Something rare for North Carolina politics happened today. Governor Cooper and the Republicans controlling the North Carolina Legislature actually agreed on something:
The plan calls for all elementary schools to open under “Plan A,” a category that means full in-person classes without the distancing requirements of “Plan B,” which has typically been implemented as a mix of in-person and online instruction to cut class sizes and spread students out.
Middle schools and high schools around the state would pick from Plan A, Plan B or a blend of both under the deal. The difference is based on ages: Older students are thought to transmit the virus that causes COVID-19 more easily than younger children.
All grades still have to provide parents with an online-only option.
Our school board members in Cumberland County should proceed with this plan immediately. They won’t, but they should. Other large counties, like Wake, sent their kids back in February. Instead, the Cumberland School Board will wait until the last possible moment under the law to get our kids in school full-time. It’s looking like April for us, and it’s a lesson that power and control, once acquired, are difficult to give up.
Our constitutional framework gives a great deal of power to the executive branches of our state and federal governments in times of emergency. We gladly handed over control to our fearless leaders when we were afraid last Spring. They’ve kept it since then. Now, a year later, some across the country want to take it back.
When an emergency ends, it’s only reasonable that governors should relinquish some control, or at least give it to the people’s representatives in the legislative branch.
Power, however, is not easily relinquished.
Watch any Star Wars movie for a quick lesson on the dangers of emergency executive control.
In the meantime, here’s what’s happening in 2021:
In N.Y., Cuomo is Being Neutered by His Own Party
Democrats in New York are upset with Governor Cuomo. They are attempting to limit his emergency powers, as we speak.
On Wednesday, State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat and chairman of the health committee, said it was now time for action. “We need to remind them that state government is not one big branch: There’s three of them,” he said.
Cuomo literally wrote a book on his covid performance.
Apparently, the people of New York don’t want anymore “leadership lessons.”
In N.C., Cooper Wants More Time
This week, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill to force open public schools. Governor Cooper said he supported reopening, but he didn’t do anything to actually open schools, leaving the decision to local schoolboards. This guaranteed gridlock, status quo, and frustration for parents and students.
Cooper came out against the new bill, wanting to hold onto the emergency power he was afraid to “execute” himself.
Local Democrats Billy Richardson, Kirk deViere, and Ben Clark voted for the bill, against Cooper’s wishes.
The only remaining question is whether Cooper will veto. As of today, he hasn’t decided what he’ll do. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
“Before taking action on the bill I have on my desk…”
That’s a ridiculous statement considering the crisis we’re in. Our kids deserve some action, Governor Cooper, one way or another.
If Cooper does veto the bill, he will likely be overridden. Unless something drastic happens, N.C. schools should all be open in March. It’s about damn time.
What it Means
These two Democratic Governors have higher office in mind, and they have been angling through the crisis to be a future V.P. or Presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.
Cooper didn’t write a book about it, but he would often brag about how N.C. was “doing better” than other states in the region. Now, we’re not doing better. It’s all about the same, wherever you go, regardless of restrictions and regardless of whether schools are open.
In the end, we’re left with two governors who tried to turn their covid performance into a political springboard.
Local boards of education shall provide the option of in-person instruction under Plan A (Minimal Social Distancing) or Plan B (Moderate Social Distancing) for all other students enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12 in that unit. It shall be in the discretion of the local board whether in-person instruction shall be provided under Plan A (Minimal Social Distancing), Plan B (Moderate Social Distancing), or both Plans as necessary to address the needs of different school. Local boards of education shall continue to provide remote instruction options for students to elect to participate in, at the discretion of the parent or guardian, for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.
Note that you can still keep your kids at home, if you choose to. It’s up to the family, not the government.
Something else happened today:
Governor Cooper and Mandy Cohen actually recommended that schools re-open. This is a first. The timing is not a coincidence.
“It’s time to get students back into the classroom,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.
Well, then get them back in the classroom. You can do it with the stroke of a pen, Mr. Governor.
Instead, Cooper will continue his tap dance:
“I don’t think that’s the way to go,” Cooper said of the bill Tuesday. “I think the way to go is to get our local school boards to take this action. … They have to make some very tough decisions on the ground.”
I’m having trouble with his logic. Cooper shut down the schools. He can open them back up. Why force local boards to carry your political baggage for you?
What it Means
Roy Cooper has flown the banner of “public education” his entire political career. If he honestly believes in his heart that it is safe for kids to be in school, then he should do something about it.
