On one side are parents saying, let kids be kids. They object to masks and social distancing in classrooms this fall — arguing both could hurt their children’s well-being — and want schools to reopen full time.
On the other side are parents and teachers who call for safeguards that would have been unimaginable before the coronavirus pandemic: part-time school, face coverings for all or a fully online curriculum.
The impassioned tug-of-wars have put educators in the middle of an increasingly politicized debate on how best to reopen schools this fall, a daunting challenge as infections spike in the U.S.
“Don’t tell me my kid has to wear a mask,” said Kim Sherman, a mother of three in the central California city of Clovis who describes herself as very conservative and very pro-Trump. “I don’t need to be dictated to to tell me how best to raise my kids.”
With many districts still finalizing how they may reopen, President Donald Trump has ramped up pressure to get public schools back in business, threatening to withhold federal funding from those that don’t resume in-person classes. Without evidence, he’s accused Democrats of wanting schools closed because of politics, not health.
Similar mudslinging is happening at school board meetings, in neighbors’ social media clashes and in online petitions.
Some parents have threatened to pull their children — and the funding they provide — if masks are required.
Hillary Salway, a mother of three in Orange County, California, is part of a vocal minority calling for schools to fully open with “normal social interaction.” If the district requires masks for her son’s kindergarten class, she says, “I don’t know if my son will be starting his educational career in the public school system this fall.”
She wants him to feel free to hug his teacher and friends and can’t imagine sending him to a school where he’ll get reprimanded for sharing a toy. She started a petition last month urging her district to “keep facial expressions visually available” and helped organize a protest of over 100 people outside the district office, with signs saying, “No to masks, Yes to recess,” and “Let me breathe.”
Dozens have echoed her beliefs at Orange County Board of Education meetings, where the five-member elected body is majority Republican and is recommending a full return to school without masks or social distancing. The board makes recommendations but not policy, and its supporters argue that face coverings are ineffective, give a false sense of security and are potentially detrimental.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says masks may help prevent infected people from spreading the virus to others and urged students and teachers to wear them whenever feasible. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered Californians to wear them in public.
Brooke Aston Harper, a liberal parent who attended a particularly spirited board meeting recently, said it was “horrifying” that speakers were “imposing their small worldview on all of us.”
“I’m not looking for a fight, I just want us to take precautions,” said Harper, whose children are 4 and 6.
She also started a petition, calling on schools to follow state guidelines that include masks for teachers and students, constant social distancing on campuses and other measures.
“For each school board, the question is going to be: What does our community want, and who is the loudest?” she said.
Many parents, educators and doctors agree that the social, educational and emotional costs to children of a long shutdown may outweigh the risk of the virus itself, even if they don’t agree on how to reopen safely. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued guidelines supporting in-person school to avoid social isolation and depression in students. But it said science, not politics, must guide decisions where COVID-19 is spreading.
While children have proven to be less susceptible to the virus, teachers are vulnerable. And many are scared.
“I will be wearing a mask, a face shield, possibly gloves, and I’m even considering getting some type of body covering to wear,” says Stacey Pugh, a fifth-grade teacher in suburban Houston.
She hopes her Aldine district will mandate masks for students.
“Come the fall, we’re going to be the front-line workers,” said Pugh, whose two children will do distance learning with her retired father.
In Texas, a virus hot spot, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and education leaders say it’s safe to reopen schools in August. Districts must offer remote learning for students who opt to stay home, but the state didn’t issue safety guidelines, calling masks a local decision.
The Texas American Federation of Teachers and other unions have demanded clear guidelines.
“Texas AFT says a big ‘hell no’ to what looks like a return to normal in August,” president Zeph Capo said. “We won’t sacrifice our members and students for politics.”
The country’s two largest school districts, New York City and Los Angeles, say schools cannot fully reopen in the liberal cities.
While New York City officials say schools will likely combine in-person and distance learning, the Los Angeles school district announced Monday that its students will start the term with online classes from home. Other California cities, including San Diego and Oakland, also say their campuses will stay closed.
“A 10-year-old student might have a 30-year-old teacher a 50-year-old bus driver or live with a 70-year-old grandmother. All need to be protected,” LA Superintendent Austin Beutner said. “There is a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a petri dish.”
Besides masks, the CDC has recommended schools spread out desks, stagger schedules, have meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria and add physical barriers between bathroom sinks.
