Schools Aren’t Closed, And Rushing A Return to In-Person Isn’t a Panacea

The CDC guidelines are clear. They present the steps to return to in-person learning, if conditions are favorable. And they offer a step by step planning checklist and mitigation strategy toolkit to assist, K-12 Schools COVID-19 Mitigation Toolkit (cdc.gov).

The problem is, most people won’t bother to read them, or will stop reading after it supports their contention that schools are “safe” for our children. That is not what the guidelines say. They say, very clearly and in several sections, that schools are safe if mitigation strategies are followed. And that is a very big IF.

How many school districts have HVAC systems that are “MERVS-13”? How many have sufficient fresh air ventilation and air filtration? How many are willing to hire more teachers for the recommended “smaller groups” the guidelines suggest? Where do they find the extra class space? What about enhanced cleaning? Who is going to pay for additional Custodial staff and overtime?

And where are they supposed to get the money to pay for it all?

I’m sure most school districts will do some version of some of the things recommended. And that is why some districts will fail. And it won’t be their fault. Not entirely. It is the misunderstanding that is inherent in the CDC offering “guidelines” rather than actual policy.

To be clear, the CDC is not in the “policy” business. That is the role of elected officials, and that is why it matters who is on the school board and that they understand the role they have in implementing policy that follows the guidelines.

Sadly, given the number of school board members who are ignoring the CDC recommendation regarding start times, I don’t have much faith many will do what is absolutely needed. I think they will use the easy out. The fact that the CDC is only putting out “guidelines”. And the confusion around who actually has the authority to compel, well, just try reading various sources. The State says follow local and federal. Federal says it is up to local and state. And local? They say they will follow state and federal. It is maddening. And many at the local level do not truly seem to understand the responsibility they have to enact strong public policy.

Let’s start with the two simple things the CDC recommends that I think will be difficult, if not impossible, to compel: universal and “correct” masking and 6-foot social distance.

Why won’t this happen? Human nature, sports and lack of funding.

The first, and most simple part, classroom sizes. Get ready for the math portion of mitigation strategy. If we use the average Elementary School class size of 900 Square Feet, that means you cannot have an average class size at 20 students, because you would need a classroom that is over 1,000 Square Feet, and with furniture and teachers may be over 1,500 SF, to have 20 students with 6-foot social distance. Simple. Straight forward. But will school boards pay attention when it means they will need more teachers and more classrooms?

Next, the guidelines are clear, fresh air is best. So we need windows that open and classrooms should be aired out between sessions. How many classrooms have windows that open and who is going to pay to retrofit if this is needed?

Another important point, students cannot “move” from class to class, this is especially important for Middle and High Schools to note. How would you ensure 6-foot social distance in hallways? And you would need to disinfect and air out classrooms for each new group.

Which brings us to contact tracing and group activities. Quite simply, group activities can only happen outdoors, be extremely limited, and certainly contact sports are not a good idea. At all. Period. End of recommendation.

They can play other sports. There is dance, martial arts, yoga, golf, tennis. Plenty of options. Not optional is sports where students have to have direct contact and cannot maintain 6-foot social distance and wear a mask.

Group restrooms must be organized by groups of students. i.e. cohorts or pods, for possible contact tracing and limiting risk as part of mitigation. At the Elementary level especially, regular and proper handwashing at specific intervals is highly recommended.

You cannot have mass use of cafeteria. And if your district does continue to use a cafeteria, the recommendation is MINIMUM 6-foot social distance and all students sit facing the same direction. Plus fresh air ventilation.

The guidelines also say that there needs to be isolation areas for anyone who might begin to show symptoms. And that staff should wait at least 24 hours before cleaning an area where there was someone exhibiting symptoms.

Read that again. 24 hour wait before cleaning. That means if it is a classroom, they cannot use that room the next day. There is more, but these are the essential elements. As I said, my faith that schools will do these is low. I keep going back to the fact that in many school districts we can’t convince 5 board members to go to the CDC recommended start time and many communities saw mass hysteria at the thought of doing what is in the best interest of students according to health experts.

