The president of the nation’s second-largest teachers union faced tough questioning on April 26 by members of a House subcommittee seeking to determine whether the union unduly influenced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) policy on school reopenings during the pandemic.
“Americans are curious to know if the AFT [American Federation of Teachers] access was in line with CDC past practice and if their influence had a positive or detrimental impact on America’s children,” subcommittee Chair Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) said at the start of the hearing.
“While it is reasonable for the CDC to seek outside opinions, were some opinions accepted and others not considered? And why or why not?”
Randi Weingarten, the head of the 1.7 million member union, was the subcommittee’s sole witness.
At issue was whether or not the AFT or Weingarten herself had suggested changes to the CDC’s February 2021 guideline document, “Operational Strategy for K-12 Schools Through Phased Prevention,” that resulted in prolonged school closures.
Schools could and should have reopened much earlier than they did but remained closed based on three faulty recommendations provided by the CDC, according to Wenstrup.
The recommendations cited included using community spread rates for the virus versus school spread rates in triggering school closures, the requirement for routine screening and testing, and using six-foot social distancing requirements rather than a three-foot standard.
“None of these [recommendations] were based on sound science at the time,” and the AFT directly supported all, Wenstrup said.
Wenstrup, a medical doctor, noted that transmission rates among children were known to be much lower than for adults, that children were less likely to become ill from the coronavirus, and that deaths were exceedingly rare, occurring in about 1 in 1 million cases.
“Did the AFT consult with the CDC on its February 2021 operational strategy for school reopening?” Wenstrup asked.
Weingarten conceded that there had been consultation with the CDC beginning with a conference call on Jan. 29, 2021, and “two or three” subsequent phone calls with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
“Did you suggest revisions to their operational strategy?” Wenstrup asked.
Weingarten said she had done so but insisted they mainly were “ideas” and that only two specific policy changes were recommended.
Those were suggestions to include a work-from-home option for teachers with compromised immune systems and to revise the guidelines if a new variant of the virus emerged.
Weingarten said she also asked the CDC to create a “trigger” that would serve as a guideline for knowing when to close schools, though that wasn’t a suggested revision to the draft policy.
“When you made these proposals, the two you suggested, were they accepted by the CDC?” Wenstrup asked.
Weingarten said they were.
Throughout questioning, Weingarten appeared to ramble and change the topic frequently, twice pleading her age and failing memory as a reason for lacking clarity.
“Look, I’m 65 years old. I don’t remember anything anymore. I’m sorry,” she said. When admonished for not responding directly to a question, she said, “Sorry, I’m just slow.”
However, when Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) asked about making direct changes to the draft CDC document, Weingarten answered directly and clearly.
“Documents and testimony gathered by this committee show the CDC and AFT worked closely on this guidance; some of the AFT suggestions were included nearly word-for-word by Director Walensky herself. In a transcribed interview, a career CDC official testified this level of coordination was ‘uncommon,’” Comer said.
“To summarize, AFT was provided with a full draft copy of the guidance two weeks before publication and suggested line-by-line edits—”
“No, we did not,” Weingarten said, interrupting Comer. She insisted that the AFT had offered only the two previously stated comments on policy and outlined them clearly.
Defended as Reasonable Steps
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) defended both suggestions as common sense safety measures.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) wondered aloud at the purpose of the hearing.
“It’s convened to accuse a federal agency of the crime of consulting with American citizens,” he said.
Weingarten insisted that she and the AFT placed a high value on in-person education, understood the harmful effects of prolonged school closure on students, and felt “terrified” as they fended for themselves to define safety and operational policies in the absence of guidance from the Trump administration.
“What we were simply looking for was clear, scientific guidance. And when we couldn’t get it, we did it ourselves,” she said.
Other Input Sought
The CDC requested input on school reopening from 14 sources, according to an agency spokesperson. Those included national organizations representing school nurses, superintendents, school boards, state boards of education, and the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union.
“These collaborative conversations resulted in nearly two-thirds of schools returning to full, in-person learning by May 2021, which was up from less than half in January 2021,” the spokesperson said in an April 27 email to The Epoch Times.
From The Epoch Times