On that note, if our “fearless leader” believes that it’s safe for kids to be in school, then she should do something about it.
I’ve got a suggestion. Instead of giving another press conference, try swinging by a school board meeting in Cumberland County (you can do it virtually) and educating our members about the science you love to tout when it supports closures, but not so much when it justifies getting things back open.
Instead Cooper and Cohen want to make everyone happy, simultaneously.
We currently have vaccines that are 95% effective against Covid-19 infection. They are being distributed to the most vulnerable in our society at a fairly decent clip. Hospitalizations are down across the country.
The sting is wearing off. People are starting to see an end to this bleak winter.
The media doesn’t like that. It doesn’t sell. So this week, the scary new buzzword is “variants.” Today’s story on CNN:
Did you need an excuse to stay in your house for the rest of 2021? Maybe you wanted to give the NCAE more ammunition to keep public schools shut down as cases continue to decline into the Spring? You couldn’t ask for a better boogie man than “variants.”
Sometimes, it’s like living in a commercial for the sale of fear:
“Today, we’re reporting on new and improved strains Covid-19, from exotic locales like Brazil and South Africa. These are far more deadly and contagious than tired, old American Covid. Better to avoid all everyday activities for the foreseeable future.”
I’m not falling for this one. Old and weak people are protected. That’s good enough for me.
The rest of us need to take some reasonable risks and move ourselves, our families, and our Nation forward.
What kind of world do you want to live in? Your answer to that question has a lot to do with the result.
The need for safety during Covid has caused a withdrawal from public life. We’re not participating in communal events like church, school, and family gatherings. Our institutions are going through the motions in zoom meetings, waiting for the pharmaceutical companies to save the planet. The recent presidential election made government seem important, but once it was over, a lot of the issues that had folks fighting in the streets have receded from our consciousness. Look at the Fayetteville City Council’s Agenda this month. Hard decisions on the future of the Market House have been pushed off to 2021. It’s just zoning changes for the rest of the year. The North Carolina General Assembly hasn’t done anything since Covid began besides spend some federal money. Don’t get me started on Congress.
But I need to look in the mirror. Maybe I’m projecting? Although writing a political blog is a hobby, I feel a sense of responsibility to point out the truth on local issues as I see them. But I’ve withdrawn to my little covid safety routine, as I’m sure many of you have. I quit writing for a while. Once you stop putting in the work, it’s harder to start up again.
A recent article that popped up on my newsfeed got me thinking about the dangers of sitting in our safe, private spaces.
It’s worth a quick read. It argues that our withdrawal from public life will permanently degrade our public institutions. Public schools are hit the worst, as many upper-middle class families are leaving for private schools (that are actually open). These families aren’t coming back. Public transportation isn’t being used because people aren’t going to work or travelling. Each of these public services will lose funding and each will suffer long term ramifications that will last well beyond the pandemic.
The result is this:
An increasingly large (and increasingly expensive) à la carte menu of necessary private services for those that can afford them.
Crappy government services for the poor.
Income inequality widens. America suffers.
The C.S. Lewis Answer
I’m going to throw some religion on this fire:
In his famous book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis has a demon, Screwtape, writing to his nephew (also a demon), giving him advice on how to capture a man’s soul. In a relevant correspondence, Screwtape offers the following:
The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.
Feel numb to it all lately? You’re not alone.
You’ve been told to stay indoors, cover your face, hide your kids, hide your wives! Don’t do anything! Just sit there! A vaccine is on the way, next year! Your little county is now code level burnt orange due to rising positivity rates, so don’t even think about seeing your elderly parents this Christmas!
What active habits that don’t involve a screen have you actually done more of? Are even those becoming dull? Thought of writing a book about it? A blog post?
Inherent Design Flaw?
When I was in public school, I did have some screen time, and we got to play “educational” games. The best was the Oregon Trail. Your mission was to get your party from Missouri to Oregon in a covered wagon. The worst thing that could happen in the game was disease.
But you kept going. Sitting still wasn’t an option. A wagon is made to roll. Similarly, a human being is not made to sit still for years at a time. We’re designed to create, to move.
I would argue that the American political system is built on the recognition of this truth, and maybe that’s why we’re so bad at pandemics. The constant strain of personal freedom vs. the public good combined with a lack of leadership has caused a spiritual sickness in this country. We’ve lost our ability to act and our ability to feel is right behind it.