Dubuque Telegraph Herald. April 30, 2021.

Editorial: Collaborative outside learning opportunity great for kids

It’s not every day frog catching and compass reading are on the day’s agenda for school children, but recently in Jackson County, both activities were part of the curriculum.

Fifth-graders participated in a week of outdoor learning as part of School of the Wild, a University of Iowa program offered locally with the help of staff from Jackson County Conservation and area schools. A group of Bellevue Elementary School students swept nets through the water at Green Island Wildlife Management Area, looking for frogs, snails and other creatures that would help them get a sense of the water’s quality.

Through the program, students get to know the parks in their community and connect with the environment. The great outdoors offer a magnificent classroom for students who studied science by testing water and examining its contents, going on nature walks and learning to use a compass. Students also learned about local history and wrote about their experiences. What a great opportunity for area youth, brought about by this unique collaborative effort.

As one student put it, “You have a little bit more fun when you learn outdoors.” Indeed. Especially on the heels of a year when almost nothing was normal, getting kids out into nature and appreciating the natural wonders around them makes for an expansive educational experience.

A great idea struck Amanda Kennedy during the pandemic that helped local businesses, brought her neighborhood together and made dinnertime easy on busy parents. No wonder the concept will continue even as quarantines are lifting.

Kennedy’s idea was to invite a food truck to park in her driveway and invite everybody in her Forest Hills Estates neighborhood to come out and support the business. The local residents loved it, and so did the local food trucks. The idea might even be catching on in other neighborhoods.

A nod to Kennedy for finding a way to connect with neighbors and support small businesses during a difficult time. As restrictions lessen, this concept could make block parties a whole lot easier.

One of the most depressing sights of 2020 was community pools sitting idle in the dog days of summer. It was a reminder that kids couldn’t gather and play with their friends. Neighborhoods were quieter. Even families were kept apart. Amid the pandemic, we missed out on many of the hallmarks that make summer in the tri-states special.

Summer 2021 won’t quite be back to normal, but we’re making strides in the right direction. Officials in Dubuque and other cities have decided pools will open this summer, albeit with some modifications. That’s great news.

It didn’t take long for all of us to recognize how many of life’s simple pleasures we take for granted. Now, hearing kids shriek with laughter, feeling the splash of cool water and watching youngsters jump from the high dive for the first time will be moments to cherish.

Get your sunscreen ready, it’s almost pool time.


Quad-City Times. April 29, 2021.

Editorial: The need for transparency

This year, Iowa newspapers have teamed up on an important reporting project to inform their readers.

Journalists set out to help the public understand the technology that has had a profound effect on law enforcement throughout Iowa and around the United States in the past decade or so.

This transformative technology is the compact video cameras that are used by more police every month at the scene of crimes and incidents to which officers are sent. The cameras have provided important documentation of these events, supplementing the observations of officers and witnesses — people investigations have relied on for many generations.

There have been countless examples across Iowa where the videos recorded by these officer-worn cameras or squad car cameras have proven to be an important tool that has allowed officers to replay rapidly unfolding events or to replay conversations with witnesses in the crucial minutes after a crime or other incident.

That video record of events as they occurred, one unaffected by human reactions or people’s emotions, was supposed to improve law enforcement’s accountability to the public, too.

But Iowa journalists documented this year that while many police departments and sheriffs’ offices routinely share these videos when asked, others routinely decline all such requests and refuse to make their videos public, regardless of the circumstances that were recorded.

Not surprisingly, that steadfast position has put Iowa law enforcement and the purpose of the state’s open records law under the spotlight when officers’ actions come under scrutiny — especially when gunshots occur, when officers or civilians are killed or wounded, or when disagreements arise over the way events unfolded.

The insistence of some government officials that police videos will forever remain confidential as part of their investigative files means everyday Iowans have no guarantee of access, short of filing a lawsuit. Such legal action often is beyond the financial reach of families whose relative died at the hands of a law officer or those people charged during encounters with police who seek access to the videos to prove their innocence.

Law enforcement officials, when asking for money to buy these cameras, frequently assured city councils and boards of supervisors that the videos would provide important public accountability. But too many of these departments now resist request to make these videos public — leading, quite naturally, to questions of “why?”.

