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Opinion | Ainsworth: Closing schools is the right call in the fight against COVID-19

Will Ainsworth

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Will Ainsworth is Alabama’s lieutenant governor.

Governor Kay Ivey, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey and the members of his learning options task force deserve commendation for making the difficult decision to keep K-12 public schools across Alabama physically closed for the remainder of the academic year.

The closure certainly disappoints students who will remain separated from their teachers and classmates for the time being, and some parents may even be wary of its necessity, but the public health and safety of millions of Alabamians demanded that it be done.

Consider for a moment that in the past two weeks, almost 550 COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in Alabama, and those numbers continue to climb dramatically each day. Deaths are beginning to occur across the state, and dozens of Alabamians are at this moment fighting for their lives on ICU ventilators.

Proms and graduation ceremonies can be held at a later date, and extracurricular activities and sports can be postponed, but protecting our families and stopping the spread of this invisible killer requires us to take action now.

My wife, Kendall, and I are parents to twin boys, Hunter and Hays, who are in fourth grade, and a daughter, Addie, who is in second grade, so we understand that the responsibility of continuing their education falls on our shoulders for the foreseeable future.

Each parent across the state is going to have to set up and follow a school structure from home for their children in order to ensure they do not fall behind academically. Parental responsibility has never been more important.

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To assist in those efforts, Dr. Mackey and his task force are working with each school district to provide instructional support to homebound students through distance learning, which allows teachers to share lessons, answer questions, and give assignments using broadband Internet and video technology.

Dr. Mackey and team have published guidance that will help school districts be able to serve students who do not have access to broadband internet. In some cases, instructional packets will be assembled and sent to the home, and completed assignments will be returned through the mail.

Alabama Public Television has also committed to broadcast classroom instructional programs for K-12 public school students studying at home.

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Many students from low-income backgrounds depend upon their schools to provide free or reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches and supplement the nutrition that they may be lacking at home.

To help ensure these students receive the nourishment they need, a number of locations across the state are making free meals available to any child who is 18-years-old or younger. No paperwork is required, and no questions are asked, but to ensure social distancing is maintained, the meals must be picked up onsite and consumed elsewhere.

A list of feeding locations in cities, towns, and communities across Alabama may be found by visiting www.breakforaplate.com on the Internet.

Likewise, in areas where school supplies prove scarce or difficult to acquire, school systems may deliver them to students according to bus routes.

Local systems will be working, as well, to provide necessary services and continuing support to students with disabilities and special needs.

Reopening our classrooms in the long-term will depend upon every Alabamian following social distancing, self-isolation, and other public health guidelines in the short-term.

Even with hospitals in New York, California, and Louisiana exceeding capacity and COVID-19 cases in Alabama on the rise, too many among us are not taking the threat seriously, and by doing so, they are endangering themselves and everyone they encounter.

The best way to stop this virus is to act as if you have the virus by staying home, avoiding public situations to the fullest extent possible, and using simple common sense.

As I have noted before, Alabamians have always shown courage in a crisis, so the best way that we can all stand together against COVID-19 is by staying apart.

The on-going pandemic has forced many inconveniences and changes in our daily lives, and the closure of schools for the coming months certainly ranks high among them.

But emptying our schools to protect the public health and safety is far better than having them empty because our children are sick and fighting for their lives against the COVID-19 virus.

 

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Josh Moon

Opinion | The nothingness of Tommy Tuberville

There is no reason to vote for Tuberville for anything, much less for one of Alabama’s two Senate seats. There never has been, and through two years of campaigning, he’s never given you a reason. Because Tommy Tuberville has never truly said anything at all.

Josh Moon

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U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville. (VIA TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

There is no reason to vote for Tommy Tuberville. This is not partisan rhetoric. This is not even an opinion. It’s a fact. Through more than a year of campaigning and barbecue lunches and meet-and-greets and Sunrise Club breakfasts and ALFA dinners, Tommy Tuberville has never — not one single time — provided you with his solution to anything. 

I know this because I’ve listened to the recordings, read the stories, talked to the people who were there. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. On any issue facing Alabama currently. There’s a reason for that: Because Tommy Tuberville has nothing to say. He has no deeply held beliefs. He has no ironclad positions. He has no previous knowledge or experience that would make him a candidate for this job. 

