Editorials from around New England:
Developing plan to open schools in September will test CT leadership
New Haven Register
In this summer like no other, some stores are already spotlighting “Back to School” displays.
Who knew a sign could seem simultaneously hopeful and sardonic?
If anything stands poised to symbolize life returning to normal, it would be the first day of school in Connecticut. Most people would surely like to see that happen, but the COVID-19 pandemic stubbornly refuses to follow any script.
“We are not going back to normal by any stretch of the imagination,” Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona warned.
Gov. Ned Lamont and his team are wisely trying to give parents and educators time to prepare by announcing Thursday they hope to reopen public schools for in-person learning in September.
It will not — cannot — look like anything we’ve seen before. The shuttering of schools three months ago did not happen gradually. There were no masks or social distancing protocols before students were dismissed.
We’ll see those things, and much more, for the first time in our lifetimes if things go as Lamont plans. Some of the details sound like standard operating procedure, such as maintaining a five-day week and 180-day school year. But try to conjure the image of more than a half a million state students of all ages in masks.
Lamont’s announcement lacks clear details and is at odds with strategies being developed by some districts.
U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes was blunt about challenging Lamont, a fellow Democrat. As the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Hayes responded to the announcement with the Facebook post “Am I missing something????”
“I have not been out of the classroom too long to know that this is not realistic and does not instill any confidence. I am hoping that a more substantive plan is forthcoming because I have so many questions and this does not provide an adequate blueprint for parents or teachers,” Hayes wrote.
That blueprint is vital. Cleaning buses routinely won’t scrub away parents’ anxiety at packing their kids into rolling boxes during this crisis.
What we did learn in the spring is that parents will keep their children home if they feel the need. The final plan needs to accommodate for these families, and allow flexibility in different districts. Bridgeport’s Acting Superintendent Michael Testani welcomed the concept of returning to school, noting many students have a shortage of home resources. Stamford Board of Education President Andy George complained that the plan is “one size fits all,” and his Norwalk counterpart, Sarah LeMieux, called it “really inequitable.”
The state plan will have to remain fluid as officials monitor COVID-19 cases in the weeks to come. It has been more than three months since classrooms were cleared, and there are just about two months remaining before they would reopen.
These remaining weeks will test state leaders on math, science and communications, but we strongly advise a cautious approach because this singular event does not offer the benefit of history’s lessons.
Reasonable funding for challenging school year
Opening schools this fall will be a daunting task for school officials and faculty in the county and state. Having to do it short-handed because of budget cuts would make it even more formidable a chore.
Because of COVID-19, schools are required by the state to develop three different models of learning: remote learning, a hybrid of remote learning and in-person instruction and an in-person model that complies with stringent health and safety guidelines. This is coming after schools were abruptly closed and remote learning begun last spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Baker and educational officials said Thursday that ideally they want to resume traditional classes within school buildings, with the governor saying that “Continued isolation poses very real risks to our kids’ mental and physical health, and to their educational development.”
Designing and executing these three models, and quickly switching from one to another if circumstances dictate, will be a formidable challenge. But the economic lockdown of the state necessitated by COVID-19 has dramatically reduced state revenue and could considerably reduce the state’s funding for local school districts, depriving them of the flexibility they will need.
Pittsfield Schools Superintendent Jason “Jake” McCandless, in the event of a 10 percent reduction in aid, is looking at a worse case scenario of 140 position cuts. This includes eight administrators — who are often overlooked when the subject turns to schools — but it is they who will be making the unprecedented designs for the coming school year.
Mr. McCandless told The Eagle that his staff has been working on reopening plans since April and other Berkshire school districts are in various stages of preparation as well. (“Pittsfield school chief talks getting back to school,” Eagle, June 26.) All county school districts will be impacted to one degree or another by state budget cuts, but Pittsfield and North Adams, the county’s two cities, would likely be hit the hardest.
1st District Congressman Richard Neal, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is pushing a House-passed $3 trillion aid package that among other things would help out school districts across the nation. Its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is uncertain to say the least. Members of the Berkshire legislative delegation are joining their colleagues around the state in advocating for the tapping of alternate revenue sources, most likely the state’s $3 1/2 billion rainy day fund, to reduce the impact of funding cuts. Gov Baker said Thursday that it will be another month before state allocations for the coming fiscal year are determined.
