Biden HHS officials told to factor teacher union talks into reopening guidance

President Biden’s Department of Health and Human Services was told to take negotiations involving teachers unions into account when rolling out guidance for reopening schools this past February, newly published emails show.

The emails, obtained by Fox News, shed additional light on the cozy relationship between the White House and teachers unions, who many parents have blamed for forcing schools to be closed longer than necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In one email from Feb. 8, four days before the guidance was revealed, HHS official Michael Baker told his colleagues that he had just gotten off a “call with the White House and Department of Education regarding the school reopening guidance” and added that “[w]e have some homework assignments.”

Among those “assignments,” Baker wrote, was to “think about this in the broader context of teacher contract negotiations.”

“Eduardo is going to connect with AJ on some of the mayor/labor union issues that are ongoing across the country,” added Baker — referring to White House COVID-19 intergovernmental affairs director Eduardo Cisneros and AJ Pearlman, chief of staff for COVID-19 response at HHS.

White House officials considered ongoing labor disputes teachers unions were facing before releasing school reopening guidance to the public, emails show.
Fox News / Scribd

Pearlman responded to Baker by thanking him for representing the department on the call before referencing another call where “this is all going to be discussed as well.” 

Days earlier, on Jan. 31, two White House officials helped get National Education Association President Becky Pringle into a meeting with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky.

The NEA is the largest teachers union in the United States — and counts first lady Jill Biden among its membership.

Emails obtained by Fox show Pringle was connected with White House COVID-19 testing coordinator Carole Johnson by Maureen Tracy-Mooney, President Biden’s special assistant for education.

In this screengrab Becky Pringle participates in Supercharge: Women All In, a virtual day of action hosted by Supermajority, on September 26, 2020 in United States.
Becky Pringle met with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in a meeting facilitated by White House officials.
Getty Images for Supermajority

“I’m reaching out to introduce you to Carole Johnson from our COVID team,” Tracy-Mooney wrote then-NEA senior director of campaigns and elections Carrie Pugh. “She’d Iike to set up a meeting with Pres[.] Pringle for tomorrow with her and CDC Director Dr. Walensky[.] Are you able to share some available times?”

“Thanks Mo,” Pugh responded. “On it.”

Moments later, Johnson wrote back to Pugh: “Carrie — 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.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Dr. Walensky met with the National Education Association president.
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Fewer than three months later, Pugh left the NEA and was hired by HHS as the agency’s director of external affairs.

“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 in response to the report.

“[Ninety-nine percent] of our schools have now reopened 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.”

The Post previously reported on another set of emails that revealed the CDC directly collaborated with the American Federation of Teachers to craft February’s reopening guidance — even including AFT language “suggestions” nearly verbatim in the final document.

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