Archives for the month of: March, 2020

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond announced that public schools are unlikely to reopen this calendar year due to the coronavirus.

California public school campuses are unlikely to reopen for the remainder of the academic school year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Tuesday in a letter to school district officials.

“Due to the current safety concerns and needs for ongoing social distancing it currently appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year,” Thurmond wrote. “This is in no way to suggest that school is over for the year, but rather we should put all efforts into strengthening our delivery of education through distance learning.”

Earlier, Thurmond had resisted suggestions that there was no hope for returning to campus. His letter Tuesday represented a shift of direction.

His statement also echoed remarks from Gov. Gavin Newsom at a midday Tuesday news conference:

“We have more work to do: internet connection, rural issues, and still trying to address the anxiety of parents like me and my wife and millions of others about whether or not kids are going to go back to school this calendar year or not,” Newsom said. “I have been clear in my belief they will not, but let me announce formally what the superintendent of public education believes and what the superintendents believe and expect that announcement in the next day or two.”

Teresa Hanafin writes Fast Forward for the Boston Globe.

She wrote today:

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, March 31, the 91st day of the year. It’s César Chávez Day in 10 states, honoring his fight for social justice on his birthday…

The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests tiring out those little people who are underfoot every day now by taking them outside to set up, dig, and plant a garden. Order seeds that are big enough for little fingers or that grow fast for impatient tykes, like peas, pole beans, squash, radishes, corn, cucumbers — but make sure they like to eat whatever they plant. Throw in pumpkins or sunflowers or morning glories, too.

The almanac also suggests other things you can do with the kids: build bat and bird houses, make a sundial, assemble a weather station, and tap some maple trees so you can make syrup. Oh sure, and while you’re at it, why not dig a well, build a playground, and reshingle your roof.

We all should be grateful that Trump is finally realizing that the coronavirus crisis is serious, agreeing to extend his physical-distancing recommendation through April. Welcome to the real world!

Unfortunately, it took a full-court press by the task force’s two top docs, Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, wheedling and cajoling, showing Trump charts and graphs (since he doesn’t read and likes to look at pictures instead), and convincing him that if he went through with his plan to pull back on physical distancing measures, encourage businesses to reopen, and tell workers to go back to work, then upwards of 2.2 million people could die, according to a study by the Imperial College in London.

That’s actually highly unlikely; most governors would have just ignored Trump and kept businesses closed and residents at home in their own states.

In fact, at least 30 states and the District of Columbia already have put mandatory stay-home orders in place, with more moving in that direction, which kind of makes whatever Trump says irrelevant.

But the risk was that some Republican governors who have been following Trump’s lead and downplaying the virus would actually comply if Trump had gone through with his go-back-to-work advice.

Look at Alabama, where just five days ago, Governor Kay Ivey said she would not issue a stay-at-home order because “Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York State, we are not California.” Just wait, Scarlett. As the number of cases and deaths in her state began to rise rapidly, and scientists and doctors (and her own lieutenant governor) clamored for action, she finally ordered nonessential businesses to close down and asked — but did not require — residents to stay home.

Or Florida, where GOP Governor Ron DeSantis still refuses to issue a stay-at-home statewide order, despite the images of college students packed together partying on beaches and in bars in mid-March. He eventually closed restaurants and bars, and yesterday finally issued a stay-at-home order for south Florida until April 15. Meanwhile, Miami is becoming one of the nation’s hotspots, and Florida has gone from 4,000 cases to 5,000 cases to 6,000 cases in just a couple of days. Oh, and he’s blaming New Yorkers for the increase.

They ought to follow the example of their fellow Republican, Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio. His fast, aggressive, and decisive actions have been a model for other governors.

But there was another big factor in Trump’s capitulation, something that matters to him more than anything: Polls. Political surveys by his former campaign pollsters show that most Americans want the country to close down and power through this crisis.

It was pretty jaw-dropping when Trump bragged about the high TV ratings for his coronavirus media briefings. Remember, they essentially are news conferences about devastating job losses, illness, and death, and he’s giddy because the ratings are good.

But then came this: His implication that New York hospitals were doing something nefarious with specialty masks for their staff (emphasis mine):

How do you go from 10 to 20, to 300,000? Ten to 20,000 masks to 300,000? Where are the masks going? Are they going out the back door? How do you go from 10,000 to 300,000? And we have that in a lot of different places. So, somebody should probably look into that, because I just don’t see, from a practical standpoint, how that’s possible to go from that to that.

Here’s how: Previously, only hospital personnel involved with surgery or treating a handful of highly contagious diseases were required to wear the protective masks. Now, every single employee of the hospital is required to wear one, including the cleaning crews.

