Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Culture Of Victimhood

It is axiomatic that bullies always complain that they’re the victim, not the ones they beat up on.  It’s as old as childhood’s “I’ll get you at recess” and then “why are you blaming me?” when they’re caught.  The current version of that mindset is perfectly encapsulated in the Republicans’ attempt to keep their grip on the white male patriarchy of MAGA caps and metaphorically (and sometimes all too really) stuffing a sock in their pants to appear to be much, much more than they are.

Case in point is Florida’s own Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose blind ambition is to own the libs while killing off the ideas of small-government/more freedom in the name of “freedom” by dictating, in every sense of the word, what should and shouldn’t be taught in the state’s public schools.  Under sane leadership, not to mention the laws and constitution of the state, the local school boards would be left to decide what is taught in the schools under their control, including curriculum and health and safety standards.  But under the thumb of DeSantis, the local community cannot do that because actually following best educational practices and health guidelines interfere with his political goal to be the next Trump.

His latest bit of pants-stuffing bullying is the decree to make “Victims of Communism Day” a mandated lesson plan in Florida schools.

While a handful of states do have some sort of legitimate official holiday to mark a “Victims of Communism Day,” DeSantis, per usual, took the move a few steps further. In signing House Bill 395 into law on Monday, DeSantis not only recognized November 7 as the official holiday, but also made it state law for public schools in Florida to spend at least 45 minutes on that remembrance day instructing students on the regimes of various communist figures like Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro, the Miami Herald reported.

It also requires that teachers spend time in the classroom discussing famous Cuban exiles and the “poverty, starvation, migration, systemic lethal violence, and suppression of speech” experienced under Castro, Stalin and Mao Zedong’s leadership, per the Herald.

“That body count of Mao is something that everybody needs to understand because it is a direct result of this communist ideology,” DeSantis said during the bill signing Monday. “I know we don’t need legislation here to do this but I think it’s our responsibility to make sure people know about the atrocities committed by people like Fidel Castro and even more recently people like Nicolas Maduro.”

On the one hand, this move is a barely-veiled effort to own the libs. DeSantis and others of his ilk have been trying for years to paint progressive Democrats and the Democratic Party as a whole as some sort of far-left radical political movement hellbent on making America a communist nation — simply for the crime of supporting things like, I don’t know, universal health care.

On the other, this appears to be another layer of the Republican Party’s effort to make public education the top campaign messaging issue for the party ahead of the Midterms. This is, of course, despite the fact that all of the education-related “issues” the GOP is focused on are not only non-existent — like claiming that teachers who educate students about LGBTQ+ issues are “groomers” — but also a form of the very censorship the party’s historically claimed to rally against.

And DeSantis, with his 2024 ambitions, is one of the worst red state offenders — leading the pack with infamously aggressive spins on laws targeting the LGBTQ+ community, banning textbooks and outlawing Critical Race Theory — in Florida, the anti-CRT law extends outside of the classroom and into the workforce, aiming to ban the discussion of issues that might make a (white) person experience “discomfort.”

I don’t think the screaming irony of the state dictating school policy from the capital is lost on anyone, and I wonder if they did that on purpose so that they can show just what authoritarianism is like, whether it’s communism, fascism, or theocracy.

But it does prove that DeSantis does understand the basic concept that got those regimes going in the first place: play up the victimhood — I’m the one being oppressed here! — and then get the base who carry grudges against the Others to go along with it, thereby securing their support as well as their money.

That is all that really matters to him because I can assure you that neither Ron DeSantis nor anyone who thinks like him really gives a care about the real victims of his rule, who in this case are the people in the state he’s running who don’t agree with him.

And I will bet you all the change in my pocket that the only “critical race theory” that Ron DeSantis cares about is the one he’s running in to be president.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Texas vs. Education

Via Charlie Pierce, the governor of Texas wants to make the students of his state as stupid and racist as he.

We begin in Texas. Governor Greg Abbott, the Sutter’s Mill of terrible policy ideas, clearly is not going to be truly content until it’s 1859 again everywhere. Having loosed his dark idiot magic on reproductive freedom and voting rights, Abbott this week found a new target. From the Austin American-Statesman:

“Texas already long ago sued the federal government about having to incur the costs of the education program, in a case called Plyler versus Doe,” Abbott said, speaking during an appearance on the Joe Pags show, a conservative radio talk show. “And the Supreme Court ruled against us on the issue… I think we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again, because the expenses are extraordinary and the times are different than when Plyler versus Doe was issued many decades ago.”

To be brief, public education is one of the crown jewels of the American experiment. We’re very partial to public education up here in the Commonwealth—God save it!—because we invented the fcking thing. All three of my children attended a public school named after Horace Mann, and my father worked in public education for 35 years. And as ol’ Horace himself said, “Education is a capital to the poor man, and an interest to the rich man.” Which, of course, is precisely the problem with it, at least to the likes of Greg Abbott. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a conservative policy prescription without adhering to the basic conservative principle that a bucketful of racism helps the poison go down.

Abbott raised the possibility of challenging the ruling on education during a discussion about border security, after Pagliarulo asked whether the state could take steps to reduce the “burden” of educating the children of undocumented migrants living in Texas.

“We’re talking about public tax dollars, public property tax dollars going to fund these schools to teach children who are 5, 6, 7, 10 years old, who don’t even have remedial English skills,” Pagliarulo said. “This is a real burden on communities. What can you do about that?”

“The challenges put on our public systems is extraordinary,” Abbott said in reply. “Texas already long ago sued the federal government about having to incur the costs of the education program, in a case called Plyler versus Doe. And the Supreme Court ruled against us on the issue about denying, or let’s say Texas having to bear that burden. I think we will resurrect that case and challenge this issue again, because the expenses are extraordinary and the times are different than when Plyler versus Doe was issued many decades ago.”

The siren doesn’t go any louder, They’re coming for everything.

One simple fact that the governor and his enablers seems to forget is that most, if not all, of the funding for public education that he’s trying to take away from these children, documented or otherwise, comes from the federal government.  The state is responsible for providing the teachers and the facilities, but those funds can also be recouped through federal funding as well.

So that leaves us with the conclusion that what is truly frightening to Gov. Abbott and the rest of his like-minded (if not white-robed) cohorts is that they’re going to turn out some well-educated and activated students who are going to grow up, become citizens, and register to vote.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Happy Friday

A federal judge has ruled that a lot of Florida’s Jim Crow 2.0 voting law is unconstitutional.

In a sweeping 288-page order declaring the right to vote “under siege,” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Thursday forbade lawmakers from passing future laws involving drop boxes, third-party voter registration or efforts to limit “line warming” activities at polling sites without the court’s approval for the next 10 years.

All three provisions were part of Senate Bill 90, passed by lawmakers and signed by DeSantis last year.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit has been filed in federal court challenging DeSantis’s “don’t say gay” law.

Three days after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure, LGBTQ-advocacy groups, parents, students and a teacher filed a federal lawsuit Thursday challenging a new law that includes barring instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in early school grades.

The lawsuit, filed in the federal Northern District of Florida, seeks to block Florida from moving forward with the law, which is set to take effect July 1. While DeSantis and Republican lawmakers titled the bill the “Parental Rights in Education,” critics dubbed it the “don’t say gay” bill.

DeSantis, the State Board of Education, the state Department of Education and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran are named as defendants, along with the school boards in Manatee, Sarasota, Miami-Dade, St. Johns and Jackson counties.

See you in court, Ron.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Lunatics Running The Asylum

I have a vested interest in the Florida State Board of Education.  They set policies and procedures for the work that I do in a charter school as well as the local boards of the 67 counties in the state and have a ripple effect on the thousands of private schools in the state as well.  In short, the people on the state board have an impact on every child between the ages of 3 (pre-kindergarten) through high school and beyond.  Generations of children will go forward into life bearing the brand of a Florida education.  So it matters who is appointed to the board and what they will do once they are there.

