Connect with us

Politics

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

Published

on

  • 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)

Politics

Facebook Struggles With Roll Out of Election-Week Political Ad Ban

Published

on

  • Facebook announced in September that it would ban all new political ads the week before the election, but the company’s first day enforcing the policy was met with a number of issues. 
  • Both Republicans and Democrats reported having ads banned that were approved before the deadline, a factor that could be very harmful to small, local campaigns that rely on the platform to share their messages.
  • Meanwhile, a Trump campaign ad arbitrarily saying “Today is Election Day” and encouraging people to “vote TODAY!” — in violation of the platform’s rules — was allowed to run before Facebook removed it. 

Facebook Rolls Out Election-Week Policy

Facebook implemented its new policy on Tuesday prohibiting any new political ads from running the week before the election in a rollout that was riddled with glitches.

The company first announced the ban in September as part of a broader set of policies aimed at combatting misinformation ahead of the election. Notably, the rule does not prohibit all political ads — campaigns can still run old ones.

In fact, political advertisers are even allowed to change the budget of those ads and decide when they would run. Under the election week ban, anyone running a political ad is simply required to submit and run any new ads before midnight Pacific Time on Monday.

But on Tuesday, both Democratic and Republican strategists reported immediate problems and told reporters that ads they had previously run, and thus met Facebook’s guidelines, had been banned.

Eric Frenchman, the chief marketing officer at Republican digital firm Campaign Solutions, told Reuters that several campaigns he was working with were hit. A spokesperson for the campaign of Democratic nominee Joe Biden also informed the outlet that an undisclosed number of the former vice president’s campaign ads had been impacted.

In a statement on Twitter, Biden’s digital director Rob Flaherty slammed Facebook and called the company’s ban a “silly, performative pre-election hoop-jumping exercise.”

Big Issues for Small Campaigns

That criticism was also echoed by Maddie Kriger, the Integrated Media Director at the progressive advocacy organization and super PAC Priorities USA, who told CNBC the organization’s previously-approved ads had been blocked too.

“Even [with] accidental errors, an error like this has a huge impact on our program and our ability to communicate to voters,” she said. “It’s really unacceptable at this stage of the election. It’s just such high stakes that 12 hours in a week left situation is a real loss.”

Facebook has been one of the cheapest and most effective ways for candidates — especially in local races — to share their messages with voters. At the end of the day, glitches like this may not be a big deal for campaigns like Biden’s or President Donald Trump’s, which have a lot of money and manpower. 

However, these technical issues can seriously impact those smaller campaigns that might not have enough financial and physical support for alternative outreach like emails and phone banking during this key final stretch before the election. This is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic when in-person outreach like door-knocking and campaign events are limited.  

It is unclear if these problems persisted into Wednesday, though Facebook spokesperson Rob Leathern said in a tweet that the company was looking into it.

“We’re investigating the issues of some ads being paused incorrectly, and some advertisers having trouble making changes to their campaigns,” he said. “We’re working quickly on these fixes, and will share an update once they are resolved.”

Trump Campaign Ads

The glitches were not the only backlash Facebook experienced Tuesday over the policy. While strategists for smaller, local campaigns worried about communicating with voters, others noted that the Trump campaign had been allowed run ads that appeared to violate Facebook’s rules on election misinformation and declaring victory before all votes are counted.

In one ad, a picture of Trump with the text “Election Day is Today” implored people to “vote TODAY!” without any further context. 

CNBC also reported that the campaign also had an ad boasting about GDP figures that have not yet been released, as well as another that the outlet described as a “victory ad.”

“A video in the ad shows the president’s face superimposed on a sun, with a voiceover pulled from various sources,” CNBC reported. “‘It’s morning in America. Donald J. Trump is still president of the United States,’ the video says. Flowers rise from the ground and open to faces, who scream, ‘NOOOO!’ as the smiling president, now also a hummingbird, flits around.”

According to reports, those ads are not currently being run. They are, however, visible in Facebook’s ad library as pre-approved ads, which means that in order to have met Facebook’s rules for election week ads, they had to have been run at some point before now. As a result, some outlets claimed the messages appeared to be the Trump campaign’s way of getting around the ban.

