Editorial Roundup: Florida

Palm Beach Post. June 19, 2022.

Editorial: Curb teacher role in Florida effort to ban books

If anyone reading this still believes teachers just teach, we’d invite them to think again. Today’s teachers hold many jobs beyond simply providing an education. The state of Florida is adding a new one to an already ballooning job description — book censor.

On May 26, the Palm Beach County School District asked its teachers to check their libraries and media centers for any books and materials that might run afoul of Florida’s new parental rights laws. It’s unfortunate that the administration has turned its teachers into the first responders of banned books. They already have enough on their plates.

“It’s my responsibility to comply with the law, and I’m trying to do it in the least disruptive manner,” Superintendent Michael Burke said during an interview with The Post.

We agree but think teachers already have enough work to do in preparing their classrooms for another school year. They shouldn’t have to take on a task that could be done by the administration, by either calling in retired teachers and administrators to provide oversight or by expanding role and staff of the Diversity and Equity Committee.

HB 7 and HB1557 are now the law in Florida and a harsh reality for public schools. HB 7 gives parents the ability to challenge any classroom instruction perceived to be discriminatory or indoctrinate, particularly lessons involving race and racism. HB 1557 offers similar “parental rights” on gender identification and sexual orientation.

Parental rights enthusiasts contend the laws will help stem discriminatory indoctrination but in truth they have undermined true education and fostered a new wave of dehumanizing bigotry and ignorance that hurts everyone but particularly impacts those individuals whose skin color isn’t white and whose sexual orientation isn’t straight.

Politics, not education, is the big driver here. Since January 2021, 42 states, including Florida, have introduced bills or taken other steps to restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism, sexism and sexual orientation, according to a survey done by Education Week. CRT is an academic examination of race and racial policies that isn’t taught in public schools but that hasn’t stopped right-wing politicians and true believers from using it as a cudgel against public school education. Between September 2020 and August 2021, nearly 900 school districts across the country have been targeted by anti-CRT efforts, according to researchers at the University of California Los Angeles and University of California San Diego.

Just last week, Gov. DeSantis launched his own initiative, the “DeSantis Education Agenda,” an anti-woke indoctrination policy platform for school board candidates and members committed to advancing “student-first, parent-centered” initiatives.

The new Florida laws may be good politics, but the same can’t be said for their impact on our public schools in Palm Beach County. School officials are scrambling to make sure the district complies with the law while maintaining a semblance of sound education instruction to meet the demands of an increasingly diverse group of students and parents. It’s not an easy balancing act, one borne heavily by the teachers.

Granted, school officials are up against extreme logistical problems. The books in question are largely supplemental materials, books that aren’t considered “core” instruction but were nevertheless approved to be placed in school libraries and media centers to help students better engage and understand lessons taught in the classroom. And at the moment, most of them are packed away due to summer recess. Come the start of school, teachers will be spending time flipping through pages of suspect books, a chore competing with precious time needed to prepare for incoming students.

Teachers aren’t twiddling their thumbs. Today’s classrooms demand that they be counselors, disciplinarians, referees, social workers, psychotherapists, and in some cases, stand-in parents. Throw in armed security to their already ballooning job description, and it’s understandable why more are questioning their career choice.

Complying with a disruptive law remains a challenge for a school district facing an ever-increasing authoritative state government. We just urge our school administrators to think of their teachers as more of a last resort than a first option, when it comes to staffing the censorship brigade.

___

Orlando Sentinel. June 19, 2022.

Editorial: Celebrate Juneteenth - but acknowledge that slavery’s stain lingers

This is the first year the entire nation observes Juneteenth — an event tied the end of slavery in the United States. The newest federal holiday builds off long-running observations, a few dating back to emancipation itself, with the first June 19th celebration marking the day that Texas, the last state to end the Civil War, officially recognized slavery’s end.

This year, the Juneteenth holiday has been shifted to Monday. But the party has already started in many Florida cities. Long-running festivals and parades in Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, St. Petersburg and other areas are being joined by new events. Many Florida cities, including Orlando, have declared an official holiday.

“The celebration of Juneteenth reminds each of us of the precious promises of freedom, equality, and opportunity which are at the core of the American Dream,” Orlando Mayor Jerry Demings said in a proclamation last week.

But behind the lofty words, the parties, the food and the joy of community are brutal truths — and the understanding that this celebration is not just about one day.

It’s about a malevolence that infected a new nation’s economy, its administration of justice, its very humanity, for nearly a century — about oppression that lingered for decades, even after the fatal blow was struck. It’s about generations of people, born on U.S. soil but denied the rights this country was founded to claim. It’s about parents raising their children with a desperate hope that their lives would be freer, their opportunities less constrained — and the chilling fear that they would stumble on the rubble of enslavement, oppression and hatred.

