- 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)
House Panel Approves Commission To Study Reparations
- In a 25 to 17 vote along party lines, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation Wednesday that would establish a commission to study slavery reparations for Black Americans.
- Republicans objected to the plan, arguing that it will cost too much money and that it is unfair to make all American taxpayers responsible for the consequences of slavery.
- Democrats pushed back, claiming the modern oppression of Black people still holds roots in slavery, and noting that the bill just creates a commission to study reparations, not implement them.
- While the proposal faces steep odds in the Senate, Wednesday’s historic vote will move the measure to the House floor for a full vote for the first time since it was introduced over three decades ago.
Reparation Commission Achieves First Approval
The House Judiciary Committee voted for the first time on Wednesday to advance a bill that will create a commission to consider paying slavery reparations for Black Americans.
The legislation was first proposed over 30 years ago, and if signed into law, it would create a 13-member commission that would study the effects of slavery and racial discrimination in the U.S. and then give Congress a recommendation for “appropriate remedies” to best compensate Black Americans.
The measure passed the committee 25 to 17 along party lines, as expected, with objections from Republicans, who claimed reparations will cost too much and that they are unfair to Americans who have no history of enslavers in their families.
Democrats pushed back against those assertions, arguing that the federal government does have enough money to take some kind of action. They also noted that the commission will not actually implement any reparations, but rather just look into the options and then make a non-binding recommendation.
There are a lot of different ideas for what reparations could look like. While some support direct cash payments of various sizes, others have argued there are different proposals that might be more realistic to put into law, like no-interest loans for Black homeowners or free college tuition.
“I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle, do not cancel us tonight. Do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx.), the lead sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday.
Others also condemned the argument that some Americans, particularly those whose ancestors did not directly benefit from owning slaves, should not bear responsibility. They said that this line of thinking ignores both generational wealth, which vastly benefits white Americans over all others, as well as how Black Americans are hurt by modern-day discrimination and oppression that has roots in slavery.
“Slavery was indeed ended 150 years ago but racism never took a day off and is alive and well in America,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said in committee Wednesday.
“You can ask the family members of Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd. Black folks in this country cannot keep living and dying like this. But we’ll be forced to do so if White folks in America continue to refuse to look back at history.”
While many have described the legislation as a flexible first step, any further congressional action will almost certainly be an uphill battle. The committee vote is just the very first step: the proposal still has to go to a vote by the full House, where it is unclear if it will even garner enough support among the House Democrats’ slim majority.
If it were to pass the lower chamber, the bill faces almost insurmountable odds in the 50-50 split Senate, where ten Republicans would have to join all Democrats to break the legislative filibuster.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that he will start considering when to schedule the vote, though it is unlikely to be considered soon. Hoyer also urged President Joe Biden to use his executive power to create the commission if the legislation fails.
The White House has said that Biden supports the commission, but administration officials have not confirmed whether he would act unilaterally on the subject.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (USA Today) (Vox)
Biden To Pull All U.S. Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11
- President Biden declared Wednesday that he will pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, which also marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
- The Afghanistan war is the longest war the U.S. has ever been in. It has resulted in the deaths of 2,400 American troops, injured and killed almost 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.
- Some praised the decision as a key step to address seemingly endless wars and promote diplomacy.
- Many experts and defense officials, however, have warned the withdrawal could undermine American goals in the region and embolden the Taliban, which is currently the strongest it has been since the U.S. invasion removed the group from power in 2001.
Biden Announces Troop Removal Amid Growing Violence
President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he will withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that drew the U.S. into its longest war in history.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” Biden said in an afternoon speech. “It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for America’s troops to come home.’’
The decision comes as Biden nears the May 1 deadline set under a February 2020 peace deal by the administration of former President Donald Trump to bring the troops home from the war, which has killed nearly 2,400 troops, injured and killed nearly 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.
Biden had previously said that it would be hard to meet the date after taking office, but even with the extended timeline, many experts and defense officials have warned against the move.
The U.S. first entered the war to oust the Taliban government, which was harboring al-Qaeda militants involved in planning the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban was removed within months, but the group still had support in parts of the country and steadily regained territory and strength.
Now, almost two decades later, the group is the strongest it has been since the 2001 invasion, and according to reports, controls or has influence over half the country. The situation has also escalated in the months after Trump, during his last week in office, reduced the official number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500, which is the lowest level since 2001.
As the U.S. has scaled down its operations, the Taliban has taken control of major highways and tried to cut off cities and towns in surges that have exhausted Afghan security forces. Violence has also ramped up in recent months.
According to a U.N. report released Wednesday, nearly 1,800 civilians were killed or wounded in the first three months of the year, a nearly 30% increase from the same period last year.
Notably, U.S. intelligence agencies have said that they do not believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations present an immediate threat to strike the U.S. from Afghanistan, an assessment that reportedly played a big role in Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces.
However, many experts are more concerned about how the move will impact Afghanistan and its citizens.
Concerns Over Withdrawal
The Pentagon has warned against removing American troops from the region until Afghan security forces can effectively fight back against the Taliban.
As a result, critics of the plan have argued that withdrawal will leave the forces — which have limited capacities and until now have been funded and trained by the U.S. — entirely in the dust
Beyond that, many also worry that the move could undermine the entire goal of the 2001 invasion by empowering al-Qaeda operates that remains in the country and who could become emboldened once the U.S. troops left.
Some experts and Afghan politicians have said that withdrawing from the country without a solid peace deal in place could end in concentrating more power in the hands of the Taliban. After a long delay following the U.S. agreement in February of last year, peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban finally started up in September.
But those talks have since stalled, partly due to Biden’s win and the anticipation of a possible change in policy under the new administration.