Many small, rural communities argue they shouldn’t have to comply with the same rules as big cities, where infection rates are higher.
Craig Guensler, superintendent of a small district in California’s mostly rural Yuba County, says officials will try to follow state mandates. They have spent $25,000 on what he calls “spit guards, for lack of a better term” — clear Plexiglas dividers to separate desks — at Wheatland Unified School District’s four schools.
Eighty-five percent of parents said in a survey they want their kids in school full time. Officials will space out desks as much as possible but still expect up to 28 in each classroom, Guensler said. Many parents are adamant their children not wear masks, and he suspects they will find loopholes if California requires them.
“Our expectation is we’re going to get pummeled with pediatricians writing notes, saying, ‘My child can’t wear a mask,'” he said.
Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
Will Rajinikanth's bet on 'spiritual' politics, 'change' mantra catapult him ? – Mint
Chennai: If his political package of ‘spiritual politics’ plus ‘change everything’ clicks, Rajinikanth would be the third star from the celluloid world to taste political success in Tamil Nadu after AIADMK founder M G Ramachandran and his protege J Jayalalithaa.
Whether or not his charisma and fan following would catapult him to political primacy could also be gauged, to an extent, from how he was going to explain his spiritual politics and the mantra of change to the people besides a host of other factors.
Assembly elections are due in Tamil Nadu during April-May 2021. According to the actor, spiritual politics is honesty, transparency and graft free politics transcending the barriers of caste and religion to provide good governance.
The ‘change everything’ slogan in addition to the ‘now or never’ is about a complete overhaul of the ‘system’ in governance and at the level of party structure as well to facilitate a real change for the benefit of the people.
The star, who had described himself in the past as a fanatic fan of late MGR, had invoked his legacy to assure a good administration for the benefit of poor and common man. Before he founded the AIADMK in 1972, MGR was with the DMK and had been also been active in politics. Virtually challenging Dravidian ideology, he had asked if honesty, belief in God and overcoming the barriers of caste and religion was alien to the Dravidian land.
On the poll prospects for the actor, political analyst Sumanth Raman said it was too early to predict since there were many questions to be answered by the actor. Raman wondered, “What is the meaning of change everything ? what is his policy and programmes ?”
He said the actor should explain how he would usher in the change that he has promised. Many things– like if his party would contest all the 234 seats, if it is so, who would be the candidates or whether there is a possibility of stitching an electoral alliance are not known, he said. Rajinikanth would also need a large team of credible faces to be fielded as candidates, he pointed out.
To a question on the actor saying in March that he would prefer to name a youth as Chief Minister and stay out of governance, Raman wondered if that view was still “valid.” “Rajinikanth will make an impact. But for the impact to be really huge, there should be answers for such questions. I can see that both AIADMK and DMK is rattled by his political innings.” he told PTI.
On spiritual politics, he said the DMK may try to give a spin to it, but he did not see ‘neagativity’ about it.
Dravidian ideologue V M S Subagunarajan, however, did not concur. He said the actor could not get a political foothold in Tamil Nadu since neither spirituality nor nationalistic politics have ever been successful in the state. Despite rooted in Periyar’s ideology, the state has some space for film stars but only for those who have either acknowledged or endorsed the Dravidian ideology like actors Vijayakanth (founder of DMDK) and Kamal Haasan (chief of Makkal Needhi Maiam), he said.
“Rajinikanth’s brand of spirituality is no doubt Hindu spirituality. His claim that he embraces all faiths is only hollow,” he said, adding the actor’s party, with its hues of spiritualism and nationalism may only be a clone of the BJP. “Nationalistic politics has no place in Tamil Nadu and yesteryear top star Sivaji Ganesan’s failure to take off politically is a very good example,” he said.
Renowned actor Sivaji Ganesan, who founded a political party after associating with the Congress, was defeated by DMK’s Durai Chandrasekaran in the 1989 Assembly election (Tiruvaiyaru assembly constituency) by a margin of over 10,000 votes. Ganesan could only emerge as the runner-up.
Film critic and political analyst M Bharat Kumar pointed out that the actor has said his spiritual politics treated all religions equally and that it transcended all barriers. “The AIADMK is already following soft spiritualism through several welfare measures for the benefit of all faiths including Christians and Muslims. So, we need to see how he is going to distinguish himself from the AIADMK to succeed,” he said.