There is no single date to circle and say “This is when slavery ended in the United States.” But there is a need to come together and remind ourselves that in today’s America, we have rejected its hateful miasma. That’s a hard assertion to make, in a year where politicians are still exploiting the ghosts of racism to rally far-right voters who view the past with nostalgia instead of revulsion.

We need to remember the truth. On our website today, you’ll find a gallery of images from Florida’s archives that remind you how casually slavery, racism and segregation were once accepted here.

But we must also see the present with clear eyes. This year, Black Floridians found new grief in the spectacle of Florida leaders like Gov. Ron DeSantis mocking “woke” culture. They heard no acknowledgement of the years that Florida’s leaders slumbered, indifferent to people who could not be treated in their nearest hospital, whose children could not attend the nearest and best schools, to families still locked in a deliberate cycle of poverty and incarceration that disproportionately targets Black Americans.

They also watched DeSantis shift lines on Florida’s congressional map with the intent of erasing their ability to elect representatives to look like them. They saw lawmakers pass tough restrictions on classroom discussion of racism — and then almost immediately, they saw the official policy of ignorance overspill its own boundaries, with state officials challenging books for simply mentioning race.

Can anyone believe this struggle is over? It is not over. We need this day to remind ourselves that equality is, in many ways, a new and fragile concept for our nation. To realize that the United States still bears the scars of its original sin, and that many of our fellow Americans carry its burdens — yes, white people too, who have lived in a diminished society, with many unaware how much potential has been wasted, and what heights we might have scaled if we united sooner.

We can’t change the past, but we can fight for a better future. And the Juneteenth celebrations are a wonderful place to start.

___

Tampa Bay Times. June 17, 2022.

Editorial: Gov. DeSantis’ hypocrisy on parental rights

Florida is the only state that failed to preorder child COVID vaccines.

Is there anyone’s life Ron DeSantis won’t endanger in his anticipated run for the White House?

The Republican governor’s mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic hit another low point Tuesday, as Florida became the only state in the union not to preorder COVID-19 vaccines for the nation’s youngest children. The failure by the third-largest state to meet Tuesday’s deadline could delay delivery of the much-awaited vaccines to Florida’s pediatricians, clinics, pharmacies and pediatric hospitals.

This is another dumb move by a governor and the unfit surgeon general he appointed that emboldens the COVID quackery that is prolonging this crisis. In a statement late Wednesday, the Florida Department of Health said it didn’t preorder because it doesn’t recommend vaccines for healthy children, a ridiculous position that contradicts federal health guidelines that recommend everyone age 5 and up get vaccinated. It’s any wonder that anyone takes the department’s advice at all.

Thousands of medical facilities across the country will get the doses, according to the Miami Herald, but Florida facilities that rely on the federal pipeline may not until the state places its order. The timing is critical; this week, U.S. health experts evaluate whether to recommend Moderna and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines for young children. The nation has about 18 million babies, toddlers and preschoolers in the last age group awaiting approval for the vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration’s panel of independent experts on Wednesday approved Moderna’s two-shot regimen for children 6 months through age 5, and Pfizer’s three-dose series for those 6 months to 4 years, saying both vaccines appear to be safe and effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will convene its own experts late this week, and once approved, the doses will go out.

Chain pharmacies have their own federal supply. But given the limits on who these retail outlets will vaccinate, parents of infants and toddlers will be more reliant on pediatricians and medical facilities most affected by the state’s failure to act. The FDA’s vaccine chief, Peter Marks, said Wednesday the U.S. saw a “troubling surge” in child infections during the omicron wave. In the U.S., the pandemic has killed 442 children age 4 and under, Marks said. While far more adults have died, the virus still poses a risk to children.

The issue is not just smart public health policy but the rights of Floridians to have the tools to make responsible choices. And once again, DeSantis has denied Floridians an opportunity to safeguard their families, while also exposing his rank hypocrisy to boot. It wasn’t enough that the governor fought schools over masks, targeted businesses over vaccines, downplayed immunizations and misrepresented the science. DeSantis did all those things in the name of freedom or parental rights. And now he’s making it harder for parents who want the child vaccines.

Call it what you will: Irresponsible, autocratic, politically predatory, dishonest, uncaring, big government at its worst. It’s certainly consistent. And it comes as COVID-19 infections in Florida have risen for 12 weeks straight. Nearly 9 in 10 Floridians live in counties with “high” levels of virus. It’s taken a year-and-a-half to protect the youngest among us. But hey, there’s a Republican presidential primary to worry about.