In addition, every time a doctor or nurse or physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner or health aide or anyone deals with a patient, whether they have a COVID-19 diagnosis or not — in other words, every single patient — they must assume that the patient is infected, throw away that mask, and put on a new one before moving to the next patient.

As one surgeon said, “I don’t understand why this is so difficult for him to grasp.” Sure you do. We all do. Somebody, quick — draw him some pictures.

One infuriating aspect of this crisis is the yawning chasm between the Trump administration’s insistence that millions and millions of pieces of equipment — testing kits, masks, ventilators — have been shipped to states, and the daily pleas from many governors and hospitals facing shortfalls and rationing, endangering health workers and patients alike.

But when Montana Governor Steve Bullock pleaded for more test kits in a conference call, telling Trump that his state was one day away from being unable to do any more testing, Trump played dumb. (Okay, maybe he wasn’t playing.) “I haven’t heard about testing in weeks,” he said. “I haven’t heard about testing being a problem.”

Those quick-result tests approved by the FDA can’t arrive soon enough.

The other confounding aspect of this is the bidding war states are forced to engage in because there is no coordination from the feds. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said it’s like auctions on eBay, with states trying to outbid each other for critical items, and even FEMA swooping in to join the bidding, all of which is driving prices through the roof. Why FEMA didn’t assume the role of national purchasing agent and distribute items according to need is baffling, and critics say it’s such a failure of logic, organization, and leadership.

Dr. Larry Brilliant, the epidemiologist who helped wipe smallpox off the face of the earth when he was at the World Health Organization, has been sharply critical of Trump’s early downplaying of the virus as a hoax and insistence that the US wasn’t being affected for weeks: “Speaking as a public health person, this is the most irresponsible act of an elected official that I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime.”

He’s still angry about the administration’s tepid response. “We should be flooding the zone” with testing and equipment, he said. “This should be a moonshot, a Manhattan Project.” The problem is that Trump thinks the Manhattan Project was when he built Trump Tower.

In this time of national crisis, the Trump administration announced that it was lowering federal fuel economy standards.

This move reverses many years of efforts to fight air pollution.

People with emphysema, asthma, and other lung conditions, already at risk for coronavirus, will suffer even more risk as the air is dirtied by emissions from cars and trucks.

This change to lower standards may satisfy the fossil fuel industry and some in the transportation industry, at least those who put profits above lives, but it is a deadly blow to public health.

It is a curious time to take steps to further endanger public health and poison the air we breathe.

Is there a bottom to the heartlessness of the Trump administration and its callous indifference to our lives?

Leonie Haimson invites you to listen to her interview with Wednesday from 10-11 AM EST:

Join us Wed. from 10-11AM on WBAI for “Talk out of School” when I’ll interview Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, about what schools should & should not be doing during the time of coronavirus , how not to overstretch and overstress the capabilities of teachers and families, & how the crisis threatens to lead to huge education cuts, further undermine student privacy & more. Please call in with your questions at 212-209-2877.

David Weigel of the Washington Post answers questions that readers have asked:

In the old world, the one we lived in before the coronavirus, this would be primary day in Puerto Rico. A few days earlier, Joe Biden would have probably won Georgia and announced an “insurmountable delegate lead” over Bernie Sanders. Donald Trump would be holding rally after rally, flying into swing states to prove the enthusiasm gap between him and the Democrats.

That world doesn’t exist anymore, so it’s a good time to answer some questions from readers and subscribers. Many of them still had questions about the primary, which is not over, although no delegate lead as large as Joe Biden’s has ever been overcome by a challenger. A few had questions about how elections will go forward during a pandemic, something that has not happened since 1918. Luckily, most of the questions people have about this election have answers.

Bob asks: “Does the administration have the legal right to postpone an election due to this pandemic?”

This was a very popular question and, luckily, pretty easy to answer. Primary elections are run by state governments and in some cases, state parties, and they can be moved rather easily. But the federal election, while administered by state governments, has its date set by federal law. It would take a bipartisan act of Congress to change the date — possible, but not likely. It would take an amendment to the Constitution to delay the inauguration of whoever wins the 2020 election — possible, and even less likely.

But the short answer is no: The Trump administration cannot postpone an election all by itself. The circumstances that would get people thinking about that might be a second coronavirus outbreak in October. But we have six months before early voting gets underway in key states, and there is time for states to come up with contingency voting plans. Could they fritter that time away and fail to fund it? Could some states put comprehensive vote-by-mail in place while other states don’t? Yes and yes.

Debbie asks: “What happens to delegates of candidates who won them and later dropped out? Warren has not supported either Biden nor Sanders. Does she still hold on to the delegates she won? Or can she choose where they go?”