That said, meet the newest member.

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Esther Byrd to the state’s Board of Education, a move that will almost certainly serve to further politicize that appointed panel.

A former Marine, Mrs. Byrd is currently the legal assistant and office manager for the Law Office of Cord Byrd, P.A.

Byrd is the wife of Rep. Cord Byrd of Neptune Beach. Rep. Byrd, the incumbent in the current HD 11, is one of the House Republicans who sided with the Governor by voting against redistricting maps preserving a minority-access district in North Florida.

However, Mrs. Byrd is perhaps best known not for her biographical details, but for her staunch advocacy during the Donald Trump administration on behalf of far-right elements.

After the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riots, Mrs. Byrd offered a defense of those “peacefully protesting” the certification of the 2020 Presidential Election while alluding to “coming civil wars.”

“ANTIFA and BLM can burn and loot buildings and violently attack police and citizens,” Byrd wrote on her personal Facebook page. “But when Trump supporters peacefully protest, suddenly ‘Law and Order’ is all they can talk about! I can’t even listen to these idiots bellyaching about solving our differences without violence.”

Those comments came after another incendiary post.

“In the coming civil wars (We the People vs the Radical Left and We the People cleaning up the Republican Party), team rosters are being filled,” mused Byrd. “Every elected official in DC will pick one. There are only 2 teams… With Us [or] Against Us.”

“We the People will NOT forget!” wrote the person who now sets policy for Florida’s education system

Rep. Byrd won re-election handily in 2020, but during that campaign, his spouse’s comments that catered to the fringe elements in the GOP came to the fore.

In October, Mrs. Byrd offered an unsolicited defense of the Proud Boys, a group of youngish men who bill themselves as “western chauvinists.”

Trump infamously urged them to “stand back and stand by” when pressed to condemn the alt-right movement.

Mrs. Byrd, a staunch supporter of the former president, subsequently claimed that many of them and their supporters have been thrown in “FB Jail,” a metaphorical lockdown preventing them from posting to Facebook for some period of time.

“Why do you think Facebook is throwing people in FB Jail who share information about Proud Boys? (Side note: I must really have great friends cause a whole bunch have been locked up! ?) I think it’s because they’ve seen a drastic spike in searches and they are worried that people are educating themselves rather than blindly believing what MSM narrative. Anyone have a better theory?”

Those statements came months after Byrd made comments supportive of QAnon after the couple was photographed on a boat flying a QAnon flag.

There’s more at the link above courtesy of Florida Politics.

Banning and burning books is perfectly fine with these people, but banning assault rifles is an attack on freedom.

I am deeply troubled by the war in Ukraine and hope that it is over soon and peace is restored along with the independence of that brave country. But it won’t mean a lot if we’re losing our freedoms and our sanity here at home.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Monday Morning Rant

I got up early this morning to do what guys in their late 60’s do at that hour, and then took a look at what passes for news on my phone.  I came across an article in the New York Times about how book-banning is back with a vengeance.

Parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades. The American Library Association said in a preliminary report that it received an “unprecedented” 330 reports of book challenges, each of which can include multiple books, last fall.

“It’s a pretty startling phenomenon here in the United States to see book bans back in style, to see efforts to press criminal charges against school librarians,” said Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of the free-speech organization PEN America, even if efforts to press charges have so far failed.

Such challenges have long been a staple of school board meetings, but it isn’t just their frequency that has changed, according to educators, librarians and free-speech advocates — it is also the tactics behind them and the venues where they play out. Conservative groups in particular, fueled by social media, are now pushing the challenges into statehouses, law enforcement and political races.

The activists are groups with such ironic names as “Moms For Liberty” and who say they are the ones who should decide what their children should read, and while they’re at it, tell every other parent how to raise their kids, which makes a mockery of themselves. (In my own experience, parents who protest against books are doing a lousy job of raising their own kids, but that’s another rant.) What they’re really saying is that they don’t want their children to hear about the history that their own parents and grandparents created such as segregation and patriarchy. As for sex education, the parents who want to ban books that discuss being gay or trans while adding their ten-year-old to their family plan from Verizon are looking in the wrong place. Kids don’t need books to learn about that; check their back pocket. Or learn it the way I did: lurid stories told while smoking behind the neighbor’s garage.

Tangentially of the discussion about free speech — or rather the way the snowflakes on the right and the anti-vaxxers are framing it as an assault on their right to spread bullshit — I came across this epic call-out at Balloon Juice, where Annie Laurie found it. Here’s a bit of it. And I make no excuse for the salty language, and if it gives you the vapors, go and look at cat videos.

… Hey, I believe in open debate. Sure. Absolutely. Your anti-vaccine newsletter sucks. That guy on TV telling grandparents to be afraid of everything? He’s a vain asshole. The popular podcast dude who gets off beating up on trans people just for fun? I mean, he’s a moron who regularly fucks up Google searches.

I’d have more respect for conservative bloggers and talking heads and fussy millionaire comedians if they just said what they were thinking: fuck the old and the sick and anyone, really, who catches COVID-19 because I want to go to brunch. Fancy brunch.

I’d have more respect if they were honest and didn’t hide behind falsehoods. I would still think they were pieces of shit, though.

Feel free to disagree with me. It’s your right. I have the right to say or print whatever I want without interference from Johnny Law. So do you, and you, and yes, even you. This is why I can publish the following sentence: selling paid subscriptions to newsletters that knowingly peddle the low-hanging fruit of misinformation is immoral. Sure, to write is to manipulate a reader, sometimes for a paycheck or pleasure or to educate, and sometimes for political gain. That’s the game.

But there are too many right-wing political opportunists with giant bullhorns who have decided there is nothing but upside in telling whoever will listen that 2 + 2 equals whatever they tell you that day. Even if 2+2 equals die in an ICU with a tube down your throat because some evil jabroni told you to trust him about the COVID-19 vaccine…

… No one’s inalienable rights are compromised by little ol’ me pointing out that it is fucked-up to publish dishonest information that hurts people, even if that strategy is lucrative. You are not a free speech hero if you knowingly go into business with people who are either unfathomably cynical or simply out of thair minds and give them a platform from which they can announce that vaccines are dangerous, despite centuries of evidence to the contrary. That’s not free speech. It’s snake oil for the brain…

The freedom for free speech martyrs to shout “freedom!” is one of this country’s greatest pleasures. In a truly totalitarian regime, free speech martyrs don’t make any noises, except for whimpering in dungeon cells. I will never say “it can’t happen here” but not only can it happen here, it has also happened here, and it can happen again. But until such a tragic moment, the USA remains the home of the brave and the habitual whiner. Complain all you want, it’s your right. You’re not a victim, nor a martyr. You’re just an average Joe, making millions.

As a writer, it is my fervent hope that I write something powerful enough to get it banned from some jerkwater school district in Missitucky.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Sunday Reading

The Sounds of Silencing: Amanda Marcotte in Salon on the Republicans’ race to erase racist history.

When Republicans across the nation started storming school board meetings, in full-blown hysterics about something called “critical race theory,” the initial reaction of the non-Fox News-watcher was confusion. Very few even know what critical race theory is. It is not being taught to the vast majority of public school children, as it’s a high level academic theory used by legal scholars and sociologists, not 8th graders. But soon it became clear that “critical race theory” was being invoked as a scare term, exploiting this multisyllabic academic jargon as cover for what was, in actuality, an effort to censor any curricula or educational materials that taught kids unpleasant truths about the history of fascism, the struggle for civil rights, or the existence of LGBTQ people.

Republicans, unsurprisingly, faked umbrage at this claim, insisting repeatedly that they had no intention of removing standard classroom lessons on matters like the Holocaust, Brown vs. the Board of Education, or the March on Washington. Instead, their talking points were a jumbled, bad faith explosion of claims that they were actually against racism and just worried about “divisive” lessons. They kept this patter of nonsense up, even as Virginia’s successful GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin ran ads celebrating a right-wing mother who tried to keep her son from reading “Beloved” by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison, a book that was clearly only objectionable because it portrayed slavery in a bad light.

