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Teachers union heads had friendly exchanges with CDC director on school reopening, texts show

The Fairfax County Parents Association, a non-profit parental advocacy group, published the text messages Friday after obtaining them through a Freedom of Information Act request. 

Published: June 4, 2023 11:16am

The heads of the largest teachers' unions in the United States had friendly conversations with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky about the government's plan for reopening schools, according to newly released text messages.

In February and March 2021, Walensky exchanged chummy text messages with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association President Becky Pringle. The unions, which have about 4.7 million members combined, have a long history of supporting Democratic Party causes.

The Fairfax County Parents Association, a non-profit parental advocacy group, published the text messages Friday after obtaining them through a Freedom of Information Act request. 

In the first message, dated Feb. 8, 2021, four days before the CDC released new COVID-19 school reopening guidance, Pringle, who leads the largest union in America, tells Walensky that she sent an email. 

On March 2, 2021, Walensky messaged Pringle, ":)!", or a smiley face with an exclamation point, to which Pringle responded: "YES!!!!"

Walensky responded to Pringle, "Saw you're [sic] email. We are working on it. Will stay in touch. Best, R." 

It is unclear what Walensky may have been happy about, but that day, she spoke at a White House press briefing about school reopenings and masking requirements, and President Joe Biden announced that his goal was to vaccinate educators against COVID that month.

Pringle also voiced her concerns to Walensky later in March 2021 about reopening schools. 

"I’m very concerned about timing and our ability to get the information I talked with you re: evidence gathered in more diverse settings (ESP. large urban [sic] with greater density and where it is less likely those schools have proper ventilation. I am concerned about the resulting chaos that will prevent our schools from reopening safely because we didn’t do it right," Pringle texted on March 18, 2021, to which Walensky said she would follow up with a call later in the evening. 

Walensky also spoke with Weingarten on Feb. 11 and 12, 2021, messages show. 

"We heard something from a NYT leak that seemed at odds with discussion. Do you have time for a call," Weingarten texted Walensky on Feb. 11, referring to a New York Times story about updated school reopening guidance that was to be published the next day.

"Hmmm. Argh. In a wall of meetings. Can touch base this afternoon. Are you able to ping what you learned?" Walensky responded back. 

In a typo-riddled text message, Weingarten said to Walensky: "This was leaked by someone in agency to NYT: they are running with a full speed ahead angle. I told NYT we were looking for a metric like WHO has 4 school closure if high community spread particularly in light of variant." 

Weingarten also said the guidance the Times told her that was apparently "at odds" with her conversations with the CDC was that the federal government was recommending for schools to provide in-person lessons, either full-time or hybrid, at any level of community COVID transmission while emphasizing policies such as universal masking.

The next day, Feb. 12, Weingarten sent Walensky her public statement about the CDC school reopening guidelines that were announced that day. 

"This gave me the biggest smile of my week. Thank YOU, Friend!" Walensky responded to Weingarten's statement, which criticized the Trump administration and praised Biden.

Weingarten's union revised part of the Biden administration's reopening guidelines in favor of closing schools, House Republicans found in March 2022.

More recently, the House GOP found in April 2023 that Weingarten had Walensky's phone number.

Madeleine Hubbard is an international correspondent for Just the News. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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