This is a complicated issue. There is no simple answer. There is no quick fix. Forcing schools to return to in-person is not a panacea. Teenagers were depressed and anxious before the pandemic. Too much homework, too little sleep, too many classes and not enough respite are the problems. We must deal with the very real mental health crisis that was exposed by the pandemic. The pandemic is making this crisis worse, it is not causing it. Like many of our problems in public schools, the problem is lack of funding. We have to stop allowing legislators to balance their budgets on the backs of our children. As President Biden once said in a speech, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Let’s meet this challenge. Our children need us.

Lisa Longo, former Phoenixville Area School District President of the Board

What the Frack?

July 2012

What the Frack is Hydraulic Fracturing and Why Should I Care?

Have you ever heard of the chemical Acrylamide? Neither had I before last week. And yet it could soon be poisoning the water all around us, including 15,600,000 of us who get our water from the Delaware River Basin if Governors’ Corbett & Christie get their way. Acrylamide is just one of hundreds of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing that are not disclosed, and local water authorities may not even be testing for its presence in our water.

According to information I was sent, Acrylamide is being used by the oil & gas industry as a “cheap friction reducer to use in drilling/fracking and casement lining.” This issue would appear to have as many layers as there are chemicals being used but not disclosed. One concerned voice from Bradford County stated,

“I have been trying to convince people for a long time that the drilling mud is probably more important than the fracking fluid in the contamination issue; after all they use this product when they are drilling through the aquifer. It would be the first thing that would migrate through the casing. They always talk about this being so benign. Even the name mud makes it seem harmless. In fact Chesapeake has a video in which they discuss how they use drilling mud as one of the layers of their casing system. It is a great way for them to get rid of a drilling waste product. Just leave it in the ground and let the future generations worry about it!”

You see, hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, a gift bestowed upon the industry by Dick Cheney, and known as the “Halliburton Loophole”. Yes, the same company that provided shoddy equipment to our troops in Iraq & Afghanistan and who used substandard materials at the Deep Horizon site, Halliburton was given an exemption from regulation for this extreme and imperfect extraction method.

Through this exemption, companies like Chesapeake Energy have been able to use chemicals that are known to be carcinogenic, like Acrylamide. Two separate studies link this chemical to cancer:

Two studies are available that demonstrate the carcinogenicity of acrylamide: Johnson, Gorzinsky, Bodner et al. (1986/Ex. 1-825) and Bull, Robinson, Laurie et al. (1984/Ex. 1-252). OSHA described both of these studies in the preamble to the proposed rule (53 FR 21191); they are briefly summarized here. In the Bull et al. (1984/Ex. 1-252) study, acrylamide was tested as a skin tumor initiator in female Sencar mice; 12-o-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) was used as a promoter. The authors administered six doses ranging from 0 to 50 mg/kg body weight over a two-week period. A dose-related increase in tumor incidence was observed for all routes of exposure tested, including topical, gastric intubation, and intraperitoneal injection. The same authors (Bull, Robinson, Laurie et al. 1986/Ex. 1-252) noted a dose-related increase in lung adenomas in A/J mice administered acrylamide either by gastric intubation or intraperitoneal injection.

The second study was performed by Johnson et al. (1986/Ex. 1-825) on male and female Fischer 344 rats given 0 to 2.0 mg/kg/day acrylamide in drinking water for a period of two years. During the last four months of this study, mortality from cancer was observed at a statistically significant rate in rats exposed at the highest dose level; in addition, tumor incidence increased in animals of both sexes in the highest dose group. In females, tumors of the mammary gland, central nervous system, thyroid gland, oral tissues, uterus, and clitoral gland were seen, while males developed tumors of the central nervous system, thyroid, adrenal gland, and scrotum (Johnson, Gorzinsky, Bodner et al. 1986/Ex. 1-825). Peripheral nerve degeneration was also seen in female rats exposed at the 2 mg/kg/day level (ACGIH 1986/Ex. 1-3, p. 13). [1]