It turns out that liberal critics were right and conservatives were lying. “Critical race theory” was, in fact, just a scare term the right was using as cover for what is an all-out, nationwide war on teaching very basic lessons to kids about important historical events — including the civil rights movement and the Holocaust.

A national scandal erupted this week when it was discovered that a Tennessee school board pulled the famous graphic novel “Maus,” by Art Spiegelman, from their curriculum. The book is rightly regarded as a classic for its depiction not just of the brutalities of the Holocaust, but the lingering impacts on the survivors and their families. In response to the criticism, right-wing activist Christopher Rufo — who has bragged about inventing the use of “critical race theory” as a scare term for exactly this purpose — tried to deny that the book was being yanked for Holocaust denialism reasons. He insisted they just wanted a “better book” to teach.

Rufo’s dishonesty should be apparent to anyone who has read “Maus,” as there really is no better book to teach. But reading the minutes of the meeting erases all doubt that the objections to the book were rooted in a belief that the truth of the Holocaust should remain hidden. One board member, Tony Allman, explicitly said educators “don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff,” because it “shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids,” and “it is not wise or healthy.” Another member complained that the book showed a suicide caused by survivor’s guilt, claiming it somehow undermined efforts to teach “ethics to our kids.”

Needless to say, “Maus” does not “promote” killing kids or suicide. Insofar as it “promotes” anything, it’s an understanding of the dangers of fascism, and the inhumanity that racism breeds. And it’s those truths that clearly rattled the school board members. That’s what they don’t want young people exposed to.

The “Maus” scandal is just the tip of the iceberg, of course.

In Florida, the legislature is pushing through a ban of history education that causes “discomfort,” and despite claims to the contrary, there’s simply no way to teach about the history of lynching or slavery or Jim Crow without said discomfort. As Kathryn Joyce reported for Salon, one of the most immediate results was a school district in central Florida canceling a training seminar for teachers on how to teach subjects such as the March on Washington, Brown v. Board of Education, and the Montgomery bus boycott.

The behavior of Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, makes quite clear that the intent here is to make it too fraught for teachers to discuss any history of race in America at all. He’s been pushing for a law that would allow parents to comb over school curricula and sue school districts if they find anything they don’t like. That may sound “empowering” initially, but, as the fight over “Maus” demonstrates, the reality is that there are always people out there who simply don’t think any unpleasant facts about history should be taught. And giving parents this level of veto power would mean erasing any history but the occasional lesson about George Washington and the cherry tree. (Which didn’t actually happen.)

As Jon Skolnik reports for Salon, a Missouri school district banned “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, using the usual bad faith claims that the objections were somehow about graphic sex. But, of course, this fits the larger pattern of white parents throwing fits about books and lessons that tell the truth about racism, and especially about books like Morrison’s, which humanize the victims of racism.

In Williamson County, Tennessee, Moms for Liberty — a laughably false name for this pro-censorship group — tried to ban 31 books. It’s not hard to detect the history they’re trying to erase. Books that were targeted include “Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March on Washington,” “We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball,” and “Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation.” A couple of books about Greek mythology were also tossed on the list because heaven forbid kids learn about lost religions and start to ask hard questions about existing ones. Of the challenged books, one was outright banned — Newberry winner “Walk Two Moons,” which clearly offends by humanizing Native Americans. Seven other books are being hobbled with “restrictions” on what parts of the book kids are allowed to read. Targeted for censorship: Admitting that male seahorses nurture their young, a book that says it’s okay to have feelings, a book about the fight to desegregate schools, a book about how it’s okay for boys to like poetry, and a book that features interracial relationships.

So now the truth is out: Republicans weren’t upset about “critical race theory” or anything like it. It was a fake panic, propped up to cover for what they really want to do: Erase the history of racism from schools. As a side bonus, they also wish to force extremely rigid gender roles on children. It’s not just about attacking LGBTQ kids. This hysteria has reached the point of refusing to admit boys can like poetry or that fathers can care for babies.

Still, this exposure isn’t slowing Republicans down one bit.

Youngkin, who won by pretending to be a moderate who was opposed to fictional leftist extremism, is already showing his true colors as a Virginia governor. He’s calling on right-wing parents to report teachers for any lessons they deem “divisive.” As these previous reports show, that’s an expansive ask, as many parents clearly think it’s “divisive” to admit segregation happened, slavery was real, or the Holocaust was horrific. Youngkin’s intent is quite clearly to scare teachers into simply not teaching history, at least not in any way that’s truthful or remotely educational. Or to scare teachers into not teaching literature that humanizes people of color or LGBTQ people, or men who like poetry for that matter. As usual, despite their denials, Republicans really are behaving like the deplorables their critics say they are.

Doonesbury — Tweets from the twit.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The New Supe

From the Miami Herald:

José Dotres will be the next superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

The School Board voted 6-3 to appoint Dotres after a more than eight-hour meeting and interviewing the top three candidates Monday. Dotres will replace Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who is leaving Miami Feb. 3 to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“It truly is an honor,” Dotres told board members after the vote. “I get to come back to work with incredible professionals. My greatest desire is that we work closely together for the benefit of this entire school district.”

Board members Marta Pérez, Christi Fraga and Lubby Navarro voted for Jose Oliva, the senior chancellor in the Florida Department of Education.

I had a few interactions with Mr. Dotres when he was a regional superintendent, then later on when he was the head of human resources, or, as the District calls it, “chief human capital officer.”

I think it’s a good move.  He knows the nuts and bolts of how the District works and has a long-term experience with the administrators both downtown and out in the regions.  It’s also a safe move.  I think and hope that he will carry on with the successes the District has gained during Mr. Carvalho’s tenure.

Good luck, Mr. Dotres.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

On This Date

Thirty three years ago today.

Having degrees in theatre didn’t make me a better playwright. It was the people I met and the places they took me on the journey to get them that did that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Annals Of Intimidation — Florida Edition

Via the Tampa Bay Times:

Fear of upsetting state officials is pervasive among faculty at the University of Florida, to the point that race-related references have been edited out of course materials and researchers felt pressure to destroy COVID-19 data, according to a report released Monday by a Faculty Senate committee.

The six-person panel was convened three weeks ago to investigate academic freedom issues after the university decided to bar three political science professors from testifying in a lawsuit against the state. But its findings go well beyond that episode and were so disturbing — especially regarding COVID-19 research — that the group decided to speed up its work, said Danaya Wright, a constitutional law professor and former Faculty Senate chairperson who served on the committee.

“We knew it was much more widespread,” Wright said in an interview Monday. “We knew there was more silencing and pressure coming from above. The Big Above.”

The committee received a flood of input from faculty, from stories about attempts to serve as expert witnesses to instances that dealt with race and COVID-19 research across disciplines.

The report discusses several “challenges” faced by UF researchers who were working on COVID-19 with an unidentified state entity. It describes “external pressure to destroy” data as well as “barriers” to accessing, analyzing and publishing the numbers. Taken together, the report said, those problems “inhibited the ability of faculty to contribute scientific findings during a world-wide pandemic.”

The report further states that UF employees were told “not to criticize the Governor of Florida or UF policies related to COVID-19 in media interactions.” It says they were told not to use their UF titles or affiliation in written commentary or to give oral presentations. And faculty at UF Health expressed concerns over funding being in jeopardy if they did not adopt the state’s stance on pandemic regulations in opinion articles, the report says.

The allegations related to data destruction added a sense of urgency to the committee’s work, Wright said.

This is how dictators work: if they can’t control the events, they can intimidate, threaten, and destroy the messenger.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Common Sense

I found this clip of a parent, Jake Alexander, taking it to his local school board.  I am pretty sure he speaks for the majority of parents out there, including the ones at my school.

