This commentary is by Stan Greer, senior research associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.
More than a year after political appointees of Big Labor President Joe Biden ignored sound medical science in order help power-crazed union officials prolong for additional months harmful COVID-19 school lockdowns in thousands of localities spread across much of the country, key facts about this betrayal of children and their parents are finally emerging.
On March 30, a report issued by GOP members of the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis provided a number of details about how Rochelle Walensky, who was handpicked by the President in January 2021 to head the Centers for Disease Control, largely allowed teacher union bosses to set CDC guidelines for when schools could reopen.
The interim report, which specifically concludes that union officials “wrote key portions of the Biden Administration’s school reopening guidance,” draws in significant part on the testimony of Dr. Henry Walke, a “career CDC scientist and medical doctor.” And it states that in February 2021 Kelly Trautner, director of health issues for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) union sent an email to Walensky asking that the school reopening guidance be amended to weaken substantially its recommendation that schools could reopen and remain open regardless of the level of COVID-19 community spread.
Walensky quickly forwarded this recommendation to Walke. Evidently sensing what was expected of him, he added a sentence to the guidance that was in essence exactly what Trautner, who was working closely with AFT President Randi Weingarten, had asked for: “In the event of increased levels of community transmission resulting from a variant of [COVID-19], updates to this guidance may be necessary.”
Since COVID-19, like other viruses, constantly mutates, and new variants will undoubtedly continue to emerge frequently for as long as COVID-19 circulates, the AFT boss-crafted insertion had the effect of gutting the CDC recommendation that relatively “high” community spread should not be an excuse for shuttering schools. And the fact is, in February 2021, “the vast majority of communities” in the U.S. were “areas that have high-community spread of COVID-19,” according to the CDC’s criteria.
Of course, there was no sound scientific reason for the CDC to speculate that future variants of COVID-19, unlike all the known variants that had existed up to the time of the report, might transmit more rapidly in schools than in homes or in retail businesses. Nor was there any sound scientific reason for the CDC, as it ultimately did at AFT bosses’ behest, to recommend that schools exempt teachers who have an even slightly higher risk than the median educator of falling seriously ill from COVID-19 of any responsibility to instruct children in the classroom. After all, by the summer of 2020 evidence from around the globe was already showing that teachers as a group are not at higher risk of being hospitalized or dying due to COVID-19 than other adults.
Fortunately, American education officials were under no legal obligation to adhere to the politicized COVID-19 school-opening guidance the Biden CDC issued in February 2021, and many did properly ignore it. But in union strongholds everywhere from Los Angeles to Boston, Big Labor successfully cited the CDC’s “expertise” as a trump card against returning kids to classrooms. As Walensky herself recently admitted, by the end of the 2020-21 academic year, more than a third of government K-12 schools nationwide still hadn’t fully reopened, even as schools in several strong Right to Work states like Florida had been open and operating safely since the summer before.
The impact of the medically unnecessary prolonged school shutdowns aided and abetted by the Biden Administration has been disastrous for children’s education. For example, a host of recent studies show that more than a third of children in the youngest grades are now “missing reading benchmarks,” a far higher share than before the shutdowns. And the CDC itself now admits the COVID-19 rules CDC bureaucrats recommended have contributed to an alarming jump in the share of American teens who are “persistently sad and hopeless.”
Now that widespread alarmism over the actually minimal risk to children posed by COVID-19, fueled by cynical journalists and politicians, is finally abating, Americans of all political views can see the Biden administration’s handling of COVID-19 school lockdowns for what it is: One of the ugliest examples of favoring special interests over the public interest since the U.S. was established.