CDC Sending School Reopening Draft Guidance to Teachers Union Was 'Uncommon': CDC Scientist

CDC Sending School Reopening Draft Guidance to Teachers Union Was 'Uncommon': CDC Scientist
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, testifies on Capitol Hill on Nov. 4, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)
Zachary Stieber

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientist says the agency sending a draft of its school reopening guidance to a powerful teachers union was unusual.

"It's uncommon," said Dr. Henry Walke, who directs the CDC's Center for Preparedness and Response.

It's also not common for the CDC to incorporate line-by-line edits from outside groups into its guidance, according to Walke.

The career government scientist was speaking in February to staff members on the House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. Portions of the interview were released on March 30.
Earlier releases show that the CDC used language provided by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second-largest teachers union in the United States, in the guidance offered in February 2021 to safely reopen schools.

That language included a 123-word paragraph that encompassed a possible trigger for school closures if community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 increased, as well as a recommendation that school districts let teachers or other staff members who are deemed to be at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness to work remotely or do another job that would limit their risk.

The proposed edits that were later incorporated were provided after the CDC provided the full draft of its guidance to the AFT.

Republicans on the select committee, investigating the government's response, found that action was "contrary to the CDC’s longstanding practice of keeping draft guidance documents confidential."

They cited the interview with Walke, who said the CDC might send portions of a draft guidance for feedback to outside parties, but not full versions.

The committee didn't release the full transcript of the interview and a spokesperson declined to provide it to The Epoch Times, which has filed a Freedom of Information Act for the document.

After describing the sharing of the draft as uncommon, Walke was instructed to not answer questions on why it happened by a government attorney in the room.

The White House and Walke didn't respond by press time to requests for comment.

"As part of long-standing best practices, 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. These informative and helpful interactions often result in beneficial feedback that we consider in our final revisions to ensure clarity and usability," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement.

Fourteen groups were asked for input on the guidance, including the National Governors Association and the Los Angeles County Health Department, according to the CDC, which noted that more schools were open in May 2021 when compared to January 2021.

However, the emails and Walke's comments led members of the committee to say Walensky "downplayed the degree to which CDC departed from past practice to allow AFT to affect the policymaking process."

"In fact, CDC allowed AFT to insert language into the Operational Guidance that made it more likely schools across the country would remain closed after February 2021," they said.

The situation may have occurred because the AFT donated more than $43 million to Democrat groups and candidates in the 2020 election and endorsed President Joe Biden, according to some committee members.

AFT didn't respond to a request for comment. Its president, Randi Weingarten, has said that the CDC solicited recommendations and that the federal health agency was “doing its job” and “we were doing our job.”
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