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House COVID committee demands info on input Biden allies gave CDC on school closure guidelines

Lawmakers tasked with investigating the COVID-19 pandemic response are demanding the release of communication regarding school closures — as they probe the influence that Biden administration allies had on the controversial guidance.

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic fired off more than a dozen letters to several agencies and unions Tuesday, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

In one letter sent to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, committee Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) questions the input the health agency received from the AFT on its Feb. 12, 2021, COVID-19 school reopening guidance.

The AFT is the second-largest teachers union in the US and one of the Democratic Party’s most reliable donors.

The panel is “concerned about the potential for undue influence of non-governmental groups on CDC scientific guidance,” Wenstrup wrote, noting the possibility that the Biden administration prioritized “teacher unions over students” when weighing whether or not to reopen shuttered schools.

Chairman Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio.

“Even as reliable health data became available, instead of prioritizing the health and education of America’s children, the Biden Administration prioritized its political allies’ desires,” Wenstrup argued.

The committee chairman, a doctor in his own right, notes that the AFT “is a political union, not a professional scientific or medical organization.”

“Yet, CDC permitted the AFT to edit the Operational Strategy prior to its release,” the GOP lawmaker said.

The CDC’s published guidance on Feb. 12, 2021, advised keeping students locked out of classrooms in more than 90% of US counties — despite it being “contrary to the prevailing science” at the time,” Wenstrup continued.

In May of 2021, The Post reported on the powerful AFT’s full-court press against the CDC as it drafted its February guidelines – which put the brakes on a full re-opening of in-person learning for students.

Emails from that period show a flurry of activity between Walensky, her top advisers, and AFT officials — with even the White House getting looped in — just days before the consequential school re-opening guidance.

Chairman Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio.

“Thank you again for Friday’s rich discussion about forthcoming CDC guidance and for your openness to the suggestions made by our president, Randi Weingarten, and the AFT,” read a Feb. 1 email from AFT senior director for health issues Kelly Trautner to a White House official.

The correspondence was forwarded to Walensky. 

“We were able to review a copy of the draft guidance document over the weekend and were able to provide some initial feedback to several staff this morning about possible ways to strengthen the document,” Trautner continues in the missive.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
Getty Images

In March 2022, while in the minority on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, Republicans found that documents and testimony showed AFT staff successfully lobbied Walensky to install a “trigger” in the guidance that would cause schools to close automatically if COVID-19 positivity rates reached a certain threshold.

Walensky told Select Subcommittee Republicans in 2021 that the CDC’s consultation with the AFT was routine and consistent with the agency’s customary process for issuing guidance.

In Wenstrup’s letter to AFT President Randi Weingarten, the committee chairman asks the labor leader for all communication with the CDC leading up to the February 2021 guidance — while demanding that she, Trautner, and other AFT officials participate in a transcribed interview with committee staff.

Republican U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup .

Wenstrup also outlined in the letters several studies and reports that have found school closures during the pandemic led to disturbing declines in reading and math progress, exacerbated mental health issues in children and teenagers, and could have contributed to physical health declines due to a decline in physical activity. 

The 14 other groups that received letters from the select committee Tuesday, probing their contact with the CDC, include the School Superintendents Association, the Association of Public Health Laboratories, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Association of School Nurses, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Education Association, the National Governors Association, the National Parent Teacher Association, and the National School Boards Association.