It’s complicated, and it’s one reason that the delegate counts you see collected by media outlets can diverge so much. While 3,979 delegates are being allocated by voters in primaries and caucuses, most state parties select the actual delegates — the people who will represent the candidate at the party’s convention — after the voting is over. In Iowa, for example, five candidates got delegates, but only two of them remain in the race. When activists meet at their local conventions, they will elect the actual flesh-and-blood humans who will represent Biden and Sanders and delegates.

In most states, this will be a boon for Sanders. Every candidate who has quit the race has endorsed Biden, except for Elizabeth Warren. Had they remained active candidates they could have released those delegates to Biden at the convention. Instead, their departure changes the math for selecting delegates; in the nine states where candidates besides Biden and Sanders won delegates, the local conventions will base their selection on the two-way vote between Sanders and Biden instead.

Rob asks: “Is there any possibility that Andrew Cuomo could emerge as a draft candidate for the Democratic ticket?”

Outside Twitter, no, there is not any organized effort to give the nomination to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The primacy of New York in American media, and in the outbreaks so far, has clearly given Cuomo the best coverage of his career. Even the glow around his push for same-sex marriage in New York state was dimmer than this. Other Democratic governors have impressed voters with their pandemic response, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, but Cuomo is clearly the star.

Still, let’s be honest: The “draft somebody else” question is less about Cuomo in particular than about the worries surrounding potential Democratic nominees who would turn 80 in their first terms.

Were Biden or Sanders to leave the race now, the remaining candidate would secure almost all remaining delegates and have enough to win the nomination on the first ballot of a convention. If that candidate became unable to serve, delegates would be free to select someone else, and it would not matter whether that person had run in the primary. Were both candidates to continue, but the candidate with the most delegates became unable to serve, it would be up to those delegates to decide whether to nominate someone new, or whether to walk over and nominate the runner-up.

On their current trajectory, Democrats are not heading for a contested convention; that is, one of their remaining candidates should have enough delegates to win the nomination outright. And some of the “draft Cuomo” chatter has quieted as Biden has become more assertive, doing interviews from his studio.

Education Week published an insightful article about the dangers to student privacy during this time when students are relying on tech products to connect to teachers. Read it in full if you have a subscription.

Massive Shift to Remote Learning Prompts Big Data Privacy Concerns

By Mark Lieberman

Schools are confronting a wide range of potential problems around student data privacy as they scramble to put technology tools for virtual instruction in place during extended school building shutdowns.

Teachers have already begun connecting with students using a variety of digital tools, some of which are new to them and their schools and weren’t designed for classroom use—everything from videoconferencing apps like Zoom to digital devices like Chromebooks and learning platforms like Babbel and BrainPop.

An unprecedented number of online interactions between teachers and students from their respective homes introduce new privacy questions that lack easy answers. And at least one state’s governor, aiming to speed up implementation of new remote learning tools, has temporarily waived legal requirements for agreements between school districts and technology companies that typically include student data privacy provisions.

The challenges for schools in staying abreast of privacy concerns have become acute as companies have begun offering temporary free subscriptions to their expensive tech products, said Antonio Romayor Jr., chief technology officer for El Centro Elementary School District in California.

Some teachers in his district have begun bypassing the typical vetting procedures for new tech products by adding the free products directly to their single sign-on platforms for students and teachers to use, he said.

Some of those free products could eventually cost schools and parents money, which means anyone using them should be extra careful about offering credit-card information when signing up, Romayor said. Programs that aren’t vetted in advance also might run afoul of privacy policy. “It’s a constant struggle,” he said.

While the new technological landscape for schools feels unprecedented in many ways, schools still have an obligation to inform parents of how their students’ data is being used, even if the teaching is occurring outside school buildings. Federal laws—such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)—should help guide school leaders in deciding what new technologies to use.

“The rules, the regulations apply whether the student is actually in the classroom physically or is at home being taught through a distance learning framework,” said Linnette Attai, president of the for-profit education company PlayWell and a close observer of student privacy issues.

Student privacy experts are recommending that school districts take a deliberate, rather than frenetic, approach to adopting new technologies, and guard against overinvesting in new tools before being fully aware of how they work and how they could jeopardize students’ data privacy.

Cheri Kiesecker, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Data Privacy, wants parents and schools to minimize as much as possible the amount of student data that’s being collected and sold by tech companies. She felt the same before the COVID-19 outbreak.

In fact, Kiesecker points to a 2018 warning from the FBI noting that the consequences of ed-tech companies collecting too much data on students “could result in social engineering, bullying, tracking, identity theft, or other means for targeting children.” Most U.S. states earned a “C” or lower grade from a 2019 survey of student data privacy protections by Kiesecker’s organization and the Network for Public Education.

As schools rush to put remote learning programs in places, Kiesecker argues that those student data privacy problems could get significantly worse. And that could have long-term consequences for many students. “Data is actually your identity and a form of social currency,” she said.

Vicki Cobb has written many science books for children.

