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Some of the Country’s Biggest School Districts Are Announcing Reopening Plans That Could Ignore Trump Requests

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  • With the fall semester rapidly approaching, many schools around the country are beginning to release plans for reopening.
  • Still, many districts seem to be at odds with either the Trump administration’s wishes, state directives, or plans from neighboring districts. 
  • For example, the Miami-Dade School District is weighing its reopening plans even though Florida’s education commissioner has ordered schools to fully reopen five days a week.
  • Meanwhile, Los Angeles and San Diego’s school districts have announced that they’ll remain completely online for the fall semester, even though the Trump administration has threatened to pull federal funding for schools with such models.

Trump Administration Pushes For School Reopening

It’s a massive debate between students, parents, school officials, and lawmakers: How should schools reopen for the fall semester?

For many school districts, that question will need to be answered in the next few weeks as the start of their semesters is rapidly approaching. Pressure for answers also come as the Trump administration continues its hardline push for full-time, in-person classes in most schools across the country.

“American investment in education is a promise to students and their families,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Fox News on Sunday. “If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise.” 

In her interview on Fox News, anchor Chris Wallace asked DeVos why the administration wants to pull funding instead of funneling it into schools for things such as personal protection equipment; however, DeVos said the administration wants to make sure that the promise of in-person classes is “followed through on.”

The threat to pull funding from schools that don’t fully reopen has been a big sticking point for the Trump administration over the past week. Still, the administration hasn’t yet explained how it would do that.

DeVos has said that the administration will allow exceptions to its rule, adding, “where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with on a school by school or a case by case basis.”

Still, with daily COVID-19 cases rising in 39 states, many have argued that the exception might actually be the rule right now.

Miami-Dade Schools

Take Florida for example. On Sunday, it reported more than 15,000 new coronavirus cases— the biggest daily record reported by a state so far. 

Even leading up to that, as cases were increasing, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order, stating: “Upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students.”

In addition to that, Governor Ron DeSantis has pushed to reopen schools across the state for in-person instruction.

“I’m confident if you can do Home Depot, if you can do Walmart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools,” he said last week. “I want our kids to be able to minimize this education gap that I think has developed.” 

Despite this, DeSantis has offered a concession to parents wishing to keep their children home and out of schools in the fall, saying they have the right to make such requests at this time.

One area where that concern is especially relevant is South Florida, particularly Miami—the fourth largest school district in the country. As many have pointed out, it’s becoming a new epicenter of coronavirus infections in the United States.

On top of concern, there’s also some confusion regarding whether students must physically return to schools in. In fact, much of that confusion stems from the expectation that any plan could drastically change in the coming weeks, and some are unsure if their school district will abide by state or more local directives.

For example, even with Corcoran’s order, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has expressed some hesitancy to reopen school campuses.

“I mean, our superintendent is the one that runs our school systems and he has indicated that he’s not going to put our children at risk,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said Monday on Good Morning America.

“The education commissioner of the state of Florida has mandated schools be open but I’m not sure our superintendent is in agreement with that and certainly, you know, not if it poses a risk to our children or to the parent or those teaching.” 

Carvalho has maintained that the district will be guided by science, not politics.

“If the conditions on August 24th are what they are today, it would be very difficult for us to reopen schools,” he said Monday.

As of Tuesday, Miami-Dade appears to be following a plan to hold in-person classes two to five days a week, depending on the number of students and amount of space a school has. It is also allowing parents to choose a fully online option for their kids if they want.

New York Announces School Reopening Plans

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined a specific reopening plan for schools in the state on Monday. 

According to the state’s latest policy, schools can only reopen for in-person classes if a region is in Phase 4 and the daily infection rate is below 5% over a 14-day average.

Notably, as long as New York doesn’t see another swell in cases, that would include most schools across the state; however, the big exception is New York City, which isn’t yet in Phase 4. 