The actor has promised ‘spiritual politics’ driven by the ‘change’ mantra in Tamil Nadu which is dominated by Dravidian politics of the AIADMK and DMK for over five decades.
The death of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, and DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi in 2016 and 2018 respectively, provided the perfect setting for Kamal Haasan and now Rajinikanth to aspire to climb the political ladder.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.
A Gathering Political Storm Hits Georgia, With Trump on the Way – The New York Times
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ATLANTA — Some of the biggest names in national politics jumped into the fiercely contested runoffs for two Georgia Senate seats on Friday, even as a second recount showed that Joseph R. Biden Jr. had maintained his lead in the state and Republicans braced for a visit by President Trump, who has railed against his loss there with baseless claims of fraud.
With Mr. Trump set to campaign for the two Republican incumbents, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence and former President Barack Obama held dueling events to underscore the vital stakes in the special elections: If both Republicans are defeated, control of the Senate will shift to Democrats just as Mr. Biden moves into the Oval Office.
Mr. Obama appeared virtually at a turn-out-the-vote event for Jon Ossoff, the Democrat facing Mr. Perdue, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Ms. Loeffler’s opponent, and spoke of his frustration in seeing his initiatives blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate when he was in office. “If the Senate is controlled by Republicans who are interested in obstruction and gridlock, rather than progress and helping people, they can block just about anything,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Pence — with Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler by his side — received a Covid-19 briefing at the Atlanta headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and said later at a rally for the Republican candidates that “we’re going to save the Senate, and then we’re going to save America.”
A second recount of the presidential vote in Georgia has finished, according to the Secretary of State website, showing Mr. Biden ahead by about 12,000 votes with 100 percent of the counties reporting.
New campaign financial reports filed late Thursday showed a staggering influx of money into the state in the first days of runoffs that were expected to set spending records, with more than $300 million booked in television, radio and digital ads, according to data from AdImpact, an ad-tracking firm. Media buyers said the price of ads was soaring, especially for super PACs, to unseen heights.
The Senate races are playing out at a hyperpartisan moment in American politics that has led to a civil war among Georgia Republicans divided over whether to support Mr. Trump as he persists with false assertions that the election was stolen from him. In Georgia and elsewhere, the president’s lawyers remain engaged in a failing, last-minute effort to throw the election to Mr. Trump.
Even as he tweeted this week that he wanted “a big David and Kelly WIN,” Mr. Trump called Brian Kemp, the state’s Republican governor, “hapless” for failing to work to overturn the election results, while also criticizing Georgia’s top election official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. His sustained assault on Georgia’s voting system prompted an extraordinary rebuke this week from another high-ranking elections official, who warned of violent threats against poll workers and publicly pleaded with the president to cool down his conspiratorial rhetoric.
On Friday, State Senator Elena Parent, a Democrat on the judiciary subcommittee, which met on Thursday, said that she had been the target of violent, anonymous threats that appeared on a public internet chat room.
The president’s appearance in Valdosta, near the Florida border, on Saturday evening comes after a concerted campaign by his advisers and Republican lawmakers to convince him that his presence is vital to increasing turnout among his supporters. Initially reluctant, the president agreed to hold the rally after being told that victories by the Republican Senate candidates would help prove his contention that his own win in Georgia was stolen from him, according to aides familiar with the conversations.
But some Republicans in Georgia and Washington are fearful that Mr. Trump will go off-script, and potentially attack Mr. Kemp or Mr. Raffensperger. Party officials also worry that the president’s claims of fraud could backfire, undermining turnout by convincing Republican voters that the special elections are rigged against them anyway.
L. Lin Wood, a lawyer and Republican supporter of Mr. Trump, and Sidney Powell, a lawyer who has filed lawsuits on the president’s behalf, urged Georgians Wednesday not to vote “unless your vote is secure.”
That same day, a number of prominent Georgia Republicans, including former Gov. Nathan Deal, signed an open letter in which they warned that “the debate surrounding the state’s electoral system has made some within our party consider whether voting in the coming runoff election matters.”
The leaders said that the party needed to focus on winning the two Senate seats, or risk turning the Senate over to a Democratic Party that “wishes to fundamentally alter the fabric of our nation into something unrecognizable.”