The significant budget cut scenarios cannot be allowed to materialize. A school year that is going to be a challenge for administrators, teachers, students and parents would be monumentally difficult if personnel is slashed on top of everything else.
With abortion ruling, Roberts tries to salvage Supreme Court’s reputation
Portland Press Herald
The campaign to roll back abortion rights was temporarily stalled Monday, with a narrowly divided Supreme Court ruling.
The court struck down a Louisiana law that would have eliminated access to abortion for most women without officially making the procedure illegal, an obvious legal end-run around Roe v Wade. The deciding vote in the 5-4 decision came from Chief Justice John Roberts, who said he was bound to overturn the law by the principle of “stare decisis” (Latin for “to stand by things decided”), which means that courts should overturn established precedent only if they have extraordinary reasons.
Four years ago, a five-justice majority struck down a Texas law that would have required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. This was said to be in the interest of women’s health, even though abortion complications are extremely rare. But it would have resulted closing most of the state’s abortion providers, making the procedure impossible for many women to access.
The majority ruled that the law would place a “substantial burden” on women seeking to exercise their constitutional rights and struck it down. The Louisiana law was identical to the Texas law, crafted to take another shot at the court, which had added two new justices. Roberts had been on the losing side in the earlier case, but now he said he felt obligated to switch sides and uphold an established precedent, even one he considered “wrongly decided.” Stare decisis, Roberts said, “requires us … to treat like cases alike.”
The decision was a disappointment for the activists who have worked for decades to build a Supreme Court that would make abortion a matter for states to decide and not a constitutional right. But it gives only temporary relief to abortion rights supporters.
Roberts wrote that his vote was based entirely on honoring precedent. He did not give a hint about how different a law would have to be for him to feel that he wasn’t bound to uphold it.
And the chief justice’s argument about stare decisis did not persuade the two newest members of the court, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who told senators during their confirmation hearings that they were not interested in overturning already-decided cases. Gorsuch said precedent was “the anchor of the law,” and Kavanaugh said not only that following precedent is good judicial policy, but also that “it is constitutionally dictated to pay attention and pay heed to rules of precedent.” In both confirmations, Maine Sen. Susan Collins said she based her support in part on these assurances.
But neither Gorsuch nor Kavanaugh expressed any concern about overturning a precedent, even one that involves a state law that was written expressly to give the Supreme Court a do-over on a case it had just decided a few months before the last presidential election. If court rulings follow election results that closely, no one will ever be able to rely on what’s supposed to be the last word on a controversy.
In this decision, Roberts did not vote in favor of abortion rights – he voted to restore some of the Supreme Court’s lost credibility as a non-political branch of government. Roberts’ vote is a nice break in a polarized environment, but the campaign to use the courts to roll back abortion rights is far from over.
The Caledonian Record
Today is Tom Lovett’s last day as Headmaster at St. Johnsbury Academy. He took the helm 20 years ago and, by any metric, led the independent school through a period of meteoric growth.
If you think about the feat alone, it’s nothing short of extraordinary. Lovett took the baton from Bernier on July 1, 2001. Two months later the country suffered the worst terrorist attack on our nation’s soil.
Midway through his term, the United States suffered the sub-prime mortgage crisis that brought our financial systems to the brink of collapse.
In his final year, long after he earned the right to take a victory lap, Lovett instead had to navigate the unprecedented turbulence caused by an earth-rattling pandemic.
Throughout it all, SJA grew better in all facets. More importantly, the Academy community grew tighter.
In our mind, that’s Tom’s legacy. All the new programs, buildings, major gifts, championships, boarding school applications and Ivy League placements are nice. But the real triumph of Lovett’s Academy is anchored in his faith in people and aspirational promotion of community.
He didn’t order the Academy to become a place of high character where all people are equally valued. He modeled it. And an overwhelming majority of students and staff chose to follow.
Everyone in the area is blessed by the peripheral benefits we enjoy through the extraordinary success of Lovett’s Academy. We’re even more grateful for the life lessons we gleaned from watching a strong leader embody his organization’s mission, and always put people first.
Thank you, Tom. It truly has been a pleasure.