Regarding New York City, last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a “Blended Learning” plan, which would limit class size and contain a mix of remote and in-person learning for the country’s largest school district.

As far as what classrooms will look like for schools that could potentially fully reopen, that plan includes face masks when social distancing isn’t possible, regular cleaning of classrooms, COVID-19 screenings, and contact tracing for anyone who gets infected.

Schools will also stay shut down if the infection level rises to 9% or more over a seven-day average before the start of their semesters. 

Eligible schools have until July 31 to submit their individual reopening plans, and from there, the state education department will decide in the first week of August whether or not to accept those plans.

“You don’t hold your finger up and feel the wind,” Cuomo said Monday, criticizing President Donald Trump’s broad reopening goal. “You don’t have an inspiration. You don’t have a dream. You don’t have an emotion. Look at the data. We test more, we have more data than any state. Look at the data. 

“If you have the virus under control, we open,” he added. “If you don’t have the virus under control, then you can’t reopen. Right, we’re not going to use our children as a litmus test, and we’re not going to put our children in a place where their health is endangered. It’s that simple, common sense. And intelligence can still determine what we do, even in this crazy environment. We’re not going to use our children as guinea pigs.” 

California Schools See Mixed Reopening Plans

On the opposite side of the country in California, school districts in Los Angeles and San Diego announced Monday that they will not offer in-person classes at all for the upcoming semester. Instead, they’ll resume using online classes like they did in the spring. 

“Science was our guide then, and it will continue to be,” Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Austin Beutner said.

LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country. It and San Diego’s school district also make up the two largest school districts in the state.

The news came the same day that Governor Gavin Newsom largely reclosed most of the state. It also comes as California—like Florida—is seeing a staggering rise in daily cases.

While schools in San Diego and LA will not take very strict precautions, Monday, the Orange County Board of Education voted to reopen schools without masks or social distancing.

While the Board noted that school districts can craft their own reopening plan, it also called last semester’s remote learning an “utter failure” and even suggested allowing parents to send their children to another school district or a charter school if their district doesn’t reopen. 

In comparison, LA and Orange County’s reopening plans seem distinctively opposed to one another, even though Orange County borders LA and the two receive heavy crossover from traffic each day.

Other Major School Districts

In other massive school districts like Chicago, the teacher’s union is negotiating with the school system on a reopening plan. This comes as the city’s health commissioner said that schools could have “some capacity for in-person instruction” if the city keeps its cases under control.

In Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, officials are currently considering a two-day in-persion, three-day online hybrid plan. Still, the potential for online-only classes isn’t off the table, either. 

Meanwhile, Houston ISD is expected to release its reopening plan by Tuesday.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The LA Times) (NBC Miami)

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Trump Issues Over 140 Pardons and Commutations Ahead of Biden’s Inauguration

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  • In his last moments in office, now-former President Donald Trump granted clemency to more than 140 people at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.
  • Among the notable pardons and commutations were rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and Trump megadonor Elliott Broidy.
  • Trump’s final round of clemency did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reform advocates.
  • Still, many also condemned Trump for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have been rehabilitated. Instead, critics feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.

Trump Grants Clemency

Former President Donald Trump issued more than 140 pardons and commutations at 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, just hours ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The move marks Trump’s final major act before the end of his term. Many of the most notable pardons and commutations were given to people whose names had been circulating in reports earlier this week, including rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, as well as former adviser Steve Bannon.

Bannon’s pardon is especially significant because he has not yet stood trial for the charges he faces. The charges against Trump’s former right-hand man center around allegations that he defrauded half a million people who donated to a crowdsourcing campaign to fund the construction of the border wall.

The leaders of the charity, aptly named We Build the Wall, had claimed that the more than $25 million they had solicited in donations would go to their goal, but prosecutors claim that Bannon took $1 million for his own personal expenses.

Bannon’s pardon is also significant because, according to reports, the reason the clemency announcements were late was because Trump could not decide whether or not to pardon him. However, as The Washington Post notes, Trump’s ultimate decision “underscores how Trump has used his presidential power to benefit allies and political backers.”