My school is on Thanksgiving break for the whole week. I have lots to do, including reading some plays for the District 8 Thespians in anticipation of their local competition in December. I love encouraging new voices in the theatre.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Sunday Reading

The Wild World of School Board Meetings — Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker on the whackos storming the palaces of learning.

Late last month, the National School Boards Association, a group that has represented school boards since 1940, made an unusual request of the federal government. “Threats of violence and acts of intimidation” directed at school officials were escalating across the country, the association said, and it asked the Biden Administration to investigate and use “existing statutes, executive authority,” and “other extraordinary measures” to combat a phenomenon it likened to domestic terrorism. On Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland decried such incidents and ordered the F.B.I. to monitor them.

If you want some evidence of what the association and Garland were responding to, it’s easy to find in YouTube videos, and local news reports by the score—protesters fairly vibrating with January 6th energy as they disrupt school-board meetings, raging against mask mandates and other COVID precautions, or that favorite spectral horror, critical race theory. (The N.S.B.A. letter wearily explains that “critical race theory is not taught in public schools and remains a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class.”) Since the summer, these confrontations have become social-media staples, familiar enough for “Saturday Night Live” to do a spot-on parody of them for its season opener.

After a school-board meeting in Williamson County, Tennessee, a group of protesters surrounded a doctor who had testified in favor of students wearing masks, shouting,“You’re a child abuser,” “We know who you are,” and “You’ll never be allowed in public again.” In San Diego County, California, in September, anti-mask protesters forced their way into a school-board meeting and tried to swear themselves in as the new, unelected members. At a chaotic meeting in Buncombe, North Carolina, parents opposed to a mask mandate announced that they, too, had “overthrown” the school board. Members of the far-right Proud Boys showed up twice, faces covered, at school-board meetings in Nashua, New Hampshire; in Vancouver, Oregon, Proud Boys gained access to school grounds during anti-mask protests, leading to a lockdown of the schools. At a Loudoun County, Virginia, school-board meeting, which was considering the district’s policies for transgender students and racial equity, riled-up conservatives got so out of hand that the board chair halted the proceedings while the police cleared the room.

Writing in the Washington Post recently, Adam Laats, a professor of education at Binghamton University SUNY, suggested that these outbursts can “be understood as a politics of petulance. At moments when American culture has taken some progressive turn, conservatives have consistently blamed a single culprit for indoctrinating vulnerable youth with radical ideas: public schools.” The attraction of school-board meetings for such displays of frustration, Laats told me, is “that they are generally so accessible; there’s an open-mike aspect to them.”

Laats has written a book, “The Other School Reformers,” about the history of conservative agitation around public schools, which makes clear that there are precedents for the current eruptions. Perhaps the most salient is a parents’ uprising in Kanawha County, West Virginia, in 1974, against the adoption of a new series of literature textbooks that some people thought promoted anti-American sentiments. The protests evolved into a boycott of the district’s schools, attracting national media attention, and soon turned violent. Textbook opponents shot up empty school buses and classrooms, bombed the school-board building, and threw rocks at parents who were still taking their children to school. Though the textbooks were ultimately adopted, and the rage over them seemed to fade, the West Virginia parents’ revolt had a wider impact on social conservatism. It helped launch the modern homeschooling and Christian-school movements, Heath Brown, a political scientist at John Jay College who has studied homeschooling activists, says, because some parents peeled away from public schools altogether in the aftermath of the boycott. The West Virginia textbook battle propelled the Heritage Foundation, then a small upstart organization, now a conservative-policy behemoth, onto the national stage. Heritage, Laats shows, provided free legal counsel to the protesters and drew connections between their local crusade and the broader defense of parental rights and liberties.

Conservative groups, including Heritage, are clearly hoping for a similar outcome today. In a piece on the Heritage Web site, Katharine Cornell Gorka points out what she saw as a bright side to all the at-home schooling that kids had been doing during the pandemic: “Whether it’s age-inappropriate sex education, critical race theory, or anti-American history, parents are seeing more of what their children are learning–thanks to COVID’s virtual learning–and they don’t like it.” And parental ire over masks and anti-racism education, stoked by national figures such as Tucker Carlson, on Fox, and Charlie Kirk, of Turning Point USA, has helped galvanize school-board recall efforts, promote new candidates for the boards and for other local offices, and push legislative bills. (Twenty-eight states have restricted the teaching of critical race theory, according to the education-news Web site Chalkbeat.) The rage has also spurred the growth of new organizations, with names like Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn in Education. An account of the movement in Politico notes that “tapping into the trickle-up anger over racism education is now a unifying force in campaigns for Congress, governor and among Republicans with presidential ambitions.”

Yet what’s most striking about so many of these school-board spectacles is not their political valence but the sense they exude of an anonymous comments section coming to life. They seem to represent the trollification of real-life local politics. There might be legitimate, even passionate, debate to be had about the wearing of masks. (In the United Kingdom, for instance, schoolchildren are not required to wear them, and even here not all public-health experts agree with the C.D.C. that they are necessary.) But, in so many cases, legitimate debate is not what’s on offer. Online, the thinking usually goes, people sometimes say the kinds of venomous things they wouldn’t in person; but, in these public forums, they seem all too ready to. They boo and jeer at people who express an opinion different from theirs. They find ways to bring up and rant about child-trafficking conspiracies. In one notorious case, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, audience members laughed as a high-school junior, Grady Knox, described losing his grandmother to COVID. A woman behind him held a sign that read “Let our Kids Smile.” The “kids,” or, more often in this kind of rhetoric, “the children,” are usually props and symbols in these scenes; this is a parents’ war, and they mostly don’t want to hear the students speak. “At these school-board meetings, students have tried a lot to get on the docket,” Laats told me. “They’ve been on the agenda at some points, but they’re being frozen out of the discussion because parents are shouting and yelling and cops have to clear them out.”

Amy Evans, a pediatrician who practices near the sparsely vaccinated Grundy County, Tennessee, told the Washington Post this week that “she has seen more infections in the last two months than the rest of the pandemic combined.” (Just seventeen per cent of young people aged twelve to seventeen have been immunized in that state; nationwide, the figure is fifty-two per cent.) Some of her patients wanted to wear masks to school, she said, but were scared. “They were more concerned about the backlash from parents who would be opposed to masks,” she said. “The adults aren’t making it easy for kids to do the right thing.” The Justice Department’s efforts may help, though they could also provoke more fury against a familiar target: the federal government. The onus is on the adults in the room to give up on dreams of going viral and act better.

Doonesbury — Where are we?

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Code Red Drill

As if teaching isn’t hard enough already, now schools and school boards have to face yet another threat: from right-wing nuts who object to trying to prevent the spread of Covid-19.  From the Washington Post:

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday ordered the FBI to work with local leaders nationwide to help address what he called a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against educators and school board members over highly politicized issues such as mask mandates and interpretations of critical race theory.

In a memorandum to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and federal prosecutors, Garland wrote that the Justice Department will hold strategy sessions with law enforcement in the next 30 days and is expected to announce measures in response to “the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel” in the nation’s public schools.

“While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views,” he wrote. “Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”

Garland’s order comes days after the National School Boards Association, a group representing school board members across the United States, pleaded with President Biden for federal assistance to help investigate and stop the recent threats against educators. The group said in a letter to Biden that much of the vitriol has involved policies focusing on mask mandates to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The NSBA likened the harassment and abuse over face coverings in schools to domestic terrorism.

“America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” the group wrote to Biden.

I’m old enough to remember the hatred and the violence against desegregation in the 1960’s, and this is getting to be on the same level of vitriol and terror. There were also more than a few local officials and governors who backed the thuggery, claiming “freedom” as a cover for their blatant racism. It’s the same chant now, but this time it’s a contagious disease that is already spreading among the unvaccinated students. Of course headline-grabbing and base-grubbing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is leading the charge.

