The senators say the “close coordination” between the teachers unions and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on drafting language on school reopening guidelines “raises serious concern” about the “scientific integrity” of the underlying guidance.
They point to recently uncovered emails between the CDC and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) that show union officials were involved in the development of the new school guidelines released on Feb. 12.
“Recently released emails show close coordination between the CDC and teachers unions on the language of school reopening guidance,” the senators wrote Wednesday in a letter to the leaders of the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “Political interference from administration-friendly special interest groups that is divorced from science harms children who have been lacking in-person instruction for prolonged periods of time.”
UNITED STATES – DECEMBER 16: Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., talks with a reporter before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing titled Examining Irregularities in the 2020 Election, in Dirksen Building on Wednesday, December 16, 2020. Johnson is demanding answers from the CDC and HHS on the influence teachers unions had on new school reopening guidelines. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rand Paul of Kentucky, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Rick Scott of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri joined together on the letter, which was first reported by the Daily Caller. They are asking CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra for further details about communications with the AFT and NEA on the school guidelines.
The CDC and the White House have defended the contact with the teachers unions on the reopening guidelines as part of a longstanding best practice to consult with many organizations and groups that will implement the rules.
“It’s actually a longstanding best practice for the CDC to engage with organizations and groups that are going to be impacted by guidance and recommendations issued by the agency,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this month.
Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers, speaks, along with Everett Kelley, left, National President of the American Federation of Government Employees, during the "Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" protest against racism and police brutality, on August 28, 2020, in Washington, DC. Republicans want to know how much influence Weingarten had on the Biden Admisntration’s school reopening policies. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JACQUELYN MARTIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Psaki said the CDC “engaged with around 50 stakeholders” total in advance of the guidance — not just the unions.
But Republicans have remained skeptical about the inclusion of teachers unions, which they blame for the slow reopening of certain school districts. Teachers unions are major political donors to the Democratic Party, including President Joe Biden.
Currently, about 68% of K-12 public school students are attending class in person every day, according to Burbio.com’s school opening tracker. Just under 3% of students are in virtual-only school, while the rest are in some hybrid model.
In an interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum earlier this month, AFT President Randi Weingarten said the teachers union supports the full opening of schools now that conditions have changed and the Biden administration issued real safety guidelines that aren’t undermined by the former president on a daily basis.
“The bottom line is it’s time for our kids to be back in school,” Weingarten said. “I am grateful that the Biden administration is listening to parents and to teachers and to administrators and to even Fox to try to figure out how we get people vaccinated, how we get our kids back to school and how we get our country back to being back.”
The union president added: “I begged the Trump administration to do exactly what the Biden administration did, which is real safety guidance that the former president didn’t mock every other day.”
House Republicans already wrote the CDC for answers about the seemingly cozy relationship with the unions, but the agency had not yet responded to their letter.