Trump has recently granted pardons to several of his former top aides, many of whom seem to have a knack for committing crimes for him.

At the end of last year, he pardoned his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his close friend and adviser, Roger Stone. All three had been convicted of crimes during the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In this newest batch of clemency grants, the former president also pardoned Elliott Broidy, a top Trump campaign fundraiser. Broidy pleaded guilty last year to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws and accepting millions of dollars as part of a secret campaign to lobby the administration for Malaysian and Chinese interests.

Trump additionally pardoned a number of politicians who have been indicted for corruption, including three former Republican members of Congress and one former Democratic mayor.

Those Left Out

Trump’s last round of pardons and commutations did include several nonviolent drug offenders whose requests had been supported by criminal justice reformers. One of those individuals was Chris Young, a man who had been sentenced to life for drug conspiracy, and whose commutation Kim Kardashian West had lobbied.

But in general, Trump has largely been condemned by criminal justice advocates for overlooking people wronged by the justice system or those who have rehabilitated. Instead, they feel he was focused on giving out political favors to his allies.

Despite the attention some of his pardons have received, either because they had celebrity power behind them or were controversial, Trump has actually approved fewer clemency requests than most previous presidents who served one term or less. Until this week, he had only granted clemency to 95 people.

Also of note are the controversial pardons that Trump was reportedly considering but ultimately decided against. These included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and “Tiger King” star Joe Exotic, the latter of whom was so sure he would be pardoned that he had a limo waiting for him outside his prison.

Trump was also reportedly considering preemptively pardoning himself and his children, but he apparently decided against the move. In addition to a self-pardon being questionably unconstitutional, any clemency for the former president and his family would require them to admit they committed crimes they have not yet been charged with.

While Trump decided against becoming the first president to ever pardon himself, the fact that he decided to give clemency to so many of his allies might pose some issues.

President Bill Clinton faced both congressional and criminal investigations for giving out 140 pardons and commutations on his final day in office in 2001, though notably, no wrongdoing was ultimately found. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert Accused of Leading Capitol Tour Before Insurrection

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  • Rep. Steve Cohen told CNN Monday that he and another lawmaker personally saw GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert guiding a “large” group of people around the Capitol days before the insurrection.
  • Numerous representatives have said they saw GOP members leading an unusual amount of tours before the riots. They also said some of the visitors were involved with the rally that preceded the attack.
  • Boebert preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week before any official accused her by name.
  • She reiterated that denial in a statement responding to Cohen’s accusations and claimed that she had only ever given a tour to members of her family.

Rep. Cohen’s Claims

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tn.) said Monday that he and a fellow Democratic member of Congress personally witnessed Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) leading a “large” group of people around the Capitol complex in the days before the violent attacks on Jan. 6.

While speaking on CNN, Cohen said that he and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) “saw Boebert taking a group of people for a tour sometime after the 3rd and before the 6th.”

“I don’t remember the day we were walking in a tunnel and we saw her and commented who she was and she had a large group with her,” he continued. “Now whether these people were people that were involved in the insurrection or not, I do not know.”

Notably, Cohen said he did not know who was in the group or if they were part of the attack. That fact was also echoed by Yarmuth, who confirmed in a statement that he did see Boebert with a group of people around her but added that he “has no knowledge of who they were or if they were with her.”

Over the last few weeks, dozens of Democrats have been demanding that officials investigate whether or not Republican lawmakers aided in the riots. Last Tuesday, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) told reporters she saw some of her GOP colleagues leading “reconnaissance” tours of the Capitol with people who she later saw during the riots.

The following day, 31 House Democrats signed a letter claiming they and some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol on Jan. 5.

“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” they wrote. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.” 

Boebert’s Checkered Record

Until Monday, no lawmakers had named any of the members involved in the alleged tours, but many outlets and political analysts both implicitly and explicitly tied Boebert to the accusations.