“Attorney General Garland is weaponizing the DOJ [Department of Justice] by using the FBI to pursue concerned parents and silence them through intimidation,” DeSantis’ post read. “Florida will defend the free speech rights of its citizens and will not allow federal agents to squelch dissent.”

The school where I work has regular drills for fires and tornadoes. In recent years in light of the massacre at Parkland, we’ve added Code Red drills for active shooters. Now it looks like we’ll have to include ones against wing-nuts and politicians who exploit stupidity and ignorance.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

DeSantis Is Still Killing It

School started yesterday here in Miami-Dade County with the school board requiring masks for students and staff in defiance of Gov. DeSantis’s executive order.

More than 350,000 students started the new year in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, one of eight districts that have imposed mask mandates — against an explicit order by DeSantis to let parents decide on masking — as covid rates have skyrocketed in the state.

Pediatric cases are sharply rising, too, across Florida, with as much as one-quarter of the new cases being reported in people under 19 and hospitalization rates of young people rising as well.

DeSantis is moving ahead to punish districts that have mask mandates, first targeting those in Alachua and Broward counties because they were the first to require masks.

On Friday, state officials demanded they drop the mandates or school board members who supported the mask requirements would lose their pay. On Monday, they demanded at least one of the districts provide compensation information for those board members so they can start withholding their pay. The Florida Board of Education planned an emergency meeting to grill the superintendents of a few other districts that imposed mask mandates.

And he’s spending money defending it in court.

A nationally watched court battle over masks began in Florida on Monday with parents from across the state arguing that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration should not have prevented schools from implementing universal mask mandates.

The trial in Leon County court has the attention of the White House, other states and local school district officials, many of whom are still wrangling with the question of mandatory masks as coronavirus cases and quarantines rise in schools.

At its core, the case pits personal liberty versus collective responsibility. It also could address some major questions: How much power do the governor and Legislature have over local schools? Did DeSantis’ emergency order address a real emergency? And how useful are masks?

Michael Abel, representing the governor and the education department, opened by acknowledging that everyone involved wants the best for children. “We don’t fault or criticize the plaintiffs’ families for the action they are taking,” Abel said.

But masking children, Abel said, is far from a settled issue. He said the governor made a policy decision to protect the freedom of parents to make health choices for their children.

The plaintiffs, including parents from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Alachua and Palm Beach counties, argued mask mandates are “vitally important” to keep their children safe. Kristen Thompson, a Gainesville parent of three, said her first-grade daughter, 7, has medical “complexities” that do not allow her to wear masks.

“We need other people wearing masks so she doesn’t get the germs coming to her,” said Thompson, who also testified she has heard other parents say they will send their kids to school sick.

“That makes me scared,” she said. “If people are wearing masks it protects from everyone else who is not being responsible.”

The court dispute is underway as a growing number of Florida school districts impose mask mandates, and as the Biden administration threatens possible legal action against governors who block local school officials from requiring masks to protect against the coronavirus.

For the record, Florida leads the nation in the number of people in hospitals with Covid-19.

Thursday, August 19, 2021


From the Miami Herald:

Miami-Dade County Public Schools became the latest Florida school district to mandate students and teachers wear facial coverings for the start of the 2021-22 academic year.

The nine-member School Board voted 7-1 on the mandate Wednesday afternoon. District 5 Board Member Christi Fraga was not at the hearing.


The rule, which will be revisited periodically to determine if it is needed based on local COVID positivity rates, applies to all indoor areas and school buses. Masks won’t be required for outdoor activities like sports and physical education classes. In addition to students and teachers, all other staff, visitors and volunteers must wear facial coverings while inside Miami-Dade Schools facilities.

Only children who receive a medical endorsement from a licensed Florida physician can opt out of the mandate. The original protocol presented at the meeting also contained a religious exemption, but that was removed at the request of District 9 Board Member Luisa Santos.


Board Member Lubby Navarro voted against the mandate because she said it violates state law by not giving parents the ability to opt their children out of the rule.

“My constituents of District 7 never elected me to violate state law,” Navarro said.

Navarro cited a State Board of Education emergency meeting held Tuesday where sanctions were considered against two other Florida school boards — Broward and Alachua — that passed mask mandates. The mandates, according to state board members, violate DeSantis’ executive order prohibiting such policies, which he issued July 30.

“The Constitution of the state of Florida in the 1968 revision, says in a matter of this legal nature, where there is conflicts between the state and other constitutional bodies, the governor is the supreme executive. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued executive order 21-175, and an executive order is effective immediately,” Navarro said.

The charter school where I work part-time is managed by the Miami-Dade County School District, so we will abide by the rule. In fact, we never really stopped wearing masks and enforcing the rules even when the pandemic appeared to be waning last spring. It is just common sense.

As for Board Member Navarro, I’m truly sorry to see her take the position she did, all the more because I used to work with her. In fact, I assisted in preparing her application to Gov. Rick Scott to appoint her to the vacancy on the Miami-Dade County Public School Board that was created when Carlos Curbelo resigned to run for Congress in 2015. I consider her to be a friend, and I do not dismiss friends easily. Rather, I am deeply disappointed with her inexplicable turn to intolerance and extremism. In the case of the masks, her stated reason was that she did not want the board to violate the law. But there are such things as bad laws, enacted not to protect the citizens but shore up a rotten political agenda. If this was 1954 and the board voted to desegregate the schools, would she have voted against it because at the time, segregation was still the law in Florida? I truly wonder.

I would like to think that her motives are genuine, but it would appear to me that she is more interested in currying political favor with a political movement that lives on fear, intolerance, and winning the next election at all costs, including risking the lives of the people she has sworn an oath to protect.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Mask Up

The Miami-Dade County Public Schools board will meet today and vote whether or not to require students and staff to wear masks to stem the tide of Covid-19.  If they do, they will be following the lead of two other Florida counties, Broward and Alachua, and defying the orders of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is bound and determined to run for president and show that he can be as much of a bully and despot as the last Republican.

From the Miami Herald:

Two Florida school districts that flouted Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order on mask mandates escaped sanctions Tuesday, as the State Board of Education called for further review of their initiatives.

The seven-member board determined that the Broward County and Alachua County school districts had violated state rules and laws relating to mask mandates and parental rights by not offering opt-out provisions. But the board did not withhold funding or take other punitive steps as originally threatened.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who had floated the idea of severe and immediate sanctions, lamented that the Biden administration had stepped in at the “last minute” to support the districts. The administration’s proposed actions regarding federal stimulus money could offset any financial penalties the state imposes.

“They’re going to backfill the salaries of the school board members and superintendents,” Corcoran told the board. “I just want to put in perspective for you where we are with the Biden administration.”

As a result, Board Chair Tom Grady offered a proposal for Corcoran to further investigate the districts, delaying any possible penalties until state officials can figure out a punishment that sticks.

“It may involve withholding salaries. It may involve removing officers. It may involve reviewing district conduct. It may involve public records requests to see how monies are being spent within the districts, including whether they’re being spent for public relations or political purposes contrary to their constitutional mandate,” Grady said as he listed what future penalties could entail.

Grady said Corcoran should “take all legal steps to enforce” the state’s rules and laws and directed the Florida Department of Education to make recommendations to the Legislature on amending laws as necessary to give the board enforcement authority over areas where it currently has none.

It takes an inordinate amount of hubris and dictatorial fantasy to put the lives of students, teachers, and staff at risk just to show the viewers of Fox that you’re their guy. It takes a lot of nerve to waste the state’s money on fighting against school districts to enforce non-existent laws and toothlessly threaten the lives and livelihood of school officials so the governor can go on Tucker Carlson’s shitshow and bellow about Florida’s non-existent flood of illegal immigrants. And it takes the universal balance of karma to come into the picture when the governor of another state who has tried to out-DeSantis DeSantis tests positive for Covid-19.

