Report: CDC Tightened Mask Guidelines After Threats from Teachers’ Union

Elementary schoolchildren wearing a protective face masks in the classroom. Education during epidemic. - stock photo
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The Biden administration tightened its masking guidance after one of the country’s most powerful teachers’ unions — the National Education Association (NEA) — threatened White House officials with publicly releasing harsh criticism of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to internal emails obtained by Fox News.

On May 13, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated Americans could stop wearing masks indoors and outside. One day later, White House Director of Labor Engagement Erika Dinkel-Smith wrote in an email she stopped the NEA from releasing a critical statement that had called for immediate clarification.

“Would you know when Dr. Wolensky would be able to call NEA-Pres. Becky Pringle?” Dinkel-Smith wrote in the email. “They’ve gotten significant incoming and are getting targeted for a response from the media. I’ve gotten them to hold on their statement calling for clarification.”

U.S. President Joe Biden listens during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office at the White House on August 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. During their first face-to-face meeting at the White House, US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett focused their talks on Iran. (Pool Photo by Sarahbeth Maney-Pool/Getty Images)

Protesters hold signs during the Occupy City Hall Protest and Car Caravan hosted by Chicago Teachers Union in Chicago, Illinois, on August 3, 2020. - Teachers and activists hold car caravan all over the country on August 3, 2020 to demand adequate classroom safety measures as schools debate reopening. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP) (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Protesters hold signs during the Occupy City Hall Protest and Car Caravan hosted by Chicago Teachers Union in Chicago, Illinois, on August 3, 2020. – Teachers and activists hold car caravan all over the country on August 3, 2020 to demand adequate classroom safety measures as schools debate reopening. (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP) (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Dinkel-Smith then received a draft of the NEA’s statement:

We appreciate the developing nature of the science and its implications for guidance, but releasing the guidance without accompanying school-related updates creates confusion and fuels the internal politicization of this basic health and safety issue.

CDC has consistently said, and studies support, that mitigation measures, including to protect the most vulnerable, remain necessary in schools and institutions of higher education — particularly because no elementary or middle school students, and few high school students, have been vaccinated.

This will also make it hard for school boards and leaders of institutions of higher education to do the right thing by maintaining mitigation measures. We need CDC clarification right away.

After coordination with the Biden White House, the teachers’ union released a statement with a much softer tone, which was then followed by the CDC clarifying its guidance to recommend that everyone —regardless of their vaccination status — should be masked in schools.

The emails reportedly also show the White House and CDC having extensive contact with teachers’ union leadership.

On May 14, Dinkel-Smith reportedly asked CDC chief of staff Sherri Berger to connect NEA President Becky Pringle with the CDC director. Berger responded by writing “will do,” adding that the CDC director was “connecting w/ Becky now.”

Less than 30 minutes later, Berger sent another email saying she had spoken with Pringle and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) — another one of the nation’s most powerful teachers’ unions.

The next day, the CDC updated its masking guidance to recommend that everyone should be masked in schools, regardless of vaccination status.

The emails showing coordination between the Biden administration and teachers’ unions come just months after reports of documents suggesting the AFT shaped Biden administration policies on the reopening of schools — despite President Joe Biden’s pledge to “follow the science” on pandemic policy.

The documents — obtained by the conservative group Americans for Public Trust — showed the AFT lobbying the CDC, and succeeding in having some of their recommendations adopted.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.

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