Detroit News. Dec. 23, 2020.

Editorial: Start planning on summer school now

The pandemic has wreaked havoc in many aspects of our lives, but one of the greatest disruptions it’s caused is in the realm of education. Children across Michigan have lost months of learning this year, and it’s on our state’s school leaders to help them catch up.

That should include some form of robust summer school option for students.

As a local control state, it’s largely up to individual school districts to set their schedules and learning plans. More than ever, however, guidance is needed from the Michigan Department of Education, as well as transparent statewide data on how schools are handling the crisis.

The reality is that online instruction doesn’t work for many students, especially those coming from low-income families or those with special needs.

Mary Grech, chief of staff at the Education Trust-Midwest, says “now is the time for strong state leadership” and a commitment to serving students through proven strategies to address learning loss.

A multi-week summer program will be integral, Grech says, and it should include experienced teachers. Schools can help alert parents by educating them about the program and what it entails.

Schools that haven’t must also address the digital divide, ensuring families have access to the online tools necessary as long as virtual learning continues.

In addition, high school juniors and seniors are at risk of bearing the brunt of COVID. Those who are planning to attend college or other training should have access to no-cost remediation, Grech says, since they were deprived of so much learning just before graduation.

Rather than push for more accountability, state Superintendent Michael Rice has requested waivers from federal testing standards. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos granted the waiver in the spring but denied it for the current school year.

It will be more important than ever in the spring to track how students are faring, and determine which districts will need to devote the most resources to helping children make up for lost learning.

In Michigan, more than 20% of districts — including some of the state’s largest — opted for an online-only format starting out this fall. And an order — now lifted — from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state Health Department had banned in-person instruction at high schools for more than a month.

The reality is that online instruction just doesn’t work for many students, especially those coming from low-income families or those with special needs.

And that’s led to thousands of children falling through the cracks.

Nationwide that number is pegged at 3 million. In Michigan, this year’s unaudited fall enrollment is 53,000 fewer students than the previous fall, according to the state Education Department.

As parents have had to adjust to having children at home, some have likely pivoted to other options, whether homeschooling or “learning pods.”

But many of these children who aren’t logging on to their public school classes are simply not engaging at all. That’s going to be more pronounced in high-poverty cities like Detroit. And in addition to a lack of learning, many of these children aren’t getting the meals and other services they’d get daily at school.

State and federal relief funds should be directed to proven strategies, and schools must have a plan for addressing the massive learning loss that’s occurred the past year.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. Dec. 27, 2020.

Editorial: Nobody should die on the street in our community

Thirteen.

That’s how many people died on the streets of our community during the past year. It’s not the most recorded in a single year, or the fewest, but any number is too many.

The people who died were mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, daughters and sons. Each death was preceded by a life. Successes. Failures.

Each was someone’s somebody.

Each was homeless.

And each symbolizes one of our society’s most excruciating failures — our inability to protect the most vulnerable among us.

How, in the most wealthy nation in the world, could someone freeze to death because they don’t have a warm place to stay?

We often hear pundits and commenters parrot lines about personal responsibility and decisions that lead someone to live on the street. Yet, none of those people, and few of the rest of us, recognize how close many of us lives to tripping across the line that precipitates such a fall.

One lost job. One injury. One bout of mental illness. One struggle with addiction.

The fact is, even in prosperous years, an overwhelming portion of Michiganders, and many of our neighbors, live one paycheck away from losing their home. In 2020, many more slipped toward that edge.

Many who struggle with homelessness are the same people who fall through the notches in our imperfect health care system, a system that time and again fails people who suffer from mental illnesses.

Numbers released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimate at least 25 percent of people experiencing homelessness suffer from some form of severe mental illness and more than 45 percent struggled with any mental illness.

Oftentimes, the quickest path to helping the folks around us who struggle with homelessness is to provide them the stability of a place to stay, a long-term home. From that stable foundation, experts say, efforts to help someone find the care they need — be it for chronic health conditions, mental illness, addiction or a combination of all three — are far more successful.

In Traverse City, the ever-tightening housing market provides a constant weight against advocates who work toward lifting those who struggle most.

Tony Lentych, Traverse City Housing Commission executive director, astutely pointed out that when it comes to efforts to curb homelessness in Traverse City we’re simply working against a system that’s “just broken.”

He’s right.

It’s a system that allowed a woman to die alone on a freezing April night in the woods with an unusable housing voucher in her pocket. She wasn’t the first, and likely won’t be the last.

And at this moment, as we close another year when more than a dozen of our neighbors died on our streets, it’s time for our community to un-break that system. It’s time to make real progress toward fixing systemic inadequacies that every year cost lives of some of our community’s most vulnerable residents.

Thirteen is too many. One is too many.

Each was someone to somebody.

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The Holland Sentinel. Dec. 27, 2020.

Editorial: Top 5 opinion issues of 2020

The elections: Yes, all of them. By far, the single most galvanizing topic of the year from local readers on The Sentinel’s opinion page was the presidential election. From how people viewed the President Donald Trump’s day-to-day performance, to his oversight of the response to COVID-19, to allegations of incompetence from conservatives and liberals alike about Trump and his opponent Joe Biden (the eventual winner), the letters rarely were civilized or gracious. It reflected much of the divisions nationwide and overshadowed down-ballot races as well. Assumptions, conclusions and projections were not solely for the top names on the ticket: other important races, including the congressional races for U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga and Fred Upton and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, were wrangled into the briny deep of mudslinging.

COVID-19: We grieved as we read heartbreaking letters from those who lost loved ones to the coronavirus pandemic. We empathized with the frustration when we heard from frontline health care workers seeking support and understanding from the public. We felt the tangible anger from those writers who felt that the state’s restrictions went too far and infringed on civil liberties. We saw disputes upon disputes on how communities should have responded, where the line was on personal responsibility and enough data referencing to qualify the entire readership for the International Mathematical Olympiad. This was the community’s way of trying to work out with itself how it would grapple with this devastating pandemic and, despite a lot of vitriol, it provided catharsis for many.

Race and racism: When protests erupted nationwide over the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, so too, did the submissions erupt on the opinion page. Calls for holding police to stronger accountability standards were met with voices of support for local police departments. Not much common ground was found on the issue, with most writers talking at or over one another, rather than to one another. Racial issues often are uncomfortable conversations the community has with itself — and sensitivities run high. The hurts, suspicions and assumptions run deep and the community will not come together overnight, however, we are hopeful that we will see more productive opinions on race and race relations in the new year.

Park Township Airport: As goes many issues in Park Township, the fate of the 83-year-old airport was full of drama, accusations and histrionics that made the issue front and center in early 2020. Dominating the opinion page were letters supporting and pooh poohing a proposed millage that would have generated $1 million-plus over 10 years to help with operating expenses. Those in support of the measure said the historical value of the property, along with a strong contingent of regional pilots and programming warranted the community’s support. Those against the measure cited mounting costs as a result of poor maintenance over the years — coupled with the property being enjoyable to a niche market — meant the millage was not the best use of taxpayer dollars. The millage failed and now township must navigate the property’s future.

Climate change: This topic, although a frequent flier on the opinion page, was often drowned out by the aforementioned other top issues readers discussed this year. However, climate change made its way into a lot of letters that featured other topics, such as political/election preferences and comparisons to the COVID-19 pandemic response. One thing is for sure, this topic is poised to feature prominently on the opinion page next year, as weather, climate, natural disasters and other environmental concerns continue to happen.

END