And do you know what makes it even worse here in Pennsylvania? Our legislature just handed the frackers a get out of jail free card and given them a way to hide the potential negative health impacts, this is from Dorothy Basset as quoted on Truth-Out[2]:

“[The bill] includes verbiage that says that when a patient comes in, sick due to exposure to chemicals, doctors have to request in writing info on [the chemicals patients might have been] exposed to (think of the time — and treatment delays involved in this process!) and then have to keep it confidential.  Also, the industry doesn’t have to reveal compounds that have formed when all these chemicals and materials from underground come together, nor do they have to report exposure to heavy metals, radioactive substances, etc., from below.

Given the problems with airborne and waterborne carcinogenic and neurotoxic substances from this industry’s open pits of toxic wastes, compressor stations, and the like, this means that entire communities will still be exposed to chemicals that one or more people have had to see a doctor for, and that the doctors will have to keep it quiet while the communities are at risk.

The fact that the industry has included verbiage in this bill that prevents doctors from revealing the chemicals their patients were exposed to:

  1. indicates that the industry knows that much of the substances they are using are a threat to public health – enough so that emergency room and other physicians would see cases of toxic exposure to fracking and related chemicals and substances on a regular basis, i.e. that this is not a safe process;
  2. indicates that the industry wants to keep it quiet – they know that if the health risks of their activities due to chemical exposure (in air and water) were to become public there would be such enormous outcry that they would be – appropriately – shut down;
  3. [shows that industry knows fracking/ms] is a human rights and a civil rights violation to the residents and workers affected, and would ultimately contribute to a public health catastrophe;
  4. would guarantee that other individuals [and] families in the area would not be warned that they are being exposed on an on-going basis to highly hazardous chemicals that have made other individuals ill  — often seriously and irreversibly ill.

The bill also says that the industry will NOT provide information on compounds created by the chemicals or the interaction of the chemicals with things below ground or any of the substances that come up from underground.”

Why is the Governor willing to force your family to drink fracked water but not his own? And more importantly, how long will we let him get away with it? In addition to the millions of gallons of clean water used in the extreme extraction method, the wasted contaminated toxic sludge produced in hydraulic fracturing is then injected back into the earth, some of it in Ohio, very near the epi-center of that last earthquake.

It is time to call for a moratorium on fracking. We start by insisting Congress pass the FRAC Act, our own Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), is the sponsor in the Senate. And we can all support him by calling on legislators to pass this important bill that does one thing, it closes the “Halliburton Loophole”. It does not stop hydraulic fracturing, it simply says that this extreme extraction method will now fall under the Safe Water Drinking Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. That is step one. Next we insist on stricter regulation and fees & fines to establish environmental impact fund.

The bigger questions I would ask you to ponder are these, why do we allow these companies to plunder our national resources from our public lands for private profit? Why do we continue to invest in the extreme extraction of diminishing resources at the expense of our health safety & water supply? Who benefits from the continuation of reliance on an obsolete grid and fossil fuels?

And ask yourself this as well, how can reliance on fossil fuels ever lead to true energy independence? Just the term reliance belies true independence. Imagine a grid based upon community solar & wind, houses built utilizing passive solar and integrating wind technology. Picture schools heated with passive solar heaters. What a different world that creates, one where energy independence becomes attainable.

Send your thoughts and comments to the Bureau of Land Management, White House and Legislators. Write to the EPA, ask The Sierra Club how you can help. Get in touch with Protecting our Waters or Berks Gas Truth. Ask how you can help with the effort to keep our land and water from being fracked.

 

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/pel88/79-06.html

[2] http://www.truth-out.org/fracking-industry-colludes-pennsylvania-legislature-dangerous-new-laws-head-governors-desk/132923015

Stop Calling Our Inalienable Rights Socialism, You’re Scaring the Children

People, we are truly at a crossroad.