In her roughly two-week-long tenure as a member of Congress, the young Republican has received significant heat for her role in the insurrection among other recent, controversial moves. 

Last week, Boebert was temporarily banned from Twitter and faced numerous calls to resign for tweeting out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s location during the insurrection.

She has also been widely criticized for publicly announcing she would bring her gun to the Capitol complex, refusing to have her bag searched after she set off a metal detector, and voting to invalidate millions of votes by objecting to the certification of the electoral college.

In fact, Boebert has faced so much scrutiny that she preemptively denied giving tours to insurrectionists last week, even before anyone directly named her. At the time, she issued a statement saying she has only ever given a tour to her children, husband, mother, aunt, and uncle.

Boebert reiterated those claims in a letter to Cohen Monday, where she called his remarks “categorically false.”

“I have never given a tour of the U.S. Capitol to any outside group,” she wrote. “As I previously stated, I brought my family to the Capitol on January 2nd for a tour and on the 3rd for pictures to commemorate the day I was sworn in as a Member of the U.S. Congress.” 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (CPR News

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Washington, D.C. Ramps Up Security Before Inauguration

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  • Officials in Washington are ramping up security measures and imposing heavy restrictions ahead of the inauguration Wednesday.
  • The National Mall has been closed down since Friday, barricades have been put up all over the city, car traffic has been limited, and many public transit routes have also been shut down.
  • Around 25,000 National Guard troops have been deployed from across the country, and the FBI is vetting all of them due to concerns of an insider attack.
  • Security has also been significantly increased in many state capitals nationwide following calls for armed protests in all 50 states, but so far, most of the protests at statehouses have been peaceful and exceptionally small.

Capitol Increases Security Measures

With two days to go until the inauguration, security has been massively ramped up in the nation’s Capitol.

While the inauguration is usually a high-security event, Washington has now instituted security measures not seen since the Civil War following a Jan. 6  insurrection attempt on the U.S. Capitol. Intelligence agencies have since warned about more threats of violence.

In an unprecedented move, the National Park Service announced Friday that the National Mall — which usually hosts massive crowds during the inauguration — will be closed until at least Thursday. The inaugural ceremony itself will also be scaled down due to both security threats and the pandemic.

Various barricades ranging from small metal barriers to tall fencing reinforced with heavy concrete blocks have been set up around the Mall and in other parts of the city, such as at federal buildings and businesses.

The Capitol complex itself, which will be entirely shut off to the public on Wednesday, is currently surrounded by a 7-foot fence topped with razor wire. 

Over a dozen metro lines will be shut down and more than two dozen bus routes will be detoured around the security perimeter. Car traffic in most of the city will be either banned entirely or limited exclusively to residents and businesses only. Several bridges that connect DC to Virginia will also be shut down, and all street closures are subject to change or to be extended at the discretion of the Secret Service.

In addition to the wide variety of military and law enforcement personnel who are normally involved in inauguration security, around 25,000 National Guard troops have also been deployed from all across the country.

That is nearly two and a half times the number present for previous inaugurations. Notably, officials have been vetting all 25,000 coming to Washington because they are worried about an insider attack.

States Ramp Up Security

It is not just D.C. that is ramping up security. There have been mass deployments of the National Guard and other law enforcement officers to state Capitols all across the country. According to The New York Times, 19 states have deployed their National Guards following calls for armed protests in all 50 states.

So far, most of the activity that has been seen around statehouses are small, peaceful demonstrations by a few people, some of whom are armed. Even the most attended rallies had two dozen people or less.

Notably, all of the largest demonstrations documented so far have reportedly been held by or included members of the Boogaloo Boys, a far-right group that wants to start a second Civil War. The group showed up in some of the highest numbers in front of the Capitol buildings in Ohio, Michigan, and Utah.

As was the case with all of the other demonstrations so far, the protestors have been far outnumbered by security officials — and in some cases, spectators.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CBS News)

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