All this political posturing is having an impact on public opinion about masks, but not in the way the Fox denizens are hoping for. Greg Sargent in the Washington Post:

The other day, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis likened mask and other health mandates to “medical authoritarianism.” The Republican added that we may be witnessing “the most significant threat to freedom in my lifetime, certainly since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Because DeSantis was speaking in the hermetically sealed-off information universe of Fox News, such drivel was certain to elicit approval. But outside of that universe — with DeSantis and Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott actively thwarting local officials from protecting their constituents with mask mandates — a backlash to these antics may be brewing.

A new Axios-Ipsos poll probes public sentiments on this in a novel way. It asks respondents about state laws that prohibit local officials from creating mask requirements. Both DeSantis and Abbott have sought to do this, albeit by executive order.

The result: 66 percent of Americans oppose such state laws, and only 33 percent support them. What’s more, the poll also finds that a whopping 77 percent oppose efforts to withhold funding from school districts and local governments that implement mask mandates.


Meanwhile, other polling shows the potential for backlash to these GOP antics. Ron Brownstein obtained data from numerous pollsters and found that sizable majorities of vaccinated Americans want tougher requirements imposed on those who refuse to get vaccinated.

That polling, Brownstein reports, also finds that large majorities of vaccinated Republicans also hold the unvaccinated responsible for the recent surge in covid cases and believe the delta variant will lead to a worsening of the pandemic.

None of that really matters in the schoolyards and classrooms that will be opening next Monday here in Miami-Dade County. There are more than 400,000 students, teachers, and staff who learn and work in the District. The idea that their health, safety, and lives take a backseat to one man’s political ambitions should be the crime, not the wearing of a mask.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Defying DeSantis

Carlee Simon, the superintendent of Alachua County schools, tells the governor of Florida that she will not comply with his dictates. From the Washington Post.

As superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools in North Central Florida, I am committed to providing a high-quality education while protecting the health and well-being of nearly 35,000 students and staff members. That’s proved to be an enormous challenge in my state.

Just a few weeks ago, my district was planning for a more “normal” school year free from many of the safety restrictions of the past year. But a surge in covid-19 cases has upended those plans, at least temporarily. And unfortunately, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) refuses to take the steps necessary to address the surge. Even worse, he’s preventing local leaders from doing what they can to protect their own communities.

The governor recently threatened to withhold funds from school districts that implement certain safety measures, particularly masking. But we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the current crisis to score political points.

My district is experiencing a dramatic spike in the number of employees testing positive for covid-19, and school hasn’t even started. We’ve had more cases reported in the past two weeks than in the previous five months combined. Tragically, two of our employees died from covid-related complications just over a week ago. Many others are quarantined and unable to work, and the numbers keep rising. If these trends continue, we may not have the workforce we need to operate our schools safely.

I’ve already implemented a mandatory mask policy for all employees and visitors. We’re also actively promoting vaccinations. Our district is offering a $100 vaccination incentive to all employees, and we will cover their leave time if they get a breakthrough case of covid-19. We’re also scheduling more in-school vaccination clinics for students and staff.

Unfortunately, those steps will not be enough to avert a community-wide health-care crisis. During a lengthy school board meeting last week, many local doctors and health-care professionals shared alarming news about the spread of the virus in our county, which is under a state of emergency. They talked about record-breaking case numbers and hospitalizations, even among previously healthy children. They told us about intensive care units at or over capacity, emergency response teams stretched thin and medical procedures delayed.

In light of this sobering reality, the board voted unanimously and courageously to require masks for all students during the first two weeks of school, a necessary step to start the academic year safely. We’ll reassess the situation before deciding on our next step.

The board’s vote has touched off a whirlwind. While hundreds of parents, students and others have thanked us for prioritizing safety, we’ve faced the inevitable backlash from those who oppose mask requirements and reject the severity and even the existence of covid-19. I’ve been called a monster, child-abuser, communist, fascist, idiot and other names not fit to print. I’ve been threatened with legal action, protests, militia “enforcement” and worse.

Those parents who oppose our mask requirement do have another option. The state is now offering a voucher called a Hope Scholarship to families who want to enroll their child in a private school or a public school in a district that doesn’t require masks. The scholarship gives families the ability to “opt-out” of masking while still allowing us to provide as safe an environment as possible.

Certainly we’re concerned about the threat of lost funding, but it shouldn’t come to that. After all, we want what DeSantis wants: to keep schools open and our kids in the classroom. The past year has proved that in-person learning is best for the vast majority of students. Through universal masking we can limit the number of students and teachers out sick or in quarantine, which means more instructional time and better educational outcomes.

More importantly, universal masking will promote the health and safety of those inside and outside our school walls.

The Florida Constitution says the state has a “paramount duty” to provide safe and high-quality public schools. It’s one of the highest constitutional standards for public education in the nation. We hope and expect that our state leaders will live up to that duty.

I will certainly do my part. I value life too much to take chances with the lives of others, even under the threat of retaliation. As our school board chair has so aptly put it, better a loss of funding than a loss of lives.

Not only is DeSantis threatening to withhold state funding to districts who refuse to endanger their students, he is threatening to withhold pay from the superintendents who defy him.

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – The Office of Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the Florida Board of Education could withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who defy the governor’s executive order prohibiting mask mandates.

Here is the statement released to CBS4:

“With respect to enforcing any financial consequences for noncompliance of state law regarding these rules and ultimately the rights of parents to make decisions about their children’s education and health care decisions, it would be the goal of the State Board of Education to narrowly tailor any financial consequences to the offense committed. For example, the State Board of Education could move to withhold the salary of the district superintendent or school board members, as a narrowly tailored means to address the decision-makers who led to the violation of law.

“Education funding is intended to benefit students first and foremost, not systems. The Governor’s priorities are protecting parents’ rights and ensuring that every student has access to a high-quality education that meets their unique needs.”

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who runs the fourth largest school district in the nation, released a statement in response. It reads, in full:

“We have established a process that requires consultation with experts in the areas of public health and medicine. We will follow this process, which has served us well, and then make a final decision. At no point shall I allow my decision to be influenced by a threat to my paycheck; a small price to pay considering the gravity of this issue and the potential impact to the health and well-being of our students and dedicated employees.

“I want to thank the Governor for recognizing that students should not be penalized.”

I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that the last threat about paying superintendents is bullshit. It’s a violation of federal law to withhold pay without due process, and if I know Alberto Carvalho (full disclosure: I do), he’ll stand up against this threat to the full extent of the law and more than likely join the inevitable lawsuit.

Political hyperbole often goes to extremes by saying that their opponents are a danger to America. In this case, it’s not hyperbole. Ron DeSantis is literally endangering the lives of the people of Florida.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Sunday Reading

Enough With The Unvaccinated — Leonard Pitts, Jr.

We were almost there.

That’s the most frustrating thing about the most recent announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that even those who are fully vaccinated against the disease should return to wearing masks indoors in cities that are COVID-19 hot spots. It was only two months ago the CDC said we could put our masks away.

We were this close to getting this thing under control, to seeing one another smile, to cookouts, to visiting grandpa, to signing off Zoom, to normal. Now we see it all slipping away as inexorably as the tide going out. We return to masking up, hiding our faces like bank robbers.

Some of us are vexed with the CDC over its shifting guidelines, but you won’t get an amen from this corner. Scientists have to follow science, and if this is where the science leads, so be it. No, if you’re looking to apportion blame, blame the delta variant. And blame, too, those people who refused to wear masks or be vaccinated, and the public officials who seconded them. Blame the ones who said these were matters of “personal choice.” As if personal choice supersedes public interest.

And how often have we seen news stories about those same people, newly repentant and freshly contrite, their minds changed after coming nose to nose with their own mortality, courtesy of COVID?