We have one path, the easy one, the paved one, but it leads into a dark, dank forest and you go alone. It is a dog eat dog, survive if you can, screw anyone else mentality marathon to the end, where most likely you will be greeted by a massive wall and only get in if you have a few million dollars.

It is a barbaric, brutal, deadly feudal society based on pure greed.

The other path isn’t flat, or paved. It is hilly and meanders around rocks and creeks. It passes through fields and forests. At the end we find a place of community. We help each other. We care. We want everyone to prosper. We will give you a hand up, and if you need it, a helping hand too.

It isn’t a hand out, its a kindness. And in a truly great society, we help each other.

Kindness and caring are not socialism. Caring for the sick, weak, disabled, aged and children is not socialism. Stop calling it socialism.

Remember this country was founded on the principles of these inalienable rights: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Those things that provide for these are indeed “entitlements” provided for in our Bill or Rights, Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Maybe if we taught more about these documents people would stop demonizing them.

We aren’t asking for a “hand out’ we are demanding our inalienable rights. And our children need us to stop with the weak, cowardly bullshit and stand for our rights, and our values.

So please, stop calling it socialism, you’re scaring our children.

I want you to fly.
Soar above it all.
Set free your mind.
Let go of your bias.
Jettison your fears.
Climb high
Enjoy the view
and most important
Try not to shit on people.

 

© 2019 Lisa Longo

On Democracy, Governance & The Art of Democratic Society

Is Democracy working? What is governance? More specifically, what is good governance? How do we draft public policy for the greater good? How does being a progressive impact governance and public policy? Is conservative policy good for society? Is progressive policy? Has money for influence corrupted our system and destroyed how we govern? What is the interaction between Federal, State and Local public policy?

This is the first in a series of essays which will explore these and other ideas; this first essay attempts to define governance and public policy to create a common basis for an exploration and a blueprint for the success of democratic society.

Included in this essay are my original notes & illustrations.

We the People.

On Democracy

The basis of American democracy is our Constitution, and it is with this vision of a more perfect union that we all agree to recognize certain inalienable rights. This is the basis for the laws, government, institutions and judicial system of the United States. The Constitution names these inalienable rights as Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of happiness.

What do these inalienable rights mean in the context of public policy and governance? How exactly do Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness interact with public policy to create a more stable society for all? Conversely, what are the policies that destabilize society?

Public policies are the guiding principles we create, agree to, and enact, and are the lever we use to create stability in our society. Governance is the manner by which we organize and implement these guiding principles and includes norms of behavior we adhere to for the common good. Together these are the basis of the common agreements we have made to each other to live in a civil democratic society.

InalienableOur founders were very clear that the basis for our agreements, while imperfect, were necessary for the success of this great experiment in self-rule.

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness therefore must be the basis of every policy, ordinance and piece of legislation we enact, as well as every budget we pass in order for us to be successful as a society.

Elected officials need to pause and consider these before every vote and ask the questions, does what we are about to do uphold our guiding principles and will it move us forward in creating a more perfect union?

These foundational principles are not only guidelines, they offer us a clear blueprint for creating a stable environment where good governance can flourish.

Governance

The interaction between governance and public policy is often overlooked. We need to be aware of how the intent and impact of a policy can be corrupted and how influence by money in politics has been the catalyst to the unraveling of our common good and is in fact anti-ethical to good governance.

From public education to environmental protections our inalienable rights are being trampled and destroyed by an ideology that contradicts our basic principles of democracy, not to mention common decency, ethics and logic. While money and wealth creation are fundamental to our economy, there is little doubt that money for influence has corrupted our politics and done real harm to our democratic society.

We need to remember that these United States were the first time a nation was to be governed for, by and of the people. Individuals would not be tethered to a class. Wealth would be created, not just inherited. We cannot underestimate the importance of this principle to the concept and success of self-governance. It is very likely impossible to have one without the other. But does this mean money for influence in government is inevitable, and if so, is corruption in and of government also inevitable?