Despite having previously approved the ads and even letting them run at some point, a few hours after media reports about the technical issues began to surface, Facebook told reporters that it would be removing the “vote TODAY!” ads.

“As we made clear in our public communications and directly to campaigns, we prohibit ads that say ‘Vote Today’ without additional context or clarity,” the company said in a statement.

However, a spokesperson also told CNBC Facebook would not take down the ads where Trump claimed he was “still your president” because regardless of the election outcome, Trump will still be president until Jan. 20.

In a statement, Trump’s Deputy National Press Secretary Samantha Zager condemned Facebook for removing the “vote TODAY!” ads and accused the company of censoring political messages to sway the election in favor of Biden.

“This is election interference at the hands of the Silicon Valley Mafia, and it is dangerous for our democracy,” she said.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNBC) (Reuters)

Continue Reading

Politics

Amy Coney Barrett Sworn In As Newest Supreme Court Justice. Here’s What Comes Next

Published

on

  • On Monday, Amy Coney Barrett was officially sworn in as the new justice on the Supreme Court, ending a highly contentious partisan battle just a week before the election.
  • In the weeks following the election, the new justice is set to hear several landmark cases, including the most recent challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and another lawsuit that involves LGBTQ discrimination protections.
  • Many critics have expressed concerns that Barrett will push the court to overrule the ACA and try to roll back LGBTQ protections based on her previous public statements and personal views.
  • As soon as the end of this week, the Supreme Court will also decide whether or not to hear two election-related cases regarding mail-in ballots extensions in key battleground states.

Barrett Appointed to Supreme Court

The Senate officially approved the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court on Monday with a vote of 52 to 48.

The decison fell almost entirely along party lines, and though her nomination was hotly contested, this outcome was largely expected.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) was the only Republican to vote against the appointment. No Democrats voted to confirm Barrett, marking the first time in 151 years that not one member of the minority party voted to confirm a justice.

The confirmation marks the end of the historic, lightning-fast nomination process defined by partisan divisions. Democrats repeatedly accused their Republican colleagues of hypocrisy for breaking the precedent they themselves set when they blocked President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nomination ten months before the 2016 election.

That decision was made under the premise that the nomination came too close to the election and that the next president should get to pick the nominee.

Now, with just seven days to go before the election, Republicans have their new Supreme Court justice, as well as a solid conservative majority on the highest court for the first time since the 1930s.

Here’s a look at what happens next.

Affordable Care Act

Judge Barrett is being seated right as the court is scheduled to hear some highly consequential cases. Arguably the most significant is the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. The court will begin hearing oral arguments on starting Nov. 10, just one week after the election.

With Barrett assuming her role on the bench right as the court is set to hear the landmark case, many expressed concerns that she could still sway the court to get rid of the ACA, thus leaving more than 20 million Americans without health insurance during a pandemic.

The new justice has publicly criticized the Supreme Court decision that upheld Obamacare as constitutional. In a 2017 article, she argued that under an originalist reading of the Constitution —  interpreting it the way it was originally written — Obamacare would not be allowed.

In that same article, Barrett also criticized Chief Justice Roberts’ stance on the ACA and claimed that he considered too many factors outside of the Constitution

Notably, when pressed on the topic during her Senate confirmation hearings, she did give some supporters of the law hope when she outlined her views on the legal doctrine known as severability, which allows for parts of a law to be struck down without getting rid of an entire law.

Barrett told the Senators that the presumption is to always favor severing parts of a given law rather than scrapping the whole thing. Some argued that opinion would be favorable for how she may rule on Obamacare, but others remained skeptical.

LGBTQ Protections

Even before hearing the ACA arguments, the Supreme Court is also set to take up another key case that could allow private agencies that receive taxpayer funding to provide government services to deny those services to people based on their sexual orientation.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed against the City of Philadelphia by Catholic Social Services (CSS) in 2018. City officials canceled a contract with the agency to provide foster care services to children after learning that CSS refused to accept same-sex couples as foster parents because of its own religious objections.