Some senior Republicans in Washington are doing little to hide their concern about the damage that they believe Mr. Wood and Ms. Powell are inflicting.
“It’s encouraging the president is going down there to rally the troops, because I know there’s some inconsistent messages being sent to his base supporters,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas.
Chip Lake, a Georgia-based Republican strategist who most recently worked for Representative Doug Collins — who unsuccessfully vied in November for Ms. Loeffler’s Senate seat — said Friday that Mr. Trump was facing “one of the biggest political speeches the president’s ever had to make, because the stakes are that high.”
“If we have any portion of our base that might decide to boycott this election for any reason whatsoever, then we might be handing over the Senate to Democratic control,” Mr. Lake said.
Although a hand-recount of the state’s five million votes reaffirmed that Mr. Biden had indeed won the Georgia election, Mr. Trump’s campaign demanded a second machine recount. Fulton County, which includes much of Atlanta and is the state’s most populous, certified its results on Friday. As of Friday evening, state election officials had not responded to queries about when they would officially announce the results of the recount or recertify Mr. Biden as the winner.
The urgency of the senate races was reflected in the huge amounts of money pouring into the four campaigns in recent weeks: about $187 million just in online donations from Oct. 15 to Nov. 23, according to federal records from the donation-processing sites ActBlue and WinRed.
In that 40-day period, both Democratic challengers out-raised their Republican opponents every day from online contributions and surpassed the previous Senate fund-raising record for a full quarter. Mr. Warnock raised $63.3 million in online donations and Mr. Ossoff raised $66.4 million.
In that time, the two Republicans raised $58.2 million.
But well-heeled Republicans have erased much of the Democrats’ financial advantage with giant donations to a super PAC that raised $70 million in less than three weeks from a who’s who of Republican megadonors, including Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone ($15 million) and Ken Griffin of Citadel ($12 million). The media mogul Rupert Murdoch gave $1 million, as did his son, Lachlan, the chief executive of the Fox Corporation.
Ms. Loeffler, one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, put $23 million of her own money into her campaign to get to the runoff and her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, has donated an additional $10 million to a pro-Loeffler super PAC.
Big contributions from Democratic donors are lagging the Republicans. The leading Senate Democratic super PAC raised a little more than $10 million in the 20 days after the general election, records show. The biggest donation — $2.5 million — came from the organization that Stacey Abrams created, Fair Fight, after her narrow loss in 2018 for the governor’s race.
As Ms. Abrams’s star power has increased, Fair Fight itself has emerged as a major magnet for Democratic giving, pulling in nearly $35 million in 40 days that ended Nov. 23. Ms. Abrams, widely credited with leading the Democratic renaissance in Georgia, also appeared in the virtual rally on Friday for the two Democratic candidates.
“We won this election decisively, and, despite the number of recounts, it keeps giving us the same answer: that Georgia Democrats showed up, that Georgians showed up and that we decided that we wanted to move this nation in the right direction,” Ms. Abrams said.
Mr. Ossoff voiced a major theme that both Democratic candidates were seeking to exploit: allegations that Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue benefited from questionable stock trades as they learned about the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic. “We’re running against, like, the Bonnie and Clyde of political corruption in America, who represent politicians who put themselves over the people,” he said. Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler have denied any inappropriate financial dealings.
On Friday, Mr. Pence rallied on behalf of Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue in Savannah, where he warned that Democrats would advance a liberal, big-government agenda if they were allowed to seize control of the Senate.
“If you don’t vote, they win,” Mr. Pence told the small but enthusiastic crowd at the Savannah airport. “If you don’t vote, there could be nothing to stop Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi from cutting our military, raising taxes and passing the agenda of the radical left.”
Mr. Pence was joined at the airport by Mr. Perdue but not Ms. Loeffler, who returned to Atlanta after a young man on her campaign staff was killed on Friday afternoon in a traffic accident.
Before the rally, Mr. Pence attended the C.D.C. briefing with the Republican candidates, saying the nation is facing a “challenging time” but also “a season of hope,” with the likely approval of the first coronavirus vaccine coming as soon as next week.
Sheryl Stolberg, Jonathan Martin and Rachel Shorey contributed reporting.
Public Health Workers In Kansas Walk Away Over Pressure From Pandemic Politics – NPR
In July, Nick Baldetti resigned as director of the Reno County Health Department in Kansas.
