One of the first beats I ever covered for a newspaper was Fairfax County Public Schools for The Washington Post in the early 1980s.
I learned something almost immediately: Despite enjoying enviable job security, teachers are notoriously reticent about speaking to the press. They worry that if they’re critical of what’s going on in their schools they’ll be fired. Or reassigned. Or shunned in the faculty lounge.
So most teachers just keep their heads down and keep teaching their students regardless of the difficult situations in their buildings.
But even that hasn’t been easy since Gov. Ralph Northam closed the schools last March. Many teachers and students were unprepared for full-time virtual learning. They certainly weren’t prepared to reopen in the fall. Some schools are holding in-person classes, others reopened and are now closed, still others are struggling with the 10-month-long failed experiment in distance learning. Continue reading →
Virginia’s experiment with online learning in public schools during the COVID-19 epidemic has been widelypanned as a poor substitute for in-person learning. But many school superintendents, spurred by the loss of thousands of students from public schools, are thinking that online learning may be here to stay, at least in a limited capacity.
In Virginia Beach the University of Virginia K-12 Advisory Council hosted Friday about 60 senior school administrators, mostly superintendents and assistant superintendents to discuss lessons learned from the COVID-19 experience. As part of the process, the organizers white-boarded suggested topics for breakout groups to discuss. There was a widespread sentiment that the epidemic had forced administrators to re-examine established ways of doing things.
Perhaps most remarkable was the recognition that public schools need to think about their “market share” in the educational marketplace. Apparently, the loss of 3% or more of student enrollments to private schools and home schools in some districts has been a real wake-up call. The decline in enrollments translates directly into a loss of state dollars. Continue reading →
Having received and mostly spent $3.1 billion in federal COVID-19 “relief” funding already, Virginia’s state and local governments now willhave another $2.7 billion in the fourth and latest (but likely not last) federal spending bill tied to the ongoing pandemic and unemployment crisis.
The word relief is in apostrophes because Virginia’s state budget, as previously reported, is surprisingly strong in this time of economic stress, strong enough to pour dollars back into the state’s reserve funds Other states are in much worse shape. But just as with the individual COVID payments, need is not a factor. The idea is to stimulate personal – and government – spending across the board. Continue reading →
In announcing the creation of three new conservation easements in Henrico County, a recent press release from the Capital Region Land Conservancy made an eye-catching statement. The easements, said the Conservancy, act as a bulwark against rising pressure to develop agricultural land across Virginia “driven most recently by shifts in COVID-era lifestyles and soaring housing prices.”
This was the first time I recall anyone in Virginia making an explicit connection between the COVID epidemic, urban flight, and rising property values for agricultural land. The notion is worth exploring
The conversion of farmland into subdivisions is a long-standing concern. As the Conservancy notes, more than 339,000 acres of farmland were developed in Virginia between 2001 and 2016. In the Richmond region, more than 87,000 acres of farmland have been lost. By 2017 Henrico County had fewer than 100 farms and 10,000 acres of farmland.
The urban renaissance of the 2010s decade blunted the trend toward metropolitan sprawl. The center of gravity in development shifted back toward urban cores in Virginia and the U.S. generally. Now that momentum seems spent. Perhaps the COVID-19 epidemic is driving the reversal, but I suspect that the reality is more complex. It is also possible — consider it a hypothesis — that after a year of protests, riots and rising violent crime rates in many cities, many urban dwellers, concerned about social breakdown, fear for their personal safety. The main thing holding them back is the paucity of rural broadband and connectivity. That barrier soon may fall. Continue reading →
Here’s the attaboy to Gov. Ralph Northam that I meant to write for Thursday, until anarchy broke out in the U.S. Capitol.
Ever since they began in March, some of us have come to dread Northam’s COVID press conferences. The governor’s tone drips with condescension, he seems to blame people for getting sick and many of his emergency orders have been larded with restrictions that aren’t remotely grounded in science, but seem instead designed only to punish Virginians and make life miserable. No sitting on the beach comes to mind.
So, naturally, I turned on his Wednesday presser with trepidation, wondering what fresh hell awaited us. After all, Virginia’s infection rates are up sharply and even though we have thousands of empty hospital beds, no hospitals in the commonwealth are reporting a shortage of PPE and ICUs still have plenty of capacity, we seemed ripe for some kind of ugly California-style measures.