“I thought it was a joke,” an Arkansas man named Lamonte Boyd recently told CBS News.

“I wish I could go back in time,” a Missouri man named Louie Michael told a local Fox affiliate.

“Having seen this up close and personal I’d encourage ALL of you to put politics and other concerns aside and get it,” a man named Mark Valentine declared on Facebook. Like his brother, Phil, a conservative radio host and vaccine skeptic in Tennessee, Mark was unvaccinated. At this writing, Phil is on a ventilator in critical condition, and Mark has changed his mind.

There is an old Southern expression: A hard head makes a soft behind. Translation: Your stubborn defiance will get you spanked.

Well, those people have been well and truly spanked. But the rest of us are being spanked, too. Falling infection numbers have hooked a U-turn. We face the prospect of returning to isolation, to ordering in and watching talk shows produced in spare rooms. One feels like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather: Part 3” — “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

As has often been noted in this space, human beings are not wired to change their minds. To the contrary, 40 years of behavioral-sciences research tells us that when bad information gets stuck in human brains, it tends to stay there.

But the bad information now impeding vaccinations — i.e., they contain tracking devices, they were manufactured too quickly, it’s all a government hoax — is a literal matter of life and death. So let’s stop asking nicely. Let’s impose coercive measures. Just as children can’t go to school without proof of vaccination, adults shouldn’t be able to bank, shop or enter public gatherings without same.

Yes, that would be a drastic step. It would likely lead to a repeat of last year’s anti-mask unrest. Remember the siege of the Michigan statehouse? Remember the confrontations in restaurants and stores? It was not pleasant, and this go-round would likely be worse. But what other option do we have?

You do not endanger the lives of the many to humor the misconceptions of the few. They can’t or won’t change their minds. It’s time to recognize that.

And do it for them.

Who Knows Better? — The Miami Herald editorial on Gov. DeSantis vs. the local school boards on dealing with the pandemic.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho vowed to be guided by “science, by medical experts and public health experts” before deciding on a mask mandate for the next school year.

Good. That’s what you’d expect from the leader of Florida’s largest school district in a county with high transmission rates in a state where COVID-19 is running rampant.

However, Gov. DeSantis is forcing Carvalho and other school-district leaders to make these decisions based on the governor’s interpretation of public health, which means we’re all in trouble.

Friday, DeSantis signed an executive order that essentially bans school mask mandates, prohibiting districts from violating “parents’ right . . . to make health decisions for their minor children.”

School boards that dare to cross the governor can lose state funding. In other words, the governor is willing to knee-cap school districts in order to make his constituents deathly ill.

Just hours before DeSantis’ announcement, Carvalho told the Herald Editorial Board he would consult with the district’s medical task force, which will meet before school starts on Aug. 23. He will also look at what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended. Carvalho previously had said masks would be optional, but that was in late June, before Florida became the pandemic’s epicenter thanks to the highly transmissible delta variant.

An internal CDC document obtained by the Washington Post, based on still-unpublished data, states delta might lead to more serious illness and that it’s as contagious as chickenpox and more contagious than the Ebola virus or common colds. That prompted the federal agency to advise fully vaccinated people to go back to wearing masks indoors.

The CDC and the Academy of Pediatrics also reached a consensus: Schools should be open, and universal masking is recommended for children older than 2 “because a significant portion of the student population [under the age of 12] is not yet eligible for vaccines, and masking is proven to reduce transmission of the virus and to protect those who are not vaccinated,” the Academy of Pediatrics wrote in a July 9 advisory.

Carvalho said it’s “probably a fairly accurate prediction” that the task force would end up recommending a mask mandate. Among the experts advising Carvalho is U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, a Miami Palmetto Senior High graduate.

“We have been a district that’s well informed by science, by medical experts and public health experts and that will not change under my leadership,” Carvalho told the Editorial Board. “The CDC has opined, the American Academy of Pediatrics has opined and the [Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics] has opined as well. And, you know, they all agree in terms of protected and preventive measures.”

If only school districts could base their decisions on the needs of their communities, by looking at infection rates in their back yards instead of being forced to follow an irresponsible blanket state policy that applies anywhere from rural to urban counties.

“I’ve been very clear I believe that generalized pronouncements via executive order, or state statute, that basically don’t differentiate between conditions — which may vary significantly from South Florida, Central Florida, the Panhandle — that don’t take into account how different those conditions may be and the impacts they may have, may not necessarily be in the best interest of our communities,” Carvalho said.

DeSantis’ order is nothing more than a governor throwing a tantrum after the Broward County School Board approved a mask mandate this week, defying his threats of taking legislative action. If only he showed the same vigor to encourage more people to get vaccinated as he does for keeping them maskless.

The order will send districts scrambling to figure out how to please the governor while protecting the health of students and staff.

“In light of the release of the Executive Order, we certainly hope to be able to craft protocols that ensure full funding of our children’s education, while simultaneously protecting their and their teachers’ health and well-being,” Carvalho said in a statement released Saturday.

Local control makes sense, right? Well, not in Florida.

DeSantis’ reaction to the pandemic has gone from vowing to protect the economy against shutdowns to making a mockery of a virus that’s killing Floridians (38,900 and counting). At least he says vaccines are effective, which is way more than what some Republicans will dare to profess.

At a recent speaking engagement in Utah, DeSantis made fun of mask wearing. He opened up his speech at the American Legislative Exchange Council by looking at a mostly unmasked crowd and saying:

“Did you not get the CDC’s memo?” our governor asked. “I don’t see you complying,” Politico reported.

His Friday announcement happened at a Cape Coral restaurant where — surprise!— most people were not wearing masks, the Sun Sentinel reported. That’s typical fashion for a governor who sells campaign drink koozies and T-shirts emblazoned with “How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?”

DeSantis doesn’t have to like masks and he can tour the country all he wants mocking them.

But playing off parents’ rights against the right of Floridians to live in good health will likely hurt the very people whom he’s working hard to accommodate — to say nothing of the rest of us.

Doonesbury — Save the date.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Not So Fast, Ron

From the Miami Herald:

Jimmy Flanigan walked into his family’s packed Flanigan’s Restaurant in Coconut Grove Friday night, three hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis approved 100 percent inside seating, and thought it looked too busy.

A crowd gathered to watch the Miami Heat play an 8:30 p.m. playoff game Sept. 25 on more than a dozen televisions. Patrons were standing shoulder-to-shoulder. The bar was steadily serving drinks.

“It was a little scary walking into a Flanigan’s after six months and seeing it full,” said Flanigan, CEO and president of the South Florida-based chain of 24 sports-bar-style restaurants. “It was too busy. So we backed off to 50 percent.”

New state guidelines for restaurants and bars, released after 4 p.m., and a delay of more than a day before Miami-Dade clarified its own rules to stem the spread of coronavirus, caused confusion across the county among patrons and restaurant owners.

“To say it was confusing would be an understatement,” Flanigan said. “It was compounded by the fact that the governor released the hounds without any warning.”

DeSantis moved the state into Phase 3 Sept. 25, ordering that all businesses immediately be allowed to open with at least 50 percent capacity. Restaurants, the order said, would be allowed to open at 100 percent indoor seating capacity. Local government would have to justify to the state any restrictions that kept capacity under 50 percent, DeSantis’ order read.

Not until nearly 11 p.m. the next day did Miami-Dade release its new guidelines to control the spread of coronavirus. Mayor Carlos Gimenez’ order allows at least 50 percent inside dining capacity for restaurants. They may reach up to 100 percent if they can sit tables six feet apart or by using outside spaces.

However, bars are allowed to seat at least 50 percent, even if their inside space does not allow for six feet of social distancing, DeSantis said.

The 30-plus hours between those two orders allowed for scenes not seen in Miami since before the March 16 restaurant shutdowns.