But it wasn’t the 80-hour workweeks that drove him to quit, it was the hostile political environment and threats to Baldetti’s family.
“I had the local police watching my house because my family was home and I was not,” said Baldetti, who also served as the department’s health officer. “There was a period of time that I had escorts to and from work.”
Baldetti spent years preparing to deal with a public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. He never imagined that when the moment arrived, he would encounter such antagonism for simply doing his job.
“By the end of the day, you just felt like you were on an island by yourself,” he said. “Whatever decision I made, 50% of people were going to be upset because it was too ‘restrictive’ and the other 50% were going to be upset because it wasn’t restrictive enough.”
Baldetti’s story isn’t unique. The pressure of dealing with the pandemic and the politics surrounding it has triggered an exodus of public health workers in Kansas.
In the nine months since the state’s first documented coronavirus infection, 27 county health officials have left their posts. Some retired, but others resigned or were fired.
The same pressures are thinning the ranks of local public health officials across the country. Many are leaving because they’ve been physically threatened or “politically scapegoated” for doing their jobs, Lori Freeman, chief executive of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told NPR.
Frustration, fear and fatigue
Gianfranco Pezzino recently announced that after 14 years as the health officer of the Shawnee County Health Department, he would step down at the end of the year.
“There’s a lot of burnout, anger and frustration,” Pezzino said.
A doctor and public health researcher, Pezzino said months of battling county commissioners over how to contain the coronavirus had worn him out.
“I’m tired emotionally, I’m tired physically,” Pezzino said. “I don’t think I have the energy … to do another year like this.”
The amount of misinformation spread on social media — much of it emanating from the White House — politicized the nation’s response to the pandemic, Pezzino said.
“If there had been a unified message coming down from the federal government to the state and local levels,” he said, “it would have been much easier for everybody.”
Mask mandate backlash
Jennifer Bacani McKenney is also tired and frustrated. Nevertheless, she’s fighting to stay on as the health officer in rural Wilson County.
McKenney, a doctor, grew up in Fredonia, the county seat. She returned about a decade ago to join her father’s medical practice.
Initially, she said, citizens of the county in the southeast part of the state embraced orders issued by Gov. Laura Kelly and the county health department aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Those orders sequestered people in their homes and closed schools and some businesses.
“That first probably two months we were everybody’s best friend,” McKenney said. “We were here to take care of you.”
But support for those policies eroded as the number of unemployed Kansans grew to levels not seen since the Great Recession. Republican legislative leaders responded by reining in Kelly’s emergency powers and those of local health officials.
As the political debate grew more heated — nationally and in Kansas — hostility toward public health officials, like McKenney, increased.
She got threatening emails and was the target of personal attacks on social media.
“It hurts your heart, it really does,” McKenney said. “It’s not only that people are mean, it’s that you’ve lost friends. Relationships are broken.”
During the worst of it, McKenney said, she often sat alone in her office and cried after seeing her last patient of the day.
“There’s nothing else to do,” she said.
Andy Miller, a Wilson County commissioner, said McKenney brought some of the criticism on herself by disparaging President Trump’s handling of the pandemic in social media posts.
“When you start getting political,” Miller said, “you’ve created a storm.”
When that happens, he said, the attacks run both ways.
“I’ve probably got a dozen emails or so that are just, ‘it’s either a mask [mandate] or you’re a killer,’ ” he said. “There’s no in between.”
Early last month, commissioners rejected McKenney’s proposal for a mask mandate. But as COVID-19 cases in the county and across the state surged and Kelly reiterated her call for a statewide policy, they agreed to consider a compromise.
Most of the people who showed up for a public hearing opposed the mandate as an assault on their personal liberty.
“My fear doesn’t happen to be the COVID virus but the overreach of national and state officials who believe because of their positions or ego that their opinions are fact,” said Charles Fox, a Fredonia veterinarian.
Donovan Hutchinson, the bar owner in nearby Neodesha, said giving in to a mask mandate would lead to further abuses of government power.
“What will they come after next, our guns, our children?” he said.
When it became apparent that the commission was ready to approve a 30-day mask mandate as a compromise several people walked out in protest.
Like other public health officials, McKenney is tired and discouraged. But she said she’s not going to quit.
“That’s not me,” she said. “I can’t have this knowledge and ability to help people and just walk away.”
Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
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