The nation’s second-largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), regularly communicated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the White House on school reopening, emails showed Saturday.
Communication obtained by the New York Post through a Freedom of Information Act request issued by the conservative group, Americans for Public Trust, showed numerous emails between top CDC officials and the union just days before the administration released school reopening guidelines in February.
"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," senior director for health issues with the AFT, Kelly Trautner, said in a Feb. 1 email to the CDC.
"We were able to review a copy of the draft guidance document over the weekend and were able to provide some initial feedback to several staff this morning about possible ways to strengthen the document,"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 added. "We believe our experiences on the ground can inform and enrich thinking around what is practicable and prudent in future guidance documents."
The lobbying efforts were a reported success as the Post found at least two instances when "suggestions" were used nearly word-for-word within the CDC’s guidelines.
The CDC had been prepared to allow in-school instruction regardless of transmission rates. But at the suggestion of the union, the guidelines were adjusted to include a provision that said, "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 union further requested that teachers be granted remote work access for those "who have documented high-risk conditions or who are at increased risk." Similar provisions were included for "staff who have a household member" that is considered high risk to the virus.
In a statement to Fox News, AFT acknowledged it has been "in regular touch with the agencies setting policy that affect their work and lives, including the CDC."
"In fact, we contacted the agency more in 2020 during the Trump administration than we have during the Biden administration in 2021 – requesting additional guidance, questioning policy, providing testimony and offering an educator and healthcare worker perspective," said AFT president Randi Weingarten. "And while we have at times been concerned about their conclusions – as we were initially with the change in classroom physical distancing rules – we respect deeply that the CDC career staff has always taken its responsibility seriously. We appreciate that under Dr. Walensky's leadership, the CDC welcomes stakeholder feedback, as opposed to ignoring it."
Parents nationwide have been frustrated with the slow rate of school reopenings for in-person instruction, even after the CDC said it was safe for teachers to re-enter the classroom – prompting legal battles from San Francisco to Chicago.
An agreement in late March to reopen Oakland, Calif., classrooms for high-needs students, including homeless, foster, and special needs kids, fell through after not enough teachers agreed to return to the classroom, despite cash incentives and vaccine prioritization.
Parents have suspected unions of utilizing the pandemic as a way to bargain for increased pay and benefits.
"I think it is important to distinguish that these are union leaders that have political talking points and political agendas that are trying to demand benefits for them, that really go against what their calling is – which is to help students," Scott Davison, a parent, and attorney who helped launch a lawsuit against six California school districts, told Fox News.
The AFT applauded the CDC’s reopening guidance, saying "the CDC has identified the importance of layered mitigation," in a Feb. 12 press release.
"It reinforces vaccine priority for teachers and school staff," the statement continued. "Crucially, it emphasizes accommodations for educators with pre-existing conditions and those taking care of others at risk."