Elementary School in North Portland, Oregon on March 5, 2020
The revelation comes as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown placed 15 counties in an ‘extreme risk’ category on Friday after cases rose by 51% in just two weeks
In Oregon, officials are worried that the situation could quickly spiral after cases have risen, the Los Angeles Times reported. Brown has shutdown indoor dining and gyms in 15 counties.
A previously healthy woman in her 30s was infected with COVID-19 by her child and was admitted to a Portland hospital this week.
Dr. Dean Sidelinger, Oregon’s state epidemiologist, said there has been ‘a decrease in how seniors are being impacted,’ the outlet reported.
‘But we’ve also seen an increase in the youngest adults, in the 18 to 34 age group,’ he said.
Dr. Katie Sharff, an infectious disease specialist at Kaiser Permanente in Portland, said that elderly people are remaining healthy in the new surge which indicates that the vaccines have been effective.
‘Unfortunately there is a fraction of the population that either didn’t have access to the vaccine or chose not to get vaccinated, and that’s who we’re seeing at our hospitals,’ she said.