- 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.
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)
Supreme Court Begins Contentious New Term as Approval Rating Hits Historic Low
The most volatile cases the court will consider involve affirmative action, voting rights, elections, and civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
High Court to Hear Numerous Controversial Cases
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday officially kicked off a new term that will be marked by a number of very contentious cases.
The justices, led by a conservative super-majority, will hear many matters that have enormous implications for the American people.
The first case the court will hear this term involves a major environmental dispute that will determine the scope of government authority under the Clean Water Act — a decision that could have a massive impact on U.S. water quality at a time when water crises’ have been heightened by climate change.
The case also comes amid increasing concerns about federal inaction regarding climate change, especially after the Supreme Court significantly limited the government’s power to act in this area at the end of its last term.
Cases Involving Race
Several of the most anticipated decisions also center around race, including a pair of cases that challenge affirmative action programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.
For over four decades, the high court has repeatedly upheld that race can be a factor in college admissions to ensure a more equitable student body. Despite the fact that multiple challenges have been struck down in the past, the court’s conservative super majority could very well undo 40 years of precedent and undermine essential protections.
The high court will decide a legal battle that could significantly damage key voting protections for minorities set forth under the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The case in question stems from a lower court opinion that invalidated Alabama’s congressional map for violating a provision in the VRA prohibiting voting rules that discriminate on the basis of race.
Alabama had drawn its map so only one of its seven congressional districts was majority Black, despite the fact that nearly one in every three voting-age residents in the state are Black.
States’ Power Over Elections
Also on the topic of gerrymandering and elections, the justices will hear a case that could have a profound impact on the very nature of American democracy. The matter centers around a decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court to strike down the Republican-drawn congressional map on the grounds that it amounted to an illegal gerrymander that violated the state’s Constitution.
The North Carolina GOP appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause gives state legislatures almost total control over how federal elections are carried out in their state under a theory called the independent state legislature doctrine.
“That argument, in its most extreme form, would mean that [sic] no state court and no state agency could interfere with the state legislature’s version of election rules, regardless of the rules set down in the state constitution,” NPR explained.
In other words, if the Supreme Court sides with the North Carolina Republicans, they would essentially be giving state legislatures unchecked power over how voting maps are designed and elections are administered.
Another notable decision the justices will make could have huge implications for the LGBTQ+ community and civil rights more broadly. That matter involved a web designer in Colorado named Lori Smith who refused to design websites for same-sex couples because she believed it violates her right to religious freedoms.
That belief, however, goes against a Colorado nondiscrimination law that bans businesses that serve the public from denying their services to customers based on sexual orientation or identity.
As a result, Smith argues that the Colorado law violates the right to free speech under the First Amendment. If the high court rules in her favor, it would undermine protections for the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado and likely other states with similar laws.
Experts also say such a ruling could go far beyond that. As Georgetown University’s Kelsi Corkran told NPR, “if Smith is correct that there’s a free speech right to selectively choose her customers based on the messages she wants to endorse,” the Colorado law would also allow white supremacists to deny services to people of color because that “would be a message of endorsement.”
Record-Low Approval Rating
The court’s high-stakes docket also comes at a time when its reputation has been marred by questions of legitimacy.
A new Gallup poll published last week found that the Supreme Court’s approval rating has sunk to a record low. Specifically, less than half of Americans said they have at least a “fair amount” of trust in the judicial branch — a 20% drop from just two years ago.
Beyond that, a record number of people also now say that the court is too conservative. Experts argue that these numbers are massively consequential, especially as the U.S. heads into yet another highly-contentious court term.
“The Supreme Court is at an important moment,” Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs told The Hill.
“Trust in the institutions has vastly diminished, certainly among Democrats, and many have a close eye on how they rule on other vital matters. If decisions seem to keep coming from a very pointed political direction, frustration and calls for reform will only mount.”
See what others are saying: (The Hill) (CNN) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Mistakenly Calls Out For Dead Lawmaker at White House Event
The remarks prompted concerns about the mental state of the president, who previously mourned the congresswoman’s death in an official White House statement.
Video of President Joe Biden publicly asking if a congresswoman who died last month was present at a White House event went viral Wednesday, giving rise to renewed questions about the leader’s mental acuity.
The remarks were made at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-In.) had helped convene and organize before her sudden death in a car accident.
The president thanked the group of bipartisan lawmakers who helped make the event happen, listing them off one by one, and appearing to look around in search of Rep. Walorski when he reached her name.