The urge to do something even if they know it won’t work, seems to be strong in most governors.
I was stunned and pleasantly surprised that this once the governor didn’t follow the lead of idiots like Gavin Newsom and Andrew Cuomo. Neither did Northam berate Virginians who are doing their best to stay healthy during a pandemic.
Administering the vaccine at the Richmond City Health Department. Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch
by James A. Bacon
The Virginia Department of Health has released its priorities for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in the next phase of the vaccination rollout. The top priorities are exactly who you’d expect — front-line essential workers and people over 75. It is reassuring to see that child-care and K-12 teachers and staff are high on the list.
In the initial phase, vaccines are being distributed to hospitals and nursing homes, either to people most likely to be exposed to the COVID-19 virus or to be at high risk of dying from it.
Next come the frontline essential workers. Police, fire and hazmat workers top the list. Then come corrections and homeless-shelter workers who work in settings where prisoners and homeless, packed into confined quarters, are at high risk of transmitting the virus.
Then comes the category of “child-care, K-12 teachers and staff.” One might ask why the commonwealth is prioritizing school teachers. After all, “the science” is clear that K-12 schools are low-risk settings for getting the virus. I’ll tell you why: Unlike the other occupations, teachers appear to be uniquely reluctant to return to their normal place of work. Their fears — rational or irrational — must be addressed. Continue reading →
Aaron Spence, superintendent of Virginia Beach Public Schools, has seen the light.
After months of kowtowing to the local teachers’ union — er education association — which is doing its best to keep classrooms closed, he belatedly joined the common sense get-the-kids-back-in-class crowd.
Better late than never.
Spence was persuaded, it seems, by medical experts who told him what many have known since last spring: That youngsters are not being infected by COVID-19 at significant rates, they tend to have very mild symptoms if they do test positive, and they’re terrible vectors of COVID-19. In other words, they don’t spread the virus. Continue reading →
I wrote in a column not long ago that it will be impossible to create plans to make up for COVID-related learning losses if we cannot benchmark those losses and their subsequent mitigation.
I recommended standardized testing as the only readily available and proven way to take those measurements.
For most readers of this space, the concept that standardized testing (SOLs in the case of Virginia) is required this spring to establish a baseline for learning losses is simple common sense. For the national teachers unions and for much of the woke left, standardized testing is considered unfair to the poor, a vestige of systemic racism and a violation of dogma.
What is unfair to disadvantaged children is to mask their educational needs by burying the evidence.
That is why it is good to see that the editorial board of the New York Times, in this morning’s lead editorial, has written that we need standardized testing for benchmarking of learning losses. Continue reading →
More than 80,000 Virginians have been given the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, according to data reported today by the Virginia Department of Health. Presumably, the overwhelming majority has been administered to health care workers, who are most likely to be exposed to, and to spread, the virus. Very few vaccines have been given to the elderly. Less than 2% of the doses have been given to the 80-year-old-and-up demographic that is most likely to die from the virus.
We can also see from the VDH data that the vast majority of people getting the vaccine are white. Blacks are under-represented, accounting for 8.6% of those vaccinated by 20% of the state’s population. Whether that shortfall can be attributed to the percentage of blacks in the healthcare workforce, fear of vaccination in the black population (you know, Tuskeegee and all), or some amorphous structural racism is too early to say.
The other obvious disparity is between men and women. Women are getting vaccinated at twice the rate of men — even though men are slightly more likely to die from the disease. Continue reading →
Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, my wife and friends and I tossed confetti, tooted our noisemakers and welcomed in a new year. Twenty twenty, we all agreed, couldn’t possibly be worse than 2019.
It didn’t take long to disabuse us of that notion. First came the coronavirus. Then the George Floyd protests and riots. And then the presidential election. We won’t be celebrating New Year’s Eve with anyone this year — we’ll be hunkering down in social isolation — but we’re thinking that, short of an outbreak of nuclear war, 2021 has got to be better than our current annus horribilis.
But it could be a close call.