She writes:

I write science books for children. People are confused about what science is.

Is it a body of knowledge?

Yes, one that has been growing incrementally and exponentially for the past 500 years.

How is this knowledge accumulated?

By experimental procedures that are verifiable by others and corrected by others.

It is produced by a community and is the original wiki. Why do some people distrust science?

Partly because much of it is non-intuitive or counter intuitive.

Why should we believe that the earth circles the sun, when it looks like the heavens circles us? What is its value that no other discipline has? It predicts with accuracy.

It doesn’t need to be believed in. For those who are questioning our faith in science when it comes to the course of this pandemic, they may be dead before they learn that they are wrong.

John Ogozalek teaches high school in upstate New York.

I was outside a good part of yesterday. There are lots of jobs to do here in the country when winter starts to really end. I also went and uncovered the old spring out in one of our fields. No cell phone works there so I was truly out of touch.

The idea is that if there’s a typical, garden variety power outage due to something like a bad storm, the line crews could be stretched thin the next few months If they’re shorthanded, our corner of the world might have to wait much longer than usual for the lights to come back on. And the pump that draws the water up for our house to kick back into service.

So, I was cleaning up the spring. It’s been there for generations. Nearby there are trees much older than the last major pandemic in the U.S. 100 years ago. I was way beyond the range of anyone hearing me even if I shouted at the top of my lungs, standing there in the cool, mountain breeze. It kind of put this current global disaster in a bit of context -at least for a few moments.

And the thought came to me there on that hillside: it’s incredible how WARPED our priories have been for our schools -and our entire society. Less than two weeks out of the usual school routine and it is so clear how warped and demented so many things have become.

I’m heading back down there later this morning. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

The sun is out today and it’s getting stronger every spring day that goes by.

Take care.

A valuable website called “Unkoch My Campus” is offering a webinar where you can learn how to identify the tentacles of the Kochtopus.

Charles Koch and his late brother David
have subsidized anti-government, anti-public school policies and think tanks for decades. They underwrote the voucher campaign in Arizona and other states. They work closely with the DeVos family foundations to promote their views. The Koch’s have established centers to advocate libertarian ideas on more than 300 campuses. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, we see how necessary it is to have a functioning federal government. At times of crisis, we understand that we need an effective public sector. The Koch movement has worked hard to reduce the ability of governments to protect their citizens.

This is a message from “Unkoch My Campus.”

We’re building a movement against the most intricate infrastructure of political influence in the country.

The bad news? This means having to track and expose hundreds of Koch-funded university programs, think-tanks, advocacy organizations, legislators, and judges working at the local, state, and federal levels. Yikes!

The good news? We can learn skills to make this work a little easier, and there are incredible researchers doing a lot of this work for us already!

To learn these skills, join our upcoming “Researching the Koch Network 101” webinar next Tuesday at 2pm ET!

Next week we’re bringing in David Armiak, Research Director at the Center for Media and Democracy, to teach us how to better incorporate opposition research into our campus and community-based campaigns. On this webinar, participants will:

Become more familiar with the universities, state-based think-tanks, advocacy organizations, and legislators involved in moving Koch’s agenda forward;

Learn about the research and resources that already exists to inform and deepen your local campaigns;

Receive an overview of basic opposition research skills experts use to conduct investigations and connect the dots;

Identify ways to leverage research produced by UnKoch’s partners to inform your grassroots base and escalate your local campaigns!

This webinar is designed with campus AND community advocates in mind. Whether you’re trying to kick Koch off of your campus or wanting to deepen your local or state-based advocacy by targeting Koch, this webinar is for you. Register to join us next Tuesday at 2pm ET!

In solidarity,

Samantha Parsons

Rob Reich and Mohit Mookim write in “Wired” about the efforts by Bill Gates, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and Chinese billionaire Jack Ma to step in and do what the federal government has failed to do in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

They warn:

Public health is a paradigmatic public good. We should never be dependent on the whims of wealthy donors—as philanthropy is increasingly dominated by the wealthy—for our collective health and well-being.

That would be a betrayal of democracy. Rather than democratic processes determining our collective needs and how to address them, the wealthy would decide for us. We wanted rule by the many; we may get rule by the rich.

The coronavirus pandemic presents us with an immediate need for a response and it reminds us of the importance to invest so that we avoid preventable disasters in the future. At the moment, it’s all hands on deck for the emergency. But this is not what big philanthropy is built for. Or what it can sustain. The richest country in the world must step up to fund public health rather than relying on the richest people in the world to do it piecemeal.

Rob Reich is Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and author of Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better. He is the faculty codirector of The Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, which has received grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Mohit Mookim is a researcher at the Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University.

Curiously, the co-author Rob Reich Of the article leads an organization funded by the Gates Foundation. Will Bill Gates listen to him?