Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.


Lawmakers Press CDC About Teachers’ Union Influence on School Reopening Guidance

By Evie Blad — May 11, 2021 3 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during an event in Wilmington, Del., to announce President-elect Joe Biden's health care team on Dec. 8, 2020.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

GOP senators pressed the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday about reports that a national teachers’ union had input on the agency’s guidance on school reopenings.

Officials with the American Federation of Teachers suggested changes to a draft of the recommendations, the New York Post recently reported.

Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican and ranking member of the Senate education committee, told CDC Director Rochele Walenksy the emails cited by the Post create the impression that the union had unfair influence into the guidance.

“There’s a chain of information that suggests people had preferred access to not only advice but actual language that went into the guidance,” he said at a committee hearing with federal health officials Tuesday, citing emails between the AFT, the CDC, and the White House that were obtained through a public records request.

The AFT was not the only outside organization the CDC consulted in drafting its recommendations “as a matter of practice and in an unbiased fashion,” Walensky insisted.

She echoed earlier comments by White House officials that federal health officials reached out to groups representing educators, school leaders, and state officials to ensure their recommendations were informed by the practical realities they faced.

The emails obtained by the Post show the union pushed for a few changes after reviewing a draft of the recommendations: language about how schools should address the needs of staff with health vulnerabilities, and a caution that the guidance may need to be updated “in the event of high community-transmission results from a new variant of SARS-CoV-2.”

The updated guidance, released in February, was part of an attempt by the Biden administration to rebuild public confidence and consistency after months of shifting directives under the previous administration.

Some parent groups around the country have blamed the influence of teachers’ unions for the sometimes slow pace of school reopenings during the pandemic.

Biden pledged to “follow the science,” trusting health officials to create directives that would keep students and teachers safe while stressing the importance of in-person learning. The most recent federal data, collected from a representative sample of schools, found 44 percent of 4th graders attended in-person class full time by March, and another 21 percent attended hybrid classes online and in-person.

Even as more schools open for hybrid and in-person instruction, GOP officials have used the issue as a key criticism of Biden on cable news shows and with constituents.

“Parents are rightly frustrated at the willingness of all levels of government to bend to cynical political elites ahead of their children,” said a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona from two lawmakers Monday.

Those lawmakers—Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican and ranking member of the House education committee, and Rep. Burgess Owens, a Utah Republican— asked Cardona to detail how unions and other organizations had informed his agency’s efforts.

AFT President Randi Weingarten has defended her organization’s involvement with the reopening guidance.

“Working with the CDC to ensure #COVID19 safety isn’t ‘lobbying,’ it’s collaboration,” she tweeted Monday. “It’s how we build trust to get people back into classrooms and businesses. It’s how we, and dozens of other groups, have been working to keep our communities safe.”

To be sure, the national teachers’ unions haven’t always been pleased with the CDC’s recommendations on COVID-19 and schools.

Both the AFT and the National Education Association issued terse initial statements after the agency revised its social distancing recommendations from 6 feet of space between students down to 3 feet, with appropriate precautions. Weingarten later said she came to support the change.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal In Reversal, Feds Seek to Revive DeVos-Era Questions About Sexual Misconduct by Educators
The Education Department's decision follows backlash from former education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other conservatives.
4 min read
Illustration of individual carrying binary data on his back to put back into the organized background of 1s and 0s.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal Biden Administration Lays Out Its Top Priorities for Education Grants
The pandemic's impact and a diverse, well-prepared educator workforce are among areas the administration wants to fund at its discretion.
2 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington on Aug. 5, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during a White House briefing.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal Opinion How Uncle Sam Writes the Rules for Schools
Former Education Department adviser Michael Brickman explains how negotiated rule making works and why educators should pay close attention.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Top Federal Adviser on Puerto Rico's Schools Declares: 'We Have to Build Trust'
Chris Soto heads an Education Department team providing technical assistance and support for the U.S. territory's public schools.
4 min read
Martin G. Brumbaugh School kindergarten teacher Nydsy Santiago teaches her students under a gazebo at a municipal athletic park in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 4, 2021.
Martin G. Brumbaugh School kindergarten teacher Nydsy Santiago teaches her students under a gazebo at a municipal athletic park in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 4, 2021.
Carlos Giusti/AP