On Friday, at a press briefing, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky acknowledged that although the return to in-person learning at schools “must be based on a thorough review of what the science tells us,” “direct changes” to the CDC guidance on opening schools were made as a result of engaging with “many education and public-health partners.”
“I recognize that the decision, on when and how to begin in-person learning is one that must be based on a thorough review of what the science tells us works and an understanding of the lived experiences, challenges, and perspectives, of teachers and school staff, parents, and students,” Walensky stated. “We have conducted an in-depth review of the available science and evidence base to guide our recommendations, and we have also engaged with many education and public-health partners, to hear firsthand from parents and teachers, directly, about their experiences and concerns.”
She stated bluntly, “These sessions were so informative, and direct changes to the guidance were made as a result of them.”
Those sessions, a bipartisan parent group noted on Twitter, involved very specific stakeholders, as the CDC director noted, but not necessarily stakeholders committed to following the science. Among those deciding on how to proceed with school reopening for the Centers for Disease Control was Biden administration education strategist, Donna Harris-Aikens, “who came to DOE last month after 14 years as a Senior Policy Director at the NEA.”
The National Education Association has its own set of guidelines for reopening schools and they are strikingly similar to the new CDC guidelines, focused almost exclusively on increasing the amount of money available to school districts. The NEA’s “guidelines” conclude with a plea for Congress to pass a $200 billion school funding package as part of their COVID relief efforts.
CDC director Walensky tried to shift the conversation to how the CDC was finally coming into compliance with the “science” of reopening.
“I want to underscore that the safest way to open schools is to ensure that there is as little disease as possible in the community,” she said. “We know that the introduction of subsequent transmission of covid-19 in schools is directly connected to, and facilitated by, transmission of covid-19 outside of the schools and in the community. Thus, enabling schools to open and remain open is a shared responsibility. This means that all community members, students, families, teachers, and school staff, must do their part to protect each other and reduce the level of covid-19 in their community.”
“So today, CDC is releasing an operational strategy for K-through-12 schools for phased mitigation. for opening in-person instruction and remaining open. This science-based strategy recommends an integrated package of tools that supports safe school reopening and protects teachers, students, and school staff,” Walensky noted, unveiling the guidelines.
When asked why the guidelines seemed so similar to those issued under the Trump administration, Walensky again stressed that the new rubric for reopening followed the science.
“I want to just highlight a few things that I think are key and different in this school guidance. One is we have done an extensive, scientific review; we have learned a lot from what experiences happened in the United States, here, in the fall, as well as in the EU, where schools have opened more so than they have potentially here. so there is more science to rely on, and we’ve learned a lot from that science, that science is woven into the fabric of this guidance,” she said. “We’ve used stronger language than prior guidance. We’ve been much more prescriptive here, as to putting some guardrails on what can and should be done, in order to get to a safe reopening.”
Oddly, Walensky closed the press conference by noting that she and the CDC could not commit to the idea that following their own guidelines to the letter would produce full time, in-classroom learning again, even if all teachers were fully vaccinated. Instead, she suggested that “mitigation strategies” would have to remain in effect until there was evidence of vaccine “durability.”