A lower court ruled that the city was allowed to end the contract because it fell under the enforcement of its anti-discrimination policy, and an Appeals Court upheld that decision. Now the case is set to go before the Supreme Court, and the consequences could highly significant.

“A broad ruling could decide when religious organizations deserve exemptions from anti-discrimination laws that the groups say would cause them to violate deeply held beliefs, such as what constitutes a marriage,” The Washington Post explained.

Many Democrats and activists have criticized Barrett for her controversial views on LGBTQ rights, specifically pointing to a lecture she gave in 2016 where she defended Supreme Court justices who argued against making gay marriage legal.

Others have also noted a separate speech she gave, where she argued that Title IX — the law that protects people from sex-based discrimination in education programs or other activities that receive federal funding — does not apply to trans people. 

During the Senate hearings, Barrett was largely tight-lipped about her views on key Supreme Court decisions. At one point she refused to say whether she believed the case that established gay marriage as legal had been decided properly.

Election Cases

There are also some other legal battles that Barrett could rule on as early as later this week. This Friday, the justices are expected to meet privately to decide what cases could still be added to this term’s docket.

Two of the cases they are considering are emergency orders regarding ballot extensions in two key battleground states: Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

Last week, the Supreme Court denied a request from Pennsylvania’s Republican Party to shorten the deadline in which state election officials could receive absentee ballots. The highest court took up the case after Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court sided with Democrats and allowed them to extend the deadline that mail-in ballots could be received to three days after the election.

Notably here, the Supreme Court did not directly rule against the Republicans, but instead split the decision 4-4, meaning the court was deadlocked, and thus the decision from the lower court would stand.

But now, with the ninth seat filled, Pennsylvania Republicans are asking the court to reconsider blocking the extension and to fast-track the decision.

In a very similar legal battle, the high court has also been asked to consider whether or not to hear a case brought by the Trump campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party asking them to block a mail-in ballot extension approved by the State Board of Elections last month.

The extension would allow officials to receive ballots postmarked by Election Day for nine days after the election. So far, that new deadline has already been held up by a district court and a federal appeals court.

Wisconsin and Kavanaugh

Currently, it is unclear if the court will hear either case, though it is worth noting that they have taken up a number of similar election-related legal battles in recent weeks.

On Monday, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to reject attempts by Democrats in Wisconsin to extend the deadline for accepting mail-in ballots to six days after the election. Instead, the court ruled that mail-in ballots in the state can only be counted if they arrive on Election Day.

While the court did not provide a reason for this decision, as is normal in cases like this, some justices filed opinions including Brett Kavanaugh, who sparked controversy in his defense of his decision to strike down the extension.

“Those States want to avoid the chaos and suspicions of impropriety that can ensue if thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election,” he wrote, arguing for the importance of deadlines. “And those States also want to be able to definitively announce the results of the election on election night, or as soon as possible thereafter.”

Many condemned the justice, accusing him of issuing a shockingly partisan opinion and arguing that the situation he detailed would not be considered “flipping” the election, including Justice Elana Kagan, who took aim at Kavanaugh’s argument here in a footnote in her own opinion.

“But there are no results to ‘flip’ until all valid votes are counted,” she wrote. “And nothing could be more ‘suspicio[us]’ or ‘improp[er]’ than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night. To suggest otherwise, especially in these fractious times, is to disserve the electoral process.”

Some also pointed out the fallacy in Kavanaugh’s argument that mail-in ballots that arrive after election day will change the outcome that a majority of voters wanted. 

“If Trump leads by 10 votes on Nov. 3 but 6,000 ballots arrive the day after having been sent on Oct. 24, most of them preferring former vice president and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Kavanaugh worries that this constitutes an unfair rejection of the will of the public,” The Post wrote.

Others still argued that Kavanaugh’s opinion is especially concerning given the fact that currently, election officials in at least 18 states and Washington, D.C., do count ballots that arrive after Election Day. 