On the positive side, we should be on the downward slope of the COVID-19 epidemic as vaccines are administered and herd immunity sets in. Life for most will return to normal. We’ll be able to socialize and travel once more. But 2021 will be no epidemiological nirvana. The virus will do plenty of harm on its way out. Millions more Americans will be infected and tens of thousands likely will die. Many people will suffer lingering medical after-effects from the virus. And the nation will be dealing with the economic, mental-health and fiscal fallout for years to come. Continue reading →
Gosh, I’m getting old. I’m old enough to remember when the ACLU — the American Civil Liberties Union — cared about constitutional rights. You know, the civil liberties of ordinary decent people.
As best I can tell, this far-left organization has been largely indifferent over the past 10 months as government officials, using COVID-19 as an excuse, merrily stomped all over our civil liberties.
In some places — Virginia, for instance — law-abiding, healthy Americans are told they can’t leave their homes during certain hours. The government dictates how many people can gather in private homes. Children are not permitted to attend public school, including kids with disabilities who are entitled by law to an education tailored to meet their needs.
Until the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in, many Americans were told they couldn’t attend worship services. On top of that, dozens of autocratic governors are extending emergency orders for months on end without legislative oversight.
Back in June, I asked “Where Are the Other 52 Nursing Homes with Outbreaks?” because that was the number missing from the Long Term Care Facility Task Force dashboard. The Task Force explained it wasn’t involved with group homes and residential behavioral health facilities and, therefore, did not include them in their dashboard — even though those facilities are included in the numbers for the VDH Long Term Outbreaks report.
The new outbreak information dashboard the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) created to comply with HB 5048 of the 2020 General Assembly Special Session Number One will include those groups in the weekly report, VDH announced on its blog December 18. (Summer camps and K-12 Schools will be listed also.)
The dashboard will include confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks that occurred in medical care facilities, residential or day programs licensed by Virginia Department of Health (VDH), Department of Social Services (DSS), or Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS), summer camps, and kindergarten (K)-12th grade schools.
Transparency is always good, but a new report will not address the need for inspectors whose work could actually reduce the incidence and death rates. Continue reading →
The last thing the government needs to do is polarize citizens by prioritizing COVID-19 vaccination for favored races and ethnicities. Statements like those of Harald Schmidt, assistant professor in the University of Pennsylvania Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, amount to reverse racism.
“Older populations are whiter,” said Schmidt, as quoted in the New York Times.“Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.”
Those who decide who gets the vaccine should not consider race or ethnicity. Health departments should target those who, by virtue of their occupations and age, are the most vulnerable to catching and spreading the virus. Where possible, because there won’t be enough vaccines to do everything right away, priority should be given to those who, by virtue of their age and co-existing conditions, are most vulnerable to dying from it. Insofar as African Americans and Hispanics disproportionately work in exposed occupations or suffer from medical risk factors, they will be more likely to qualify for a vaccine — but not because of their race and ethnicity.
Just when you thought this pandemic couldn’t get any zanier, there’s this: At least one school district in Virginia decided to give kids a snow day this week. Even though schools were already closed and not a single bus had to navigate icy roads.
Let’s back up. Remote learning has been such an unmitigated disaster that it’s hard to come up with a single positive aspect to it.
Wait. Here’s one: Virtual learning is unaffected by inclement weather, thereby relieving school officials of those early morning calls about school closures due to flooding. Or snow.
But if you thought that remote learning could go on no matter the weather, you were wrong. Turns out, Loudoun County Public Schools shut down virtual learning for two days this week due to heavy snowfall. Continue reading →
Virginia leads the nation in the percentage of citizens who have downloaded the COVIDWISE smart phone app that alerts users when they might have been exposed to the virus, reports Virginia Business.
The state has spent $1.5 million promoting sign-ups. Jeff Stover, executive adviser to the health commissioner, says that downloads have been averaging 2,000 to 5,000 per day. Nearly 900,000 people, 10% of the population, how have the app.
Stover cites a model by Google, Stanford University and Oxford University that predicts if a locality has a 15% app adoption rate, infections can be reduced by about 8% and deaths by 6%.
Could COVIDWISE partially explain the lower rate of spread in Virginia, even as the virus induces panic in other states? According to Statista, Virginia had the 8th lowest rate — 3,303 confirmed cases per 100,000 population — among the 52 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Continue reading →
Bacon's Rebellion is Virginia's leading politically non-aligned portal for news, opinions and analysis about state, regional and local public policy. Read more about us here.
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