So, everything that comes out of his mouth is regurgitated garbage that he thinks you want to hear. And if a bunch of you tell him that you don’t like what he said, then he happily and without an ounce of shame starts saying the opposite. 

Because at the end of the day, Tommy Tuberville doesn’t give a damn about you or this state — hell, he just moved here 10 minutes ago. He has no idea what problems are facing Alabama, much less how to solve them, and he hasn’t spent an hour trying to figure them out. 

He just wants this job as a senator — just for the prestige and the power. 

That’s how you wind up with a U.S. Senate candidate whose plan to solve the education woes of a state with one of the worst-rated education outcomes is this steaming pile of nothing: “The best and most viable solutions come from the local level where parents, students, and local administrators can collaborate and work towards success together. And I believe that school choice, charter schools, and improving our existing public schools are all things that need to be a part of the education mix for Alabama children.”

Read that again. The man could write anything he wants on his website with unlimited space and no editing. And his stated education plan is improving public education by “improving public education.” Inspiring! 

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But wait, you haven’t heard his ideas for fixing health care — the single biggest issue weighing on Alabamians, according to several voter polls. Our health care system in this state stinks, and we routinely rank at the bottom in the country for health and wellness. Alabama had more than 300,000 people without health insurance prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have thousands more now. 

Here is Tuberville’s plan for these issues: “Obamacare must go. This failed experiment has led to higher costs, less quality care, and a system that hurts patients and doctors more than it helps. I believe that we need a return to the free-market where companies compete for your business while ensuring that pre-existing conditions are not a deterrent to obtaining quality insurance and care.”

Now, I could write a series of columns on the stupidity contained within these three sentences, but let’s just hit the most obvious. There is NO plan here from Tuberville. There’s no anything. Just buzzwords and the obligatory shot at Obamacare. And the weird promise to take away people’s health care in the middle of a pandemic while offering zero alternatives. 

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Yeah, sure, tens of thousands of people would die, but all of those words were popular with the consultants who wrote them. 

Look, there are real-life consequences for placing unprepared, unqualified people in positions of power and importance. No people should know and understand this better than the people of Alabama. Yet, somehow, we don’t. Somehow, election after election, we get suckered into voting for fools because those fools paid their qualifying money to the most popular political party at the time. 

Which is exactly the way we have, as a finalist for U.S. Senate from Alabama, a man who has admitted on air that he “wouldn’t have a clue” how to address the current pandemic, called the stimulus bill that likely saved America from a deep depression “just absolutely criminal” and recently told people that $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits was just “too much.” 

And he said all of those dumb things because he thought that’s what you wanted to hear. Heck, he even said them with an aw-shucks, gal-darnit routine and complained about them rascals up yonder in Wash-uh-tun. 

Because after all, he’s just like “y’all” — if “y’all” own a house, a lake house, a beach house, several cars and a few boats. 

There is no reason to vote for Tuberville for anything, much less for one of Alabama’s two Senate seats. There never has been, and through two years of campaigning, he’s never given you a reason. Because Tommy Tuberville has never truly said anything at all.

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Opinion | Tommy, can you hear me?

Joey Kennedy

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville. (VIA TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

That Morning Consult poll of Alabama voters that showed Republican Tommy Tuberville with a 17-point lead over incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones for the U.S. Senate was such a stunner, a Jones campaign aide rushed out an email fundraiser trying to quell any panic.

Until now, most polls have shown Jones to be competitive against an unnamed Republican and, specifically, Tuberville, the former Auburn football coach who defeated Jeff Sessions to win the Republican nomination.

“I would never respond to an outside poll, but a new poll is out there showing Doug Jones losing by … wait for it … 17 points,” writes Joe Trippi, senior adviser for the Doug Jones for Senate campaign.

“Here is my comment,” Trippi writes. “No way.”

Unfortunately, in Alabama, there is a way.

Republicans in the state tend to vote straight ticket in overwhelming numbers. Alabama is one of a handful of states that even allows straight-ticket voting, but the reality is, it does. So voters who want to cast their ballot for, say, Donald Trump in November, but who also like Jones, will have to split their ticket.

The Morning Consult poll showed that a large number of independent voters are undecided, and that could swing the election toward Jones. But straight-party voting can be a hope killer.

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Not yet, though. It’s still early. The election is still nearly three months away. We’ve not seen Tuberville do much of anything but bow before Trump, who endorsed him over his former attorney general. But that’s Trump loyalty for you.

