Newly unearthed text messages between the heads of America’s two most prominent teachers’ unions and the then-Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Rochelle Walensky, have stirred controversy over the handling of school reopening policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The texts, brought to light through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Fairfax Parents Association, reveal candid exchanges between American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, National Education Association’s President Becky Pringle, and Walensky. The messages suggest that the unions may have influenced the CDC’s public health guidance on school reopenings, raising questions about the scientific impartiality of such decisions.
In one of the key exchanges, dated February 11, 2021, Weingarten expressed concern to Walensky about the language in a leaked draft of the CDC’s school reopening guidance, which was “at odds with their discussion.” This initial draft indicated a clear direction toward reopening schools, a position that Weingarten seemed to contest. However, the final guidance, issued the next day, changed its tone, presenting school reopening as an “option,” thus giving leeway for schools to stay closed if they wished.
Randi Weingarten (2/12/21): "Thank you" (sends statement on CDC school reopening guidance)
CDC Director: "This gave me the biggest smile of my week. Thank YOU, Friend!"
Randi Weingarten: "we will fuss a little on ventilation but I am so grateful" pic.twitter.com/epXgjk4PkM
— Corey A. DeAngelis, school choice evangelist (@DeAngelisCorey) June 2, 2023
Both teachers’ unions quickly lauded the new guidance. Weingarten’s union put out a statement praising the new CDC guidelines and texted the document directly to Walensky, saying, “Thank you.” In response, Walensky expressed her gratitude, saying, “This gave me the biggest smile of my week. Thank YOU, Friend!”
This close relationship between the unions and the CDC Director is troubling. Critics argue that the unions’ sway over the CDC’s guidance on school reopening policy raises valid concerns about the integrity of the scientific advice being given to the American public.
Furthermore, the public discourse around the reopening of schools has revolved around the claim of “following the science.” It now appears that the influence of political interests may have been prioritized over pure science, and the needs of students may have been secondary to the considerations of the teachers’ unions.
Parents nationwide have long been calling for a return to in-person schooling, citing the emotional, mental, academic, and social harms inflicted on children due to extended school closures. Yet, in a glaring display of apparent disregard for the plight of students and parents, the teachers’ unions seemed to be more intent on advocating for their interests rather than the well-being of the students. As the Fairfax County Parents Association spokesperson Christy Hudson pointed out, “Teachers unions exist to represent the interests of their dues-paying members. They do not exist to advocate for the interests of children.”
The timing of these revelations is crucial, as Dr. Walensky announced last month that she would step down from her role at the CDC on June 30. The scrutiny of the interactions between her and Weingarten leading up to the February 2021 guidance release will likely be a key issue during her upcoming testimony before the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.
As we continue to navigate the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, our public health decisions must be guided by solid, impartial science – not the pressures of political influence or union interests. The American people, especially our students and parents, deserve nothing less.