Flanigans, which regularly fills up for sporting events, immediately drew crowds that heard about DeSantis’ rules. Other restaurant owners were calling Jimmy Flanigan for advice, even as he was learning of the rules himself.

Flanigan said he ordered his Miami-Dade restaurants to go back to 50 percent capacity starting Sunday, and he shut down service at the bar.

“If you see a business at full tilt, it’s shocking. You start thinking about the (COVID-19) spread again,” Flanigan said. “That 24-hour period was where all the confusion came in.”

And it will, according to those who know best and who are being ignored by Trump and his whiny little minion, Gov. DeSantis.

Florida’s decision to reopen bars and restaurants at full capacity has the United States top infectious disease expert concerned that it will lead to another COVID-19 outbreak.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shared his concerns on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Monday.

“Well that is very concerning to me, I mean, we have always said that, myself and Dr. Deborah Birx, who is the coordinator of the task force, that that is something we really need to be careful about,” Fauci said, “because when you’re dealing with community spread, and you have the kind of congregate setting where people get together, particularly without masks, you’re really asking for trouble. Now’s the time actually to double down a bit, and I don’t mean close.”

Fauci shared his concerns just days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that all 67 counties would be transitioning into Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan, including Miami-Dade and Broward, the two hardest hit areas in the state.

Meanwhile, Richard Corcoran, the state’s Commissioner of Education, is trying to force Miami-Dade County Public Schools to re-open fully. That is being met with resistance both from the school administration and the rank and file teachers.

The Miami-Dade County School Board will convene an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss reopening schools, this time under pressure from the Florida Department of Education to open schools Monday.

Days after the board voted on a conditional timeline of reopening schools between Oct. 14 and Oct. 21, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sent a sternly worded letter to Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and board chair Perla Tabares Hantman on Friday. He accused the board of contradicting the district’s state-approved reopening plan, which says the district would determine by Sept. 30 if “local conditions meet the criteria established” to open schools Oct. 5.

Corcoran instructed the district to open schools for in-person classes by Monday or prove exemptions on a school-by-school basis by Friday.

Tuesday’s 1 p.m. board meeting, to be held in person for the first time since March at the school district’s downtown headquarters, only has one item on the agenda to decide how to proceed. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho offered the board two options.


A dozen protesters led by the Rank and File Educators of Miami-Dade rallied outside the Miami-Dade School Board administration building on Monday afternoon supporting the board’s decision for a later start and condemning DeSantis’ demands as bullying.

Jeff Raymond, a high school social studies teacher, said he visited his classroom at the end of last week and didn’t see any hand sanitizer and not enough social distancing in classrooms. His school, which he asked to not name, said 80% of students are expected back for in-person learning.

On Monday, Raymond received paperwork to apply for an exemption under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He has pre-existing health conditions and said he was “not comfortable at all” with his classroom setup.

“I’ve been prepared to take a bullet for my students and those are unpreventable,” he said. “This is preventable.”

Several teachers from Miami Beach Senior High were present. One teacher who declined to give his name said he hasn’t received any PPE or been told about protocols.

History teacher Charles Pilamunga said he brought a tape measure to his classroom. He has 37 desks in his spacious classroom, yet there’s only 2 feet between desks. International standards outlined in the teachers union agreement with the district call for 3 feet, 3 inches of social distance.

Pilamunga can’t quit his job. He’s the sole breadwinner in his family and he has two young children.

“It is what it is but I’d rather it not be this way,” he said, carrying a sign that read, “It’s life or death for us, our students and our communities.”

But as long as DeSantis can deliver the votes for Trump, it doesn’t matter if more people get sick.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Staggering Back To School

From the Miami Herald:

At the end of what may be a record-breaking 29-hour special meeting that began Monday, the Miami-Dade County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to push back the gradual start of in-person classes until Oct. 14, more than a week later than first proposed.

The board is following the staggered reopening of schools that Superintendent Alberto Carvalho recommended Monday, but with later dates to make sure schools are ready and teachers and staff are protected from the spread of coronavirus.

A soft opening of schools is expected for students in Pre-K, kindergarten and first grade and students with special needs on Oct. 14.

All elementary school students, plus students in sixth, ninth and 10th grades — some of whom are entering new buildings and schools for the first time — can return the next day. On that day, all high school students, whether learning online or in-person, would go back to starting school at 7:20 a.m.

Schools would be fully open for all students who wish to return to the schoolhouse on Oct. 21.

The timeline applies only to the 51% of students whose parents chose for them to return to school, based on the district’s parental surveys. The remainder of the students will continue with online learning.

The new plan, which the school board approved around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday after more than four hours of changes and debate, also comes with a no-opt teacher planning day moved to Oct. 13.

Before opening, the school district must also have a “verified provision of all PPE (personal protective equipment) and related resources and full compliance with all required and represented procedures, protocols, personnel, and approaches presented regarding employee and School House Model reopening readiness presented by the Superintendent.”

A formal recommendation from medical experts must be provided to the school board prior to reopening.

I work part-time for two District-managed charter schools, and I work in one of those school offices two days a week (the other school I work strictly from home). The school where I report to has the strict CDC and District protocols in place, and on Monday we welcomed back students in Kindergarten and Grades 1 through 3.

We are a comparatively small school. Even at full enrollment we are under 800 students in Grades K-10, and the remote option remains; we’ve been doing that for a couple of weeks now with our students.

There is no easy way to do this.  Unlike some people’s thinking, we can’t just throw open the doors and let chance and hope lead the way.  Lives are at stake, and not just the students.  Some of the most vulnerable age groups — over 60 — work in the schools as teachers, staff, and other ancillary positions.  And for those politicians who are pushing so hard for the schools to re-open, I’d like to offer them the opportunity to spend a week in our school and see if they are willing to be brave enough to do it.  Any takers?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Polishing A Turd

From the Washington Post:

Trump pressed his case Thursday that U.S. schools are indoctrinating children with a left-wing agenda hostile to the nation’s Founding Fathers, describing efforts to educate students about racism and slavery as an insult to the country’s lofty founding principles.

Trump, speaking before original copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, characterized demonstrations against racial injustice as “left-wing rioting and mayhem” that “are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. It’s gone on far too long.”

The federal government has no power over the curriculum taught in local schools. Nonetheless, Trump said he would create a national commission to promote a “pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history,” which he said would encourage educators to teach students about the “miracle of American history.”

Trump is calling the panel the “1776 Commission,” in what appeared to be a barb at the New York Times’s 1619 Project. The project, whose creator won a Pulitzer Prize for its lead essay, is a collection of articles and essays that argue that the nation’s true founding year is 1619, the year enslaved Africans were brought to the shores of what would become the United States. Trump said Thursday the 1619 Project wrongly teaches that the United States was founded on principles of “oppression, not freedom.”

As the article notes, the federal government by law has no role in dictating curriculum to local school districts. The most they can do is cut funding to federal grants, which would take an act of Congress. But that’s not really the point.

Trump and the white supremacists want to keep teaching the fan fiction that Columbus “discovered” America — it was here the whole time, and populated by advanced civilizations in North and South America while Europeans were still living in trees — and that the Pilgrims and other English settlers brought democracy and white bread to the savages when in fact they brought witch trials and the clap. They want to bring back a “Gone With the Wind” geniality to the genocide of slavery, whose legacy still stands as the original sin of this nation. They want to make immigrants the scapegoat for all of our nation’s ills, which is ironic in the supreme since the folks raising the fear of undocumented immigrants are more than likely the descendants of immigrants who were subjected to racism and bigotry when they arrived.

Trump wants to put the best face on four hundred years of human intervention and colonialism and make it part of the public education that White people saved the world by invading every place they could find, stealing the land and its resources and then getting all pissed off because the indigenous people and the people they subjected to slavery aren’t getting down on their knees and thanking them.

Trump calls teaching the reality of this nation’s history “anti-American.”  But it’s the most American thing we can teach.