News Release

New Investigative Report Reveals How Koch Network and Other Groups Shaped the School Safety Debate


Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance easing mask recommendations for up to 70% of Americans, including in schools. A new investigative report – produced by a partnership between the Center for Media and Democracy and The Daily Poster –  shows how the end to mask-wearing in schools marks the culmination of a two-year public debate about school safety that has been heavily influenced by right-wing money groups, including the network of oil billionaire Charles Koch. (The recent shift in CDC guidance for schools goes against a CDC study released on March 8 that suggests masking helped protect children from the virus in the fall of 2021.) The new report was authored by reporters Alex Kotch and Walker Bragman.

Available for interviews: 

WALKER BRAGMAN,, @walkerbragman
    Bragman is a reporter for The Daily Poster and co-founder of OptOut Media Foundation, a nonprofit charity that promotes independent media and produces the OptOut news app.

Kotch and Bragman write that right-wing business interests have pushed to keep the country’s schools open for “the sake of maintaining corporate profits. These interests have been meddling in the education debate, first pushing to reopen schools and then fighting in-school safety measures, even as COVID case numbers were rising and children were ending up in hospitals. For nearly two years, these groups have been promoting questionable science and creating wedges between parents, teachers, and administrators in order to get America back to work––even at the risk of the nation’s children.”

This investigation is a follow-up to a report published in January 2022 by the same authors. The original report tells the story of the “nearly two-year campaign by right-wing and big business interests to force a return to normalcy to boost corporate profits” amid the pandemic, fighting to end lockdowns and other basic public safety measures to ensure corporate profit. 

School closures were no different, suggest Kotch and Bragman. Indeed, in spring 2020, as it became clear that school closures affected the ability of millions of parents to get back to work, Koch-affiliated groups began pushing to reopen schools. The investigation cites a long series of incidents in the past two years highlighting how business-aligned groups have pushed this “school normalcy campaign” through aggressive political advocacy, lobbying, and media efforts. These tactics were redoubled this winter as Omicron surged and threatened to cause another round of school closures. The campaign has proven successful; “the CDC’s recent about-face on masks followed weeks of pressure from media declaring it was time to return to pre-pandemic schooling.” 

As Justin Feldman, social epidemiologist of Harvard’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, noted: “Policies about COVID in schools have often been at the vanguard of the push to reopen society more broadly. Removing school mask requirements (with the end of quarantine and isolation likely to follow) can be seen as yet another push to get people to accept the status quo.”