- Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a letter to leaders at Miami-Dade County Public Schools demanding that they fully open for five days a week in-person learning by October 5, nearly two weeks ahead of schedule.
- If the district thinks that the deadline is not possible for their schools, they must send an analysis and plan explaining the reasons why for each school that will be delayed.
- The county initially planned to open schools starting September 30, but after a 29-hour school board meeting, opted to begin staggering students between October 14 and October 21.
- Miami-Dade is the epicenter of Florida’s outbreak and the fourth largest school district in the country. School officials believe opening their doors there could be dangerous.
State Orders Schools to Open Early
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran made an announcement Friday, ordering schools in Miami-Dade County to open for full in-person learning nearly two weeks ahead of schedule.
Miami-Dade has by far the largest coronavirus case count of any county in Florida. Because of its strong outbreak, it was one of few schools in the state allowed to open with remote learning instead of in-person classes. The district’s initial plan was to phase its students back from September 30 through October 7.
That window was bumped last week following a 29-hour school board meeting. The updated schedule was instead supposed to stagger students in between October 14 and October 21.
Now, Corcoran’s order puts that plan in jeopardy, writing in a letter that schools must be open on October 5. If the school board does not think it will be possible for schools open by then, they must submit an analysis for each school detailing why, and outlining issues and data for each school.
Florida state leaders, starting at the top with Gov. Ron DeSantis, have been insistent that schools in the state reopen quickly. As for why Corcoran felt compelled to move Miami-Dade’s plans up, he wrote that they were behind schedule compared to other at-risk counties. He also said their choice to delay reopening contradicted the plan they submitted to the state and clashed with the fact that the county has already been in Phase 2 of reopening, which allows schools to open, for two weeks.
He also wrote that delaying in-person instruction harms students who require special instruction or other services provided by schools, as well as students who might be experiencing violence, abuse, or food insecurity at home. Corcoran also claimed that it was unfair to parents who were eager to get their students back in class, but the desire parents have to get their kids back to school is not overwhelming. According to the Washington Post, a poll taken among parents in the county shows they are split on the issue, with 51% wanting their kids in physical classes, and the rest wanting to keep learning remotely.
The district’s superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, said that their choice to push back in-person learning gave the school board “additional time to redouble our efforts in terms of ensuring all protocols are what they are expected to be.”
The choice was supported by many in the community, as well as the teachers’ union, the United Teachers of Dade. After Corcoran sent out his letter demanding in-person learning be moved back up, the UTD’s president, Karla Hernandez-Mats, put out a statement condemning his order.
“We are the fourth largest school district in the country with an on-boarding of almost 400,000 students and teachers in the epicenter of the virus in Florida,” she wrote. “Those parameters require a much more thoughtful approach which is why the school board voted to push back the reopening and implement a staggered start. We cannot risk suffering the consequences of a rushed return to class when we know our buildings are not yet ready.”
Hernandez-Mats fears that if the reopening is rushed, the county could face another lockdown. She also fears that voting for the upcoming presidential election could be in jeopardy if there is another large outbreak. She was not the only official shocked by the state’s order. Miami-Dade’s school board president Perla Tabares Hantman told the Miami Herald she found Corcoran’s letter to be “strange.”
“I think it took everyone by surprise. I’m very much in favor of opening schools but when it’s safe,” she said.
What Happens Next?
Fears that opening schools could be unsafe are valid in the state of Florida. In early September, after many schools in the state had been forced to open their doors, The Washington Post reported that many schools had to temporarily shut down because of outbreaks. There was also a 34% increase in cases among school-aged children.
The Miami-Dade School Board will hold an emergency meeting to discuss their next steps on Tuesday. Any letter proposing they keep their delay must be sent to the state by October 2.
Miami-Dade was also not the only county to receive this kind of letter from Corcoran. Broward County, which also has one of the largest outbreaks in the state, received a similar order. School officials have already responded, writing in a letter that they plan to keep their reopening plans as-is for the safety of their community.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Miami Herald) (NBC Miami)
Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices
A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.
As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits
American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.
In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers.
To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.
But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.
ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above — earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.
“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.
Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.
Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices
To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.
In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.”
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.
The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.
During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.
“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”
“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.