___

South Florida Sun Sentinel. June 20, 2022.

Editorial: On kids’ vaccines, DeSantis is wrong, but never in doubt

The quip “often wrong, never in doubt” fits Gov. Ron DeSantis like a glove. He takes it to extremes by doubling down, at the expense of our children, on his cultivated political appeal to the anti-vaxxer element of right-wing America.

It’s an absolute disgrace for Florida to be the only one of 50 states that did not preorder Pfizer and Moderna mRNA coronavirus vaccines for children ages 6 months to 5 years, once it became apparent that federal regulators would approve and recommend them.

The preorder deadline passed a week ago, June 14. Florida delayed the availability of shots to children whose parents want them. President Joe Biden, to his credit, moved swiftly to circumvent that obstacle.

This was no oversight. It was intentional, based on Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo’s earlier refusal to recommend COVID vaccinations for healthy children. He said the risks “may” outweigh the benefits, a judgment contrary to the medical profession’s overwhelming consensus.

For that, DeSantis is personally responsible. Preparing for the sudden and still unexplained departure of Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, the governor searched for an otherwise reputable physician who would reinforce his own politically motivated opposition to face masks and vaccine mandates.

He found Ladapo, an associate professor of medicine at UCLA, and arranged for his dual employment at the University of Florida before announcing him as surgeon general and state health secretary, a day after Rivkees’ sudden exit. Rivkees had been in DeSantis’ doghouse after straying from the governor’s line on social distancing.

‘Trying to jab babies’

Ladapo has been recognized for his expertise in internal medicine, but is not an epidemiologist. When the Florida Department of Law Enforcement did a background check, a former supervisor at UCLA said she would not recommend him. Floridians, she said, “would be better served by a surgeon general who grounds his policy decisions and recommendations in the best scientific evidence rather than opinions.”

To hear DeSantis tell it, he’s right and 49 other states are wrong. Never in doubt, he doubled down again Monday. “We are not going to have any programs where we’re trying to jab six-month-old babies,” he said at a barbecue restaurant in Callahan, near Jacksonville, adding that the vaccines will not be available at any county health departments.

Parents will still have the option, but Florida’s refusal to preorder may delay availability of the vaccines through pediatricians’ offices, children’s hospitals and pharmacies. Parents can go to vaccines.gov, a federal government website, to find nearby locations offering child vaccines.

Hospitals have depended on the state’s supply network to vaccinate older children. It remains unclear how they will be supplied. The big pharmacy chains have minimum age restrictions — 18 months at CVS, three years at Walgreens.

Responding to Florida’s intransigence, Biden immediately ordered the federal government to make the vaccines available outside the state’s channels, and a White House spokeswoman said the governor “reversed course” — a characterization amplified in many news accounts that DeSantis and his press shop denied. Spokeswoman Christina Pushaw accused The New Yorker of “a blatant lie” on Twitter.

Biden’s COVID-19 coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, said Friday it had already begun shipping vaccines “to children’s hospitals and pediatricians in every state in the country except Florida.” He called Florida’s delay “unconscionable.”

We call it cruel, barbaric — and totally political.

Selective hypocrisy

It’s another case of DeSantis’ selective hypocrisy. He flaunts the cause of “parental rights” to justify legislation suppressing the teaching of sex education and the history of American racism in Florida schools.

Then he makes it harder for parents to choose lifesaving vaccines for their children.

Meanwhile, his Agency for Health Care Administration is proposing to forbid Florida Medicaid from covering gender dysphoria treatment for people, often children, who need it. A hearing is set for July 8. That too flouts “parental rights” for the sake of DeSantis’ political ambitions.

About 18 million American children, until now, have been ineligible for the coronavirus vaccines. For many of their families, that has prolonged the isolation and hardships: birthday parties cancelled, job opportunities declined, vacations delayed, all brought on by a pandemic that has claimed more than a million American lives, more than 75,000 of them in Florida.

While the great majority of deaths were of older people, children under 5 haven’t been spared. COVID has killed some 400, according to federal data, and sickened many more. And the federal stats are among the low estimates. A Harvard study reported by Bloomberg News concluded that in 2021 alone, more than 600 teens and younger children died of COVID, nearly six times as many as have died in any year from seasonal flu.

The American Academy of Pediatrics puts the juvenile death toll at 1,055.

As with their elders, some juvenile survivors have suffered lasting complications. An estimated 500,000 children have long COVID symptoms, probably an undercount.

“Of known respiratory viruses, only COVID-19 has ever killed more than 100 U.S. children in a month in the modern era,” the Harvard study said. “It did so three times during the delta and omicron alone.”