Indeed, the country is going so poorly right now, one wonders other than the hard-core racists, who still supports Trump.

I know, I know: Alabama is different (plus, we still have more than our share of hard-core racists). But c’mon, folks, more than 157,300 Americans are dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, completely mismanaged by the Trump administration. There have been more than 4.7 million cases. In Alabama, there have been more than 90,000 cases and more than 1,600 deaths.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. and Alabama economies are in shambles and getting worse, not better. Trump has sided with Confederate statues and flags over eliminating the systemic racism found in police departments and other government agencies. Plus, most recently, Trump sent his secret army of unidentified goons to sweep protesters off the streets in American cities.

Trump is nobody’s friend but his own.

Then there’s Tuberville. A decent if mediocre football coach, Tuberville certainly is no Nick Saban. Tuberville isn’t even a Gus Malzahn.

Sessions tried to argue that Tuberville wasn’t a resident of Alabama, either, but that’s not fair. Where Sessions is concerned, unfair is a character trait.

While Tuberville does maintain properties in Florida, he and his wife have owned a home in Auburn for at least three years. Too, they both are registered voters in Alabama, though Sessions said Tuberville cast his ballot in Florida during the 2018 midterms.

What’s more important is where Tuberville stands on the issues. And that, we don’t know much about. We know Jones is a moderate who works with members of both parties. He clearly represents Alabama’s best interests as well as any U.S. senator who has served from Alabama.

Though the loons try to paint Jones as a liberal-socialist-communist bogeyman, he’s nowhere close. Certainly, he’s different from Sessions, who held that Senate seat for two decades before becoming Trump’s attorney general. He’s different from Sessions in that he actually gets legislation through the Senate. Sessions mainly interfered with progress while a senator.

The first U.S. senator to support Trump’s candidacy, Sessions identified with Trump most likely because they’re both die-hard racists. Trump rewarded that loyalty by back-stabbing Sessions out of Washington.

At some point, though, Tuberville must make his positions clear, and not simply that he’ll support anything Trump does. That would be a disaster for Alabama, as much as Trump is a disaster for the United States.

The former Auburn University football coach can’t just continue being a sycophant for Trump, whose own poll numbers are tanking and who is likely not going to win re-election.

Should Alabama send a Republican to represent the state with a Democratic president, a likely Democratic Senate and a solidly Democratic House? That would be useless.

But Trippi, in his email, did show how Tuberville wins easily: “One bad poll turns all of us off … you write the race off, and Tuberville coasts to victory because no one is paying attention,” says Trippi. “Everyone abandons Alabama except Mitch McConnell, who is ALL IN to beat Doug. The proof is in the money he (McConnell) is spending now.”

It’s true that McConnell is working hard to unseat Jones to protect Republicans’ wobbly control of the U.S. Senate, and if they weren’t concerned that Jones has a good shot at winning re-election, McConnell would spend that campaign money in another state.

Tuberville must do more than hide behind Trump. We need to hear Tuberville’s plan, where he stands on the issues and what he’ll bring to Alabama that Jones hasn’t already.

Let’s hear it, Coach Tommy. But you’ll have to scoot back a bit first.

 

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Opinion | Comprehensive sex-ed for all can improve people’s health

Annerieke Smaak Daniel

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Last July, I spoke with Sky H., a 20-yearold who identifies as non-binary and grew up in a very conservative rural town in the Black Belt region of Alabama. In school, Sky received abstinence-only education. Sky told me there was little instruction about sexual and reproductive health besides the basics of reproduction.

After years of pain, Sky was diagnosed at age 18 with endometriosis, a painful disorder that can lead to fertility complications. The condition might have been diagnosed much earlier if they had learned more about their own bodies and reproductive health in school, Sky believed.

Unfortunately, Sky’s experience isn’t unique. Over the past year and a half, I’ve spoken to more than 40 young people from 16 counties throughout Alabama who also didn’t learn about their sexual and reproductive health in school. Like Sky, they missed out on critical information and described the negative impact this had on the choices they made and their health as they grew older.

Schools in Alabama are not required to teach about sexual health but if they do, the State Code mandates a focus on abstinence. The State Code also contains stigmatizing language around same-sex activity and prohibits schools from teaching about sexual health in ways that affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. This makes it even harder for young people like Sky to get information.

