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Politics White House defends CDC outreach to teachers union in developing school guidelines

21:25  04 may  2021
21:25  04 may  2021 Source:   thehill.com

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Jen Psaki standing in front of a computer screen: Biden press secretary Jen Psaki speaks with reporters at the White House © Getty Images Biden press secretary Jen Psaki speaks with reporters at the White House

The White House on Tuesday downplayed criticism from conservatives that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sought input from a top teachers union in developing its school reopening guidelines.

"It's actually longstanding best practice for the CDC to engage with organizations, groups that are going to be impacted by guidance and recommendations issued by the agency," press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. "It doesn't mean they are taking everything they want, or even a percentage of what they want.

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"But it's important to understand the implementation components," Psaki continued. "They do so to ensure that recommendations are feasible and that they adequately address the safety and well-being of the individuals the guidance is aimed to protect. So, the CDC engaged with around 50 stakeholders that are on the frontlines in this pandemic and have requisite perspective for the guidance."

The New York Post reported over the weekend on communications that showed CDC officials were in touch with with leaders from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers union in the country.

The documents showed the union urging the CDC to issue guidelines that could be adjusted for areas where there is high transmission of more contagious coronavirus variants, as well as recommendations allowing teachers deemed to be high-risk the ability to continue working remotely. Both suggestions were adopted by the CDC in its final guidance on school reopenings, which was released in February.

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Conservatives cried foul over the communications between the AFT and CDC, arguing it was an example of the public health agency being improperly influenced by political considerations.

"The CDC is a thoroughly politicized agency," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Monday on Fox News. "Most Americans disregard their advice on things like steaks and hamburgers and beers, increasingly they should disregard their advice when it comes to school reopenings. Schools should be open."

Randi Weingarten, the head of the AFT, called The New York Post misleading and noted it is not unusual for the CDC to meet with stakeholders.

"Our job is to advocate for our members,students & communities," Weingarten tweeted. "And in this pandemic we have fought for safety & resources 24/7.This article describes basic advocacy. It's not mysterious or clandestine. It's routine. And this CDC wants feedback from stakeholders including teachers."

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Conservatives have turned the issue of returning to in-person learning during the pandemic into a rallying cry, arguing the Biden administration and government health officials have been too cautious in allowing children to return to school for classes. They have cited evidence that shows children are less likely to have serious cases of coronavirus, as well as the increasing rate of vaccinations among teachers.

President Biden had set a goal for schools to reopen for in-person learning five-days a week by the end of his first 100 days in office.

While that marker has passed with many districts still doing some combination of in-person and remote learning, the president has said he's hopeful that by the start of the new school year in September classrooms will be closer to normal.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents ages 12-15 as early as next week.

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