Yet DeSantis insisted, falsely, last Thursday that young children “have zero risk of getting anything.”

Only some 30% of children 5 to 11 have been vaccinated since Pfizer’s vaccine was made available to them last November. The negativity of naysayers like Ladapo and DeSantis doesn’t help.

Politics is an ugly business, but there used to be tacit agreement that children would not be exploited for short-term gain. That vanished when the Trump administration separated families at the borders and put children in cages. Florida’s indifference to protecting children from COVID-19 is cut from the same cynical cloth.

___

Miami Herald. June 20, 2022.

Editorial: On abortion, Florida’s party of ‘religious freedom’ tramples over non-Christians’ beliefs

When Florida imposed a 15-week abortion ban in April, the state Senate president’s office released a statement titled: “Increased protection for unborn children signed into law.”

Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson also said about the measure:

“After 15 weeks, that is a child. And so, the argument is, should you kill a baby after 15 weeks because it was (conceived) under certain circumstances?”

But this notion of an unborn child isn’t universally shared. It was pushed first by Roman Catholics and later by evangelicals in their decades-long efforts to end abortion rights. That Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the ban at a Christian church in Central Florida makes clear to whom it appeals.

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s expected overturn of Roe v. Wade, the Christian right’s view of abortion as murder, and a sin, will be enshrined into law in many red states. Those who don’t share that belief will be forced to follow them.

Not all religions agree on the beginning of life, and their attitudes on abortion are more nuanced than anti-abortion rights groups seem to acknowledge. Even among Christians, there are different views on the issue, as groups such as Catholics for Choice will attest.

That was made clear in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court signed by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other groups that stated, “Numerous religions teach that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is a woman’s moral prerogative, and that abortion is morally permissible or even required under certain circumstances.”

A lawsuit filed against Florida’s abortion ban argues that it violates the religious-freedom rights of members of Boynton Beach’s Jewish Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor. The lawsuit was filed by Rabbi Barry Silver, a lawyer and former Democratic state representative, who calls himself a “social activist Rabbi-rouser” on his website.

It’s too soon to tell whether the challenge will stand up in court. But it highlights the hypocrisy of Florida Republicans, who so adamantly defend religious freedom while forcing their set of beliefs on Floridians. Conservatives have been careful to not mention religion when debating abortion, but the origins and arguments in their fight to take reproductive rights away are clear.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOR WHOM?

“Religious freedom is not simply something that applies to evangelical Protestants,” said Samira K. Mehta, an assistant professor and program director at the University of Colorado Boulder who specializes in American religions with a focus on Judaism and Protestantism.

“Saying that life begins at conception is a theological statement that runs counter to Jewish teaching, the Muslim teaching and to the sincerely held beliefs of many Christians, and all of those people also have the right to religious freedom.”

Mehta told the Herald Editorial Board that different religions diverge on “ensoulment,” the moment when a soul is believed to enter the body. For Muslims, that happens after 120 days, or roughly 18 weeks, and there’s a range of positions on abortion. There’s a general consensus that abortion is forbidden after those 120 days, but allowed to protect a woman’s life. However, some Islamic scholars believe it should never happen. In Buddhism, life begins at conception, but there’s no single view on abortion.

In Jewish law, there’s a debate over when ensoulment happens, but that’s not the most important point, Mehta said. In general, a fetus is considered potential life, rather than a living being. Although there’s ambiguity on when a fetus becomes a person, that’s usually when the baby’s head emerges from the mother’s body.

“If you have to choose between maternal life and fetal life, you are obligated by Jewish law to choose maternal life, because the mother is the alive person and the fetus is the potential life,” Mehta said.

The Florida ban makes exceptions for fatal fetal abnormalities or to save the mother’s life (but not for incest or rape), but it requires at least two doctors to sign off on it — a burdensome hurdle, especially for poor women.

Traditional and liberal forms of Judaism differ on their views of abortion for other reasons. But many believe Jewish law allows it to protect the “mental or physical well-being of the woman,” as the lawsuit states. There are also other considerations: if genetic testing detects diseases like Tay-Sachs — a rare neurological disorder usually found in people of Eastern European Jewish ancestry; a family doesn’t have the resources to raise another child; or a woman suffered from serious health complications in a previous pregnancy.

These aren’t easy considerations for any woman, family or spiritual counselors. Terminating a pregnancy is a conundrum that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Abortions should be rare and safe.

The anti-abortion movement has seized the religious and moral narrative over the issue. But what other faiths show is that this is not the black-and-white, good-versus-evil decision as Florida lawmakers blithely make it seem.

END