White House officials considered ongoing labor disputes teachers unions were facing before releasing school reopening guidance to the public, emails show.
Additionally, a White House staffers facilitated a meeting between Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky and the head of the nation’s largest teachers union, National Education Association President Becky Pringle, the emails also show.
The NEA official in that exchange later landed a Biden administration appointment to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which houses the CDC, according to a press clip from the department.
Previously released emails showed that teachers unions had influenced the CDC on school reopenings. The guidelines included a phased reopening approach for K-12 schools based on coronavirus cases in the area.
“These emails show time and time again that the White House inserted itself into the shaping of school guidance with a primary focus of accommodating teachers unions,” Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of Americans for Public Trust (APT), told Fox News. “However, the only thing the White House should have been focused on was how to get our children safely back into the classroom.”
APT provided the emails to Fox News after obtaining them through an ongoing lawsuit against the CDC and HHS.
In the days leading up to the guidance’s public release, an HHS official told colleagues they had “some homework assignments” after getting off a call with the White House, the latest emails show.
“Hey team — Just got off a call with the White House and Department of Education regarding the school reopening guidance that is projected to roll out on Friday,” Michael Baker, an HHS official, wrote in a Feb. 8 email. “We have some homework assignments.”
The assignments Baker listed were redacted in the emails provided to APT. However, an HHS official provided the full email to Fox News.
“This reflects standard logistical and operational planning around rollouts of new policy, including ensuring bipartisan Governors, Mayors, members of Congress, and stakeholders knew about the updated public health guidance from CDC,” the HHS official told Fox News.
Without the redaction, the email shows that the White House was concerned with issues teachers unions faced that were unrelated to public health experts’ determinations on school reopenings.
“Eduardo is going to connect with AJ on some of the mayor/labor union issues that are ongoing across the country,” one of Baker’s assignments reads, referring to Eduardo Cisneros, a White House employee. “We need to think about this in the broader context of teacher contract negotiations.”
Another HHS official, AJ Pearlman, responded to Baker’s email thanking him for representing the department on the call and alluded to another call where “this is all going to be discussed as well.”
And shortly after Baker’s assignments message, another email showed that a CDC official expressed frustration with an unidentified person about a heavily redacted topic.
Another CDC official on that Feb. 11 email exchange attached a news story regarding a Chicago teachers union’s contract negotations. The official said it “may be the source of” with the rest of that portion redacted.
The CDC released the reopening guidance to the public on Feb. 12.
The latest batch of emails further demonstrates the coziness between the Biden administration and teachers unions.
In one such email, a White House staffer facilitated a meeting between Walensky, the CDC director, and Pringle, the NEA president.
“I’m reaching out to introduce you to Carole Johnson from our Covid team,” Maureen Tracey-Mooney, special assistant to the president for education, wrote in a Jan. 31 email. “She’d like to set up a meeting with Pres. Pringle for tomorrow with her and CDC Director Walensky.”
Less than an hour later, Johnson responded to an email from Carrie Pugh, who at the time was the senior director of campaigns and elections at NEA.
“We would welcome the opportunity to hear directly from President Pringle and to continue to have the benefit of NEA’s insights as we work on reopening schools safely,” Johnson wrote.
Months after acting as an intermediary between the White House and the NEA, Pugh left her position at the union after landing a Biden administration appointment as a director in HHS’ Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, according to an April press release from the department.
“These are all routine emails about logistics and ensuring that local officials, Members of Congress and outside groups of all kinds could be in touch with the proper officials and quickly informed about guidelines when finalized; none of them concern anything substantive about policy,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told Fox News.
“99% of our schools have now re-opened after the President led the way on delivering historic funding to make that a reality – which every Republican in Congress opposed – and he is proud to have done that while ensuring that medical and scientific experts determined our guidance for making it happen,” Bates said.
APT is still receiving emails after the CDC and HHS admitted it failed to search for incoming exchanges from government accounts. Initially, APT received only outgoing communications.
The latest emails come on the heels of previously released communications showing that teachers unions influenced the school’s reopening guidance.
Fox News previously reported on emails obtained by APT showing that the NEA and the American Federations of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers union, influenced last-minute changes to the school guidance and received a copy before its public release.
The emails followed a New York Post report showing close coordination between the teachers unions and the CDC. APT also obtained those emails through the Freedom of Information Act.
The Biden administration also tightened masking guidance after threats from teachers unions, Fox News reported.