FIRST ON FOX: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), met with parents just one time leading up to the release of school reopening guidance last year, her internal calendar reveals.
Walensky stated several times that they had consulted parents' needs for the guidance despite her calendar showing the sole 30-minute meeting. And as parents were granted just one session, teacher unions had constant access to her and other high-level CDC officials while influencing last-minute changes to the guidelines.
"Rochelle Walensky has repeatedly said she consulted with parents on school reopening guidance, but newly obtained records show that's anything but the truth," said Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of Americans for Public Trust, who provided Walensky's calendar to Fox News Digital.
"Instead of giving parents a meaningful seat at the table, she once again prioritized teacher union bosses – giving them instant and unfettered access while parents were relegated to a singular 30-minute meeting," Sutherland said.
"Parents and children are still dealing with the fallout of school closures, with kids behind in math and reading by President Biden's own admission," Sutherland said. "And that's a direct result of the White House and the CDC enabling Randi Weingarten and Becky Pringle to write the guidance that kept our schools closed."
During a February 12, 2021, press briefing for the release of the school reopening guidelines, Walensky said they had considered the "lived experiences, challenges, and perspectives" of parents and worked "to hear firsthand from parents." She also suggested guidance changes occurred due to "sessions" that included parents.
"The latest guidance is based on science and outreach with teachers, parents and the Department of Education," Walensky told NBC News. "CDC officials conducted comprehensive reviews of literature and extensively studied what happened during school openings in the fall and in Europe," she said.
Walensky also referred to the guidance as a "long-needed roadmap" that included input from parents, The 74 reported.
However, Walensky's internal calendar indicates she had only conducted one meeting with parents on February 10, 2021 - just two days before the release of the school reopening guidance. The 30-minute Zoom session allowed each unidentified parent just three minutes to "introduce themselves and discuss their needs for safe school reopening," her calendar shows.
Months later, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second-largest teachers union, used a screen capture of the event to hit Fox News and other outlets that began reporting on the CDC's coziness with teachers unions.
"Fox, WSJ, NY Post, and The 74 are probably never going to let their readers know that the CDC met with parents too," Weingarten wrote. "But everyone should know that they did, and that the NYPost knew they did when they wrote their hit piece. This is how the CDC gets stakeholder feedback."
The event was the only parents meeting to appear on Walensky's calendar.
Jason McDonald, Walensky's press secretary, told Fox News Digital that Walensky was "referring to all of the parental engagements conducted by CDC scientists and experts leading up to the issuance of the school guidance" when she discussed parents.
"CDC experts engaged with parents at three, national PTA-hosted events on August 7, 2020, January 4, 2021 and February 12, 2021," McDonald said. "During which, parents could ask CDC experts questions about the guidance and how to keep their children safe at school."
"CDC experts fielded 17,276 calls and email messages from Americans asking about COVID-19 and schools between March 1, 2020 and February 11, 2021," McDonald said.
As parents had only one meeting directly with Walensky, Weingarten's AFT and the National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest teachers union, had instant access to her and other high-level CDC officials. The unions also influenced last-minute changes to the school-reopening guidance, Fox News Digital previously reported.
AFT's senior director of health issues, Kelly Trautner, emailed Walensky a day before the CDC publicly posted the guidance. Within the email, she suggested the agency 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."
The email led to a flurry of activity from high-ranking CDC officials. The next day - on the day the guidance was released to the public - CDC chief of staff Sherri Berger flagged Trautner's suggestion for "possible follow-ups."
Minutes later, Walensky forwarded the email to the CDC's director of preparedness and emerging infections, Henry Walke, who replied, "Yes, will work with team."
Shortly after, Walke emailed Walensky with updated language for the guidance. "Super, thank you for doing that," Walensky replied.
The AFT did not respond to a Fox News Digital inquiry on their access to CDC officials.
The emails further revealed that the AFT and NEA received a copy of the guidance before the CDC made it public. The CDC's then-acting associate director for communications, Christopher Jones, also messaged Weingarten and Becky Pringle, NEA's president, thanking them for their continued partnership and input.
The New York Post also reported on emails from Americans for Public Trust showing coordination between the Biden White House and the influential teachers unions on school reopenings.
In at least two instances, suggestions offered by the AFT were "adopted nearly verbatim" in the final text of a CDC document on reopening guidance, the Post reported.
The Biden administration later tightened school masking guidelines in May 2021 following threats from teachers unions, Fox News Digital previously reported.