To answer this let’s go back to the Constitution and the inalienable rights: Life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness, which, after all, are the building blocks on which we rely to create stability, security and opportunity, i.e. economy, which is the mechanism by which democratic society operates.

root causeWhat are the root causes of economic stability? If we believe they are the three inalienable rights, we can define them to create a simple paradigm that will provide us with a basic equation of what good governance and public policy need to accomplish to be successful:

  • Life = environment
  • Liberty = equality
  • Pursuit of Happiness = education

The establishment of strong guidelines and public policy to ensure protection of our environment, equality and education system are therefore necessary in order to provide a stable and strong economy. Or if we want to represent as an equation:

life + liberty + pursuit of happiness = successful democratic society

therefore,

environment + equality + education = economic stability

So why are we allowing the destruction of our inalienable rights? And is it inevitable that the creation of wealth leads to poor governance?

It seems that a country founded by rabble-rousing community organizers and based on the idea that all men are created equal would be able to protect our rights without allowing erosion of our democracy. Why aren’t we?

The Art of Democratic Society

The method we use to create and maintain our society is governance. And if we want to be successful, we need to define and agree upon the principles of good governance. Back to those inalienable rights. Life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Environment, equality and education. This is where we start.

What are the barriers to success? What does bad governance look like? For starters, the antithesis of good governance is pay to play politics. We will not be successful if we continue with status quo establishment paid for by special interest money for influence and questionable fundraising and tactics. It is time to stop the money-go-round and elect ethical leaders who will move forward with bold ideas to build a successful democratic society for all, committed to diversity, transparency and inclusive practices.

Let’s also be clear, we don’t need to decide if we need more welders or more philosophers. That is a false equivalency. We need both. We have always been a nation of farmers, artisans, trades men and women, teachers, doctors and yes, philosophers. The men who wrote our Constitution were certainly inclusive of all these traits, even if devoid of gender or race-based diversity. Do we doubt that Franklin, Jefferson, Washington or the others were both learned as well as skilled? Do you think they had to sit for some standardized test before they were permitted to devise our democracy?

We aren’t all one thing and none of the other. We can be both intellectual and mechanically inclined. We can be multi-faceted and insist our government reflect our values. And we can expect an evolution of inclusivity as well. How we govern is that reflection.

Right now, it isn’t a very flattering reflection is it? How did we get here? How is it we now have a regime in power that thinks putting children in cages is okay and both parties seem to think money is more important than issues and buying elections is acceptable? We can look at one example of where governance has been failing us, public education.

cuts to fundingGovernance has been used by those who want to privatize everything to dismantle public education. The dark money shadow groups that don’t believe in public good, only private profit. For decades they have been working to ensure they launder our public money into private profit.

And the last vast pile of money they haven’t been able to touch is local property taxes. Why? Because local control of public schools and local taxing authority by school districts kept this money out of their reach. Your taxes go directly to your local public school. The money-go-round hasn’t been able to divert these funds to be laundered, at least not totally.

When the far-right conservatives could not dismantle public education outright, they resorted to backdoor dark money solutions. From for-profit charters to privatization, standardized testing and outsourcing, the “free market” conservatives have been trying to destroy public education in order to pilfer local property taxes and gift those funds to private corporations, for-profit companies, donors and special interest funders, for example the for-profit charter school companies and education management companies.

When that failed, they cut funding and forced massive unfunded mandates onto local schools which caused property tax increases, creating the false narrative that teachers and education are the problem when in fact the problem is the unfunded mandates.

This is a clear example of where basic principles of governance based on our inalienable rights would lead to public policy in the public interest when we have bold progressive leaders with political courage and conviction. It also shows why we need ethical leaders. In addition to protecting our children local leaders can protect our environment, promote public education and promote equality.

More on those in the next installment of “On Democracy”. Stay tuned and get ready, we are going to do great things.

We are the problem. We are also the solution.

©2019 Lisa Longo All rights reserved