CDC sued for withholding records between top personnel and teachers' unions on school reopenings

CDC sued by watchdog group over school reopening records

Americans for Public Trust brought lawsuit against the CDC over communications between top agency brass and teachers’ unions.

A watchdog group is suing the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over its failure to produce communications between top agency brass and teachers’ unions over school reopenings. 

Americans for Public Trust (APT), a D.C.-based ethics nonprofit, filed suit Thursday after failing to receive complete records the group says could show “undue political influence” of outside groups over the CDC’s decision-making process shaping its school reopening guidance.  

“A few months back, Americans for Public Trust requested documents from the CDC. However, the CDC released only a handful of pages out of hundreds of documents received,” said Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of APT. “And that small portion revealed the teachers’ unions influenced the CDC to keep our schools closed.”

According to a copy of the complaint provided to Fox News, APT alleges the government agencies have violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to “completely fulfill” a February records request for “emails, communications, correspondence, and talking points describing CDC guidance” for reopening schools. 

In response to the request, the CDC had identified 400 pages of responsive records but only released 63 pages in full while redacting 148 pages in total. The remaining 189 pages contained partial redactions, citing FOIA Exemption 5, which pertains to sensitive government records.

“Exemption 5 is commonly interpreted as shielding from release draft government documents, records of sensitive deliberations before decisions are made, and government attorney-client deliberations,” Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, has written of the “most abused” exemption. “These types of documents deserve some protection. But agencies stretch the exemption to inappropriately cover other information, such as records that may paint the agency in a bad light, records that reveal problems, and records that contain embarrassing information.” 

APT alleges that HHS had “improperly redacted non-exempt information” in the initial production of the records. The group also says that the department has failed to make a “timely determination” regarding an appeal to the redacted emails they have received thus far. 

Redacted portions of the emails received by APT include White House staffers asking CDC staffers to answer communication-related questions from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association, two of the most prominent teachers’ unions.

(Americans for Public Trust)

HHS and CDC did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

In May, APT released emails showing how AFT had influenced school reopenings. The emails contained a “flurry of activity” between CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, her advisors, and union officials, The New York Post reported. 

One email described the AFT as a “thought partner” to the CDC. In some circumstances, language was adopted “almost verbatim” in the final CDC school reopening guidance suggested by the union. 

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