July 28, 2020

Senator Warren and Rep. Levin to CDC and Education Department: Parents, Educators, School Staff Need to Know If School Reopening Guidance May Have Been Influenced by Trump's Political Pressure

"The challenging decision of whether and how to reopen schools safely for in-person instruction should be based on the best available public health information and guidance, without regard to politics."

Text of Letter

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Representative Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Vice Chair of the House Committee on Education and Labor, sent a letter to Robert R. Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, requesting all correspondence between their agencies and the White House regarding guidance for educational settings, in order to determine if the CDC's recently updated guidelines for reopening schools were influenced by political pressure from President Trump, Vice President Pence, or other administration political appointees. 

"President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary DeVos's repeated attempts to insert politics into public health decision making have created confusion, undermined trust, and needlessly polarized this critical issue," wrote the lawmakers. "Local education leaders, and the public at large, need to know the extent to which guidance issued by your agencies may have been influenced by political pressure in order to understand whether it can be treated as an objective, expert source for their own decision making." 

As schools across the country are weighing difficult decisions about whether and how to safely reopen their buildings for in-person instruction this fall, President Trump and Vice President Pence have exerted significant political pressure on schools and public health officials to reopen in person. President Trump has tweeted, "Schools Must Open in The Fall!!!" and criticized the CDC's initial guidance for schools as "very tough and expensive." Last week, under significant political pressure, the CDC released updated agency guidelines for school reopening, including a new statement entitled, "The Importance of Reopening America's Schools this Fall." The White House reviewed this statement and reportedly substantially edited at least one of the updated documents. 

Last week, President Trump threatened to condition billions of dollars in federal aid on schools reopening in person and warned that he would redirect the funding to private or religious schools if they do not - effectively forcing public schools to choose between following local public health guidelines or cutting staff and services. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany reinforced the Trump Administration's position by saying, "the science should not stand in the way of this." Secretary DeVos has echoed President Trump's call for schools to disregard public health advice and perpetrated medical misinformation by stating that "kids are actually stoppers of the disease." Global public health and education experts have confirmed that children can contract and transmit COVID-19.

The appearance that public health advice is being shaped by political pressure threatens to undermine the CDC's credibility when it is needed most. Sen.Warren and Rep. Levin are requesting correspondence and drafts related to these updated guidelines to determine if there has been any political interference into public health advice. 

Senator Warren and Rep. Levin requested a response to their letter no later than August 11, 2020.

The letter is part of Senator Warren's ongoing efforts to press the Trump Administration to respond effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic and to protect the health of students, teachers, school faculty and staff. In March, Senator Warren, along with nine other Democratic senators, sent a letter to Secretary DeVos, inquiring about plans to protect students, teachers, and school staff from the spread of coronavirus. Recently, in an New York Times op-ed, Senator Warren wrote, "The next legislative package should include at least $500 billion to stabilize state and local governments and at least $175 billion for our public schools to help them reopen safely, avoid teacher layoffs and provide the mental health and other services our children require."