“In these states, there is no result to ‘flip’ because there is no result to overturn until all valid ballots are counted,” Slate reported, noting that Kavanaugh’s opinion echoes false claims repeatedly made by President Donald Trump about absentee voting.

In fact, early that same day, the president posted a tweet that mirrored the justices’ argument almost exactly. 

“Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA,” he wrote. “Must have final total on November 3rd.”

The post was quickly flagged by Twitter as election-related misinformation.

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

Continue Reading

Politics

Boston Authorities Arrest a Man for Setting Ballot Box on Fire

Published

on

  • An official ballot drop box caught fire early Sunday morning, and authorities have now charged a man with purposefully setting it aflame.
  • This is the second suspected arson case reported at a drop box location, following a similar situation in California last week.
  • Boston authorities said most of the ballots in the box were able to be fully counted.
  • Voters whose ballots could not be saved will receive replacements and officials are encouraging those who used the box this weekend to check their ballot’s status. 

Suspected Arsonist Arrested

Authorities in Boston are investigating a potential election-related arson after a fire broke out inside of a ballot drop box Sunday morning. Later that night, they arrested the man they believe started the fire, charging him with willful and malicious burning.

Photos from around 4 a.m. show a man walking up to the box before seemingly lighting a fire. Shortly thereafter, people reportedly began to notice smoke coming from the box. 

Source: Boston Police Department 

After arriving on the scene, firefighters were able to put out the fire by flooding the ballot box with water. 

The situation in Boston follows another ballot box fire in Los Angeles County, California, last week. Like in Boston, that fire is also being investigated as arson. 

Around 10:50 p.m. on Sunday, officers reportedly spotted a man matching the description of the suspect. While speaking to that man — 39-year-old Worldy Armand — police learned that he had an active warrant for receiving stolen property.

While in police custody, members of a fire investigation unit formally accused Armand of starting the ballot box fire. 

Boston Mayor: “A Disgrace to Democracy”

In a Sunday joint statement with Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh called the act “a disgrace to democracy, a disrespect to the voters fulfilling their civic duty, and a crime.”  

“We ask voters not to be intimidated by this bad act and remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election,” the statement added. 

Ballot box fires aren’t just meant to invalidate the votes inside; in many cases, they are likely also meant to intimidate voters and add another level of concern to a system that is already facing fears around in-person voting and ballots mailed through the U.S. Postal Service. 

Because of that, the Boston Election Department has worked to reassure voters by stressing that all ballot drop boxes are “under 24-hour surveillance and emptied on a daily basis.”

Since the fire, Galvin has also pressed officials to start emptying boxes more than once a day.

In the nearby town of Salem, Mayor Kim Driscoll said officials there “are using chemical fire suppressants inside the box to ensure ballots don’t go up in flames.”

“Sad that we have to take these measures,” she added. 

On Monday, after news of Armand’s arrest was made public, Walsh said, “From our election workers who are working hard to trace every legible ballot in that drop box, to our firefighters who quickly responded to the fire, and our police officers who launched an immediate investigation, voters can be assured that our first and foremost priority is maintaining the integrity of our elections process.”

“We remain committed to making their voices heard in this and every election, and maintaining transparency and trust with voters,” he added. 

How Many Ballots Were Destroyed?

Reportedly, there were 122 ballots inside of the box when the fire started. Of that, 87 were still legible and able to be processed; however, at least 35 were partially destroyed. 

Of those 35, Galvin said that most “probably could be read.” Still, he noted that about 5 to 10 of the ballots were unreadable. 

As for what happens to those ballots, officials are urging voters who used the box after Saturday at 2:30 p.m. to track their ballot online or contact the Boston Elections Department. 

Galvin’s office said affected voters will be mailed replacement ballots. They will also be able to vote in-person if they choose. 

Still, it’s not guaranteed that those affected voters will ever realize that their ballots are now, at least, partially unreadable. According to Galvin’s office, if those affected voters don’t turn in another ballot, their original ballot will be hand-counted to the fullest extent possible. 

See what others are saying: (WCVB) (The Boston Globe) (Fox News)

Continue Reading