While other countries have recently made moves to restart the talks, and there are a number of possible options on the table, nothing is set in stone. American commanders, who have long said a peace deal with the Taliban is the best security measure for the U.S., have argued that the U.S. will need to use the promise of withdrawing their forces as a condition for a good deal.
Now, the U.S. has taken a major bargaining chip off the table, causing concerns that if a deal is struck, the already weakened Afghan government will make key concessions to the Taliban. Many Afghan citizens who oppose the Taliban worry that if the group secures a role in a power-sharing agreement, it could eventually take over the government and re-impose the harsh rule it imposed before the U.S. removed it in 2001. The leadership was particularly tough on women, who were largely barred from public life.
Biden’s decision has sparked a divided front from both political parities, though Republicans have largely remained united against the move.
“It is insane to withdraw at this time given the conditions that exist on the ground in Afghanistan,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday. “A full withdrawal from Afghanistan is dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous. President Biden will have, in essence, canceled an insurance policy against another 9/11.”
Many Democrats, however, have argued that U.S. presence in the region is not helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals, and that if withdrawal is based on conditional approaches, the troops will never be able to leave.
Others have also applauded the plan as a careful solution and will still emphasize diplomatic efforts in the region while simultaneously removing the U.S. from a highly unpopular and expensive war.
“The President doesn’t want endless wars. I don’t want endless wars. And neither do the American people. ” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “It’s refreshing to have a thought-out plan with a set timetable instead of the President waking up one morning getting out of bed, saying what just pops into his head and then having the generals having walked it back.”
In a series of tweets Wednesday, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, said had spoken to Biden, and emphasized that the two nations would continue to work together.
“’Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along,” he wrote.
The Taliban, for its part, has focused more on the fact that the initial timeline had been delayed.
“We are not agreeing with delay after May 1,” a spokesperson said on television Tuesday. “Any delay after May 1 is not acceptable for us.”
It is currently unclear how that stance might affect the situation, especially when it comes to peace deal negotiations.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (TIME)
Matt Gaetz Reportedly Venmo’d Accused Sex Trafficker, Who Then Sent Money To Teen
- A report published by The Daily Beast Thursday alleges that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) sent $900 through Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the funds to pay three young women, including one teenager.
- Gaetz is currently under federal investigation as part of a broader inquiry into Greenberg, a former politician who has been charged with 33 counts, including sex trafficking an underage girl.
- Investigators are reportedly looking into the involvement of politicians with women who were recruited online for sex and paid in cash, as well as whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws by paying for her to travel with him.
- Greenberg’s lawyer did not comment on the new allegations but said Thursday his client would soon enter a plea deal and implied that Greenberg would testify as a witness against Gaetz. Meanwhile, Gaetz has accused The Daily Beast of spreading “rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements.”
Gaetz’s Alleged Venmo Payments
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly sent money via Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the money to pay three young women, including at least one teenage girl, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.
Greenberg, a former local Flordia politician and an associate of Gaetz, was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but his lawyers said in court Thursday that he would plead guilty as part of a plea deal.
Legal experts say the move almost certainly indicates that Greenberg plans to cooperate as a witness against Gaetz, who is currently under investigation by the Justice Department as part of a broader probe into Greenberg.
According to The New York Times, among other things, the DOJ inquiry is looking into their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and paid cash, as well as whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws.
Investigators reportedly believe that Greenberg met the women through a website for people willing to go on dates in exchange for gifts and money, and then arranged for them to meet with himself and associates including Gaetz, The Times reported.
The new report from The Daily Beast, published Thursday, appears to support this narrative. According to the outlet, which viewed the transactions before they were made private this week, Gaetz sent Greenberg two late-night Venmo payments totaling $900 in May 2018.
In the text field of the first payment, Gaetz wrote “Test.” In the second, he asked Greenberg to “hit up” a teenager who he allegedly referred to by her nickname. The Daily Beast did not publish the name of the girl “because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.”
The next morning, Greenberg transferred a total of $900 to three different young women using the same app.
One of the transfers was titled “Tuition,” and the other two were both listed as “School.” The Daily Beast also said it was able to obtain “partial records” of Greenbergs Venmo, which is not publicly available.
Those records, the outlet reported, show that the two men are connected through Venmo to at least one other woman who Greenberg paid with a government-funded credit card, and at least two other women who received payments from Greenberg.
Gaetz, for his part, has not directly addressed the latest allegations. A representative from the Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm, provided The Daily Beast with a statement from the congressman.
“The rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements of others will be addressed in due course by my legal team,” the statement said, with the firm also informing the outlet that their lawyers would be “closely monitoring your coverage.”
Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, also declined requests to comment, but during a press conference Thursday, he implied that the plea deal his client is expected to accept spelled trouble for Gaetz.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said.
The Daily Beast story also comes amid reports that that the FBI has widened its probe of Gaetz. According to The Times, sources familiar with the inquiry have said investigators are also looking into a trip he took to the Bahamas with other Florida Republicans and several women.
Sources said the trip took place shortly after Gaetz was elected to Congress in 2016, and that the FBI has already questioned witnesses about whether the women had sex with the men in exchange for money and free travel.
It is illegal to trade sex for something of value if prosecutors can provide the exchange involved force, fraud, or coercion.
The Times also reported that investigators are now additionally looking into Gaetz’s alleged involvement in discussions to run a third-party candidate in a State Senate race to make it easier for an associate of his who was running for the seat to win.
The act of recruiting so-called “ghost candidates” who run for office purely to divert votes from one candidate is not usually illegal. However, paying a ghost candidate is normally considered a violation of campaign finance laws.