“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” he called. “I think she wasn’t going to be here to help make this a reality.”
The incident flummoxed many, especially because Biden had even acknowledged her work on the conference in an official White House statement following her death last month.
“Jill and I are shocked and saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana along with two members of her staff in a car accident today in Indiana,” the statement read.
“I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”
The Age Maximum Question
Numerous social media users and news outlets presented the mishap as evidence that Biden, who is 79, does not have the mental capacity to serve as president. Others, meanwhile, raised the possibility of imposing an age maximum for the presidency.
Most of the comments against the president came from the right, which has regularly questioned his mental stability. However, the idea of an age limit goes beyond Biden and touches on concerns about America’s most important leaders being too old.
While Biden is the oldest president in history, former President Donald Trump — who is 76 and has also had his mental state continually questioned — would have likewise held that title if he had won re-election in 2020.
These concerns extend outside the presidency as well: the current session of Congress is the oldest on average of any Congress in recent history, and the median ages are fairly similar among Republicans and Democrats when separated by chambers.
There is also a higher percentage of federal lawmakers who are older than the median age. Nearly 1 out of every 4 members are over the age of 70.
What’s more, some of the people in the highest leadership positions are among the oldest members. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), is the oldest-ever House Speaker at 82, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — the president pro tempore of the Senate and third person in line for the presidency — is the same age, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 80.
As a result, it is unsurprising that a recent Insider/Morning Consult poll found that 3 in 4 Americans support an age max for members of Congress, and more than 40% say they view the ages of political leaders as a “major” problem.
Those who support the regulations argue that age limits are standard practice in many industries, including for airplane pilots and the military, and thus should be imposed on those who have incredible amounts of power over the country.
However, setting age boundaries on Congress and the President would almost certainly necessitate changes to the Constitution, and because such a move would require federal lawmakers to curtail their own power, there is little political will.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Business Insider) (NBC News)
Churches Protected Loophole in Abuse Reporting for 20 years, Report Finds
In some cases, Clergy members failed to report abuse among their congregation, but state laws protected them from that responsibility.
A Nationwide Campaign to Hide Abuse
More than 130 bills seeking to create or amend child sexual abuse reporting laws have been neutered or killed due to religious opposition over the past two decades, according to a review by the Associated Press.
Many states have laws requiring professionals such as physicians, teachers, and psychotherapists to report any information pertaining to alleged child sexual abuse to authorities. In 33 states, however, clergy are exempt from those requirements if they deem the information privileged.
All of the reform bills reviewed either targeted this loophole and failed or amended the mandatory reporting statute without touching the loophole.
“The Roman Catholic Church has used its well-funded lobbying infrastructure and deep influence among lawmakers in some states to protect the privilege,” the AP stated. “Influential members of the Mormon church and Jehovah’s witnesses have also worked in statehouses and courts to preserve it in areas where their membership is high.”
“This loophole has resulted in an unknown number of predators being allowed to continue abusing children for years despite having confessed the behavior to religious officials,” the report continued.
“They believe they’re on a divine mission that justifies keeping the name and the reputation of their institution pristine,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the outlet. “So the leadership has a strong disincentive to involve the authorities, police or child protection people.”
Abuses Go Unreported
Last month, another AP investigation discovered that a Mormon bishop acting under the direction of church leaders in Arizona failed to report a church member who had confessed to sexually abusing his five-year-old daughter.
Merrill Nelson, a church lawyer and Republican lawmaker in Utah, reportedly advised the bishop against making the report because of Arizona’s clergy loophole, effectively allowing the father to allegedly rape and abuse three of his children for years.
Democratic State Sen. Victoria Steele proposed three bills in response to the case to close the loophole but told the AP that key Mormon legislators thwarted her efforts.
In Montana, a woman who was abused by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses won a $35 million jury verdict against the church because it failed to report her abuse, but in 2020 the state supreme court reversed the judgment, citing the state’s reporting exemption for clergy.
In 2013, a former Idaho police officer turned himself in for abusing children after having told 15 members of the Mormon church, but prosecutors declined to charge the institution for not reporting him because it was protected under the clergy loophole.
The Mormon church said in a written statement to the AP that a member who confesses child sex abuse “has come seeking an opportunity to reconcile with God and to seek forgiveness for their actions. … That confession is considered sacred, and in most states, is regarded as a protected religious conversation owned by the confessor.”