- During pointed questioning Wednesday by House Republicans, the head of the American Federation of Teachers denied claims the union exerted undue influence over Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for reopening schools during the pandemic.
- Republican representatives claimed AFT’s consultation with CDC before it released guidance on K-12 operational strategies during the pandemic prevented schools from opening sooner than they should have. Republicans, in a hearing on the consequences of school closures before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, raised concerns that AFT had a high level of access and influence on CDC.
- AFT President Randi Weingarten told the panel she had a Zoom meeting with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Jan. 29, 2021, after which AFT staff got access to a draft of the guidance. She denied the union submitted “line-by-line” edits, but said AFT suggested proposals, two of which were accepted: one on modifications, like remote work options, for immunocompromised teachers, and the other suggesting that guidance change if a new variant emerged.
Walensky said in congressional testimony last year that the CDC had engaged with more than 50 organizations and stakeholders over its drafted guidance for reopening schools.
To show the impact of the guidance, she said that while 46% of schools were open before the guidance came out, 60% were open “just a few months after.”
During Weingarten’s opening remarks Wednesday, she said educators long knew that students learn best through in-person learning.
“From the earliest days of COVID, the AFT knew that safety was the pathway to opening schools and keeping them open,” said Weingarten, who was the sole witness at the hearing.
“We along with parents, administrators and health officials — we needed clear science-based guidance to keep students and staff safe in school," she said. "And yes, it made sense to consult with the CDC, and it was not only appropriate for the CDC to confer with educators, it would have been irresponsible for them not to.”
But Republicans on the panel pushed Weingarten on the union’s role in political activism and whether AFT should have been influencing the CDC’s guidance. They also pointed to the negative impact school closures had on students’ mental health and academic performance.
“The scientific expertise of the AFT is called into question, and also called into question is the high level of access and influence the AFT was provided by the CDC,” said subcommittee Chairman Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio.
At the same time, Democrats called out the House GOP’s latest proposed cuts to education spending, which subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., said would further worsen students' mental health and academic progress. The Republican-controlled House passed the bill to raise the debt ceiling and cut spending in a 217-215 vote on Wednesday. President Joe Biden has already rejected the GOP plan, and it's not expected to garner enough votes to pass in the Democrat-led Senate.