But Alabama is not alone. Sixteen other states in the U.S. also do not mandate sex education in schools. And at least five others have laws stigmatizing samesex activity.

Comprehensive sexuality education can improve health outcomes for young people. It can help them learn about their bodies and how to recognize abnormal gynecological symptoms, steps they can take to prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other dangers to their health, and where they can go for reproductive health services.

Sex ed can also educate young people about the human papillomavirus (HPV) — the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. — and how to lower their risk of HPV-related cancers through the HPV vaccine.

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This information can improve young peoples health and save lives. Yet so few young people in schools throughout Alabama and the U.S. receive it. Instead, like Sky and other Alabama students, many young people receive abstinence-focused education.

These programs withhold critical, science-based information young people need to make safer decisions on their sexual health. They also shame adolescents about their sexuality, often leaving young people uncertain about who they can talk to or where they can go for accurate information about sexual behavior and health.

The problem is both a lack of political will and of adequate funding. Discriminatory property taxes and an inequitable education system leave many school districts in rural and less wealthy regions of Alabama without adequate funding. This means that programs considered optional, like sex ed, often aren’t offered.

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Alabama, a state with high rates of sexually transmitted infections and cancers related to HPV needs to do more to address historic inequalities and state neglect that have left Black people at a higher risk of poor health outcomes. Mandating comprehensive sexuality education for all of the states schools — and allocating state funding for these programs — would be an important step forward.

Students in underfunded and neglected school districts many of whom are Black and living in poverty — often lose out on access to critical and lifesaving information. It keeps them from being able to make informed and safe decisions and can harm their health. This unequal access to information can create lifelong disadvantages and may contribute to racial disparities in health as young people age into adulthood.

The Black Belt region of Alabama, where Sky is from, has high rates of poverty and poor health outcomes. The Black Belt region also has high rates of sexually transmitted infections and the highest rates of HIV in the state. Yet schools in this rural and marginalized region of the state are persistently underfunded.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought glaring attention to systemic inequalities and racial disparities in health, including in Alabama, where Black people are significantly more likely to die from the virus than white people. Within the United States, we continue to see the disproportionate toll the pandemic has taken on Black people, who are more likely to live in poverty, lack access to health insurance, and suffer from chronic health conditions that put them at a higher risk of adverse health outcomes from the virus.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of ensuring that everyone has the information, tools, and resources they need to make informed decisions to protect their health. Schools in Alabama — and across the country — should help do that for all young people.

The pandemic is also showing us what happens when discrimination and neglect leave certain people out.

 

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Opinion | The “United” States of America. Really?

Larry Lee

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(STOCK PHOTO)

We’ve all had it pounded in our heads virtually from birth that we live in a united country of 50 different states. Truth is, few things could be farther from the truth. If it were, we would all be pulling in the same direction at the same time, striving for common goals. This has seldom been the case. Even the original 13 colonies had great differences and some were much more interested in pulling away from England than others.

The reason for much of this is pointed out to us in American Nations by Colin Woodard as he paints graphic pictures of the 11 nations that actually comprise the U.S .and how they were settled at different times by different people from different backgrounds.

Certainly, there is no greater indicator of our lack of unity than the current highly fractured and divided response to COVID-19.  Unfortunately, there is no coordinated, 50-state effort to get this pandemic under control. Instead, our national leaders have sent one mixed message after another and left states to individually flop and flounder.

The result?

One thousand deaths a day across this land.

Imagine we were presently losing 1,000 people a day in some foreign war. That each day we were shipping 1,000 caskets back to this country from some distant land.

Would we be as tolerant of ineptitude in such a crisis as we are right now?

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Vanity Fair has just reported on how the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, inserted himself into the war against COVID-19. It is not a pretty picture. Nor a useful one.

Back in March Kushner set out to solve the on-going disaster of lack of diagnostic testing. So he brought together a group of largely bankers and billionaires — not public health experts. In spite of their lack of knowledge and willingness to work with others, the group developed a fairly comprehensive plan, that got good reviews from health professionals who saw it. But then the plan, according to someone involved with it, “just went poof into thin air.”

What happened? Politics.

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According to Vanity Fair, “Most troubling ….was a sentiment ….a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically.  The political folks believed that because it (the virus) was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy.”

“United” States of America? Don’t kid yourself.

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