Social justice and community activists, along with advocates for government transparency, often are at odds with law enforcement officials over the correct interpretation of the 42-year-old open records law that was written before this police video technology was invented.

The disagreement is so pronounced that some law enforcement agencies even refuse to provide the public with copies of their internal policies that spell out when video must be recorded or how long the videos will be retained before being destroyed.

Advocates for government accountability make the case that the open records law already requires police to release the immediate facts and circumstances of every crime or incident officers respond to, and videos recorded at the time of such incidents provide an unaltered accounting of those circumstances.

While these advocates and some law officials disagree over the interpretation of the open records law, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled two years ago that the need for confidentiality of police investigative materials must be balanced against the need for transparency in important circumstances.

That is a conclusion we all should agree on.


Des Moines Register. April 27, 2021.

Editorial: Iowans must step up pressure on those who refuse COVID-19 vaccinations

Vaccines protecting against COVID-19 are safe, effective and the best hope of ending this pandemic.

Yet as of Monday, about 1 million Iowans who are eligible for the shots had not received one.

That is not because of a shortage of vaccine or a lack of places to get jabbed. In fact, Iowa now has so many doses that 43 of 99 counties declined all or part of their allocations for the week of April 26. The state declined about 22,000 doses from the federal allocation for the same week.

Every eligible Iowan who wants a shot can get one, but some apparently aren’t clamoring for one.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is rightly concerned.

“I want to appeal to everyone who’s hesitating,” she said during her news conference last week. “If you’re opting to wait and see, what are you waiting for? If you’ve been a hard ‘no’ from the start, what’s your reason? And if you can’t answer those questions, maybe, we hope, that you take the time to reconsider.”

Well, we can hope — the same way we hoped people would wear masks when they were not required to in this state.

We can hope the governor gets through to Iowans, particularly her political brethren.

Only 75% of Republicans trust medical experts to provide reliable information about the virus, compared with 90% of Democrats, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll conducted last year. Nearly 30% of Republicans reported not trusting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That lack of trust contributed to people not following recommendations to socially distance and wear masks. Now it’s likely contributing to going without vaccination.

We can hope all eligible Iowans do the right thing and get shots.

We can also take action to nudge the vaccine needle in the right direction by using encouragement, accurate information — and, yes, pressure. What can you do as an individual?

Get vaccinated and tell people about it. This is leading by example.

Refuse to gather in person with those who have not been vaccinated. You may not be able to control whether your uncle gets a shot, but you can control whether he eats and breathes in your dining room.

When making appointments for everything from hair cuts to dental cleanings, inquire whether staff have been vaccinated. Only patronize providers who have been. On the flip side, business owners can require workers to be vaccinated. They can reward inoculated customers with discounts or other perks. Even if proof of vaccination is based on an honor system, it sends an important message.

Schedule vaccination appointments for your young adult children. You’re probably covering them on your health insurance and you can help them protect their health and others’.

Ask your elected officials if they’ve been vaccinated. Make them go on the record.

Challenge disinformation about the virus and vaccines with facts provided by the CDC and other trusted public health entities.

Remind reluctant people that a vaccine can save their lives. If they don’t care about protecting themselves, remind them it helps protect loved ones with fragile health and compromised immune systems.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is sending the right message about the importance of getting everyone vaccinated.

But getting the job done requires action from the rest of us.

This time, bodily autonomy wins out

Local governments and businesses could lose future state grants and contracts if they require customers or other visitors to prove they are vaccinated against COVID-19, under a bill advancing with bipartisan support in the Iowa Legislature.

The logic was summed up by Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison.

“No Iowan should be forced to have a chemical injected into their body against their will in order to be able to go to a grocery store, attend a baseball game or a movie, or travel freely in our state and our country,” he said.

As if catching a matinee at a private theater is a constitutionally protected right. And never mind that that “chemical” can save your life.

While this measure seems to have the backing of both parties, it sure would be nice if Republican politicians’ interest in giving people control over their own bodies extended to women who want to terminate a pregnancy.

This bill is also hard to square with the majority party’s championing of less intrusive government and opposition to micromanagement of the private sector.