Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Akron Beacon Journal. July 11, 2021.

Editorial: Critical race theory fear a mix of the predictable, the outlandish and the justified

Republican legislators in about two dozen states have introduced or won passage of bills to censor the education of children on race.

Exactly what are they afraid of?

A lot of it stems from President Donald Trump’s “liberal indoctrination of America’s youth” demagoguing last year, when he created a commission to promote “patriotic” education in classrooms. (President Joe Biden killed the panel.)

Part of it is reaction to the The New York Times’ Pultizer Prize-winning “1619 Project,” which argues that Black Americans first brought to this country as enslaved people are the foundation of U.S. democracy – and which conservatives fear is a type of historic revisionism that will seep into schools. (Classroom curriculum from the project has already been developed.)

And there are concerns that children could be exposed to vaguely understood academic concepts like critical race theory, which right-leaning detractors claim stigmatizes white people as oppressors.

“Critical race theory says I’m a white supremacist,” Texas lawmaker Steve Toth, a sponsor of the school censoring law in that state, told an Austin television station.

He’s wrong about critical race theory and what it says about him. But the accumulated fear driving this wave of legislation is a mix of the predictable, the outlandish and, even, the justified.

Policing classroom discussions about race and racism

The 1619 Project, for example, while a noble and ambitious effort to illustrate the centrality of slavery in American history, oversold its premise to the point of committing historical interpretive error that editors first denied and then seemed to only partially concede.

Even so, responding to all these concerns by policing classroom discussions about race with a state law is like using a shotgun to drive mosquitoes out of a bedroom.

First and foremost, the new laws may very well be a violation of free speech.

Beyond that, legislation is far too blunt and unworkable a tool to surgically restrict certain controversial theories from education without chilling all discussion on the topic of race. Concerned Texas educators correctly worried that their state’s new law – with its long list of racial concepts and views that “may not” be taught – could end classroom debate about race as a contributing factor in hiring, housing, police shootings, presidential elections and countless other areas.

Critical race theory is frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted

How is stifling this kind of discussion a healthy means of expanding young minds?

Moreover, school districts violating such laws risk losing state funding, and as judicial politics expert Jeffrey Sachs argues, “The people who will actually be parsing these (restricted race) terms ... will be the paranoid principal of a cash-strapped high school, yelled at by the town attorney about how it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

A key target of this educational censorship is the frequently misunderstood academic concept of critical race theory. At its core, this decades-long academic framework, which examines circumstances where statistics show a disproportionate impact on minorities, attempts to explain why these inequalities persist and offer achievable goals to overcome them – in areas such as bank lending, discriminatory labor practices, incarcerated populations, police shootings and even higher rates of COVID-19 in Black and Latino communities.

It suggests the reality of white supremacy in social systems, and that racism has become endemic to legal processes and public policies. Critics latch on to these terms to argue the theory is trying to divide Americans. But a better response than attempting to eradicate it from classrooms is employing teachers who can helps students think for themselves about the concept.

As USA TODAY contributor Larry Strauss, a high school English teacher in South Los Angeles, argued, “I do not ‘teach critical race theory’ and I never will. I will teach (students) about it and help them understand its assertions and the evidence appropriate to support those assertions – but it must always be up to students to arrive at their own conclusions.”

He’s exactly right.

Legislators should stay out of the classroom. Curriculum, whether around race or ’rithmetic, is for school board members, principals and teachers themselves – education experts beholden to the classroom and the community – to sort out for the educational enrichment of their students.

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Willoughby News Herald. July 10, 2021.

Editorial: Great Lakes drowning dangers must be taken seriously

The Great Lakes provide wonderful places to swim on hot days during spring through fall.

But those same bodies of water also can prove deadly for swimmers. A grim reminder of that reality was provided recently by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project.

The nonprofit organization recently announced that more drownings have been reported in the Great Lakes so far in 2021 than by this time last year, prompting group leaders to urge swimmers to practice water safety measures.

As of July 2, there were 32 drownings in the Great Lakes, compared with 25 as of July 4, 2020, according to data collected by the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project. The organization tracks drownings in the Great Lakes.

Of the 2021 drownings, 15 occurred in Lake Michigan, compared with 12 a year ago. Five drownings were reported in Lake Huron this season, in addition to six in Lake Erie and six in Lake Ontario.

There were 108 drownings on the Great Lakes in 2020, up from the 97 recorded in 2019. There have been a total of 978 Great Lakes drownings since 2010.

To help prevent drowning, experts recommend making sure someone is designated to watch children at all times while swimming and ensure they wear life jackets. Older children and adults are also encouraged not to swim alone. All water-goers should avoid mixing drugs or alcohol with swimming.

These are all good pieces of advice to follow, so an outing at any of the Great Lakes doesn’t turn tragic because of a drowning.

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Columbus Dispatch. July 9, 2021.

Editorial: Safety must not go up in smoke. Extinguishing fireworks bill was the right move

Backyard fireworks can come with avoidable consequences.

That’s why we are pleased that Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday vetoed legislation that would have made it legal for consumers to discharge them in this state.

The Fourth of July death of Blue Jackets’ goalie Matiss Kivlenieks was a tragic reminder that fireworks are not toys.

Kivlenieks’ death was sudden, tragic and painful. An errant fireworks mortar shell hit the 24-year-old in the chest as he celebrated Independence Day in a hot tub in Novi, Michigan, 28 miles northwest of Detroit.

Kivlenieks suffered extensive external injuries and fatal wounds to his heart and lungs.

The memorial to Matiss Kivlenieks at Nationwide Arena now includes a poster with a message from goalie Elvis Merzlikins encouraging fans to smile.

The nine-shot firework that killed him was legal in Michigan, and the person who lit it followed that state’s laws, police have said.

Discharging that very same firework would have been legal here if DeWine hadn’t blocked Senate Bill 113.

The same could be said about those that exploded from a U-Haul truck that burned in Toledo on Sunday evening. Four people were hurt during that chaos, which was caught on video.

Long-lobbied-for, the fireworks bill would have made it legal to shoot off fireworks on holidays in eight out of 12 months:

New Year’s Day in January

Chinese New Year in February

Cinco de Mayo in May

Memorial Day weekend in May

Juneteenth in June

July 3, 4, and 5 and the weekends preceding and following those dates

Labor Day weekend in September

Diwali (a festival of lights celebrated in Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism) in November

New Year’s Eve in December

We will give the bill’s proponents one thing: Ohio’s current fireworks law is pretty flimsy and makes a liar and potential criminal out of nearly everyone who buys them here.

It allows Ohioans to purchase fireworks in the state but says they cannot shoot them off within the Buckeye State’s borders.

They are allowed to be discharged once across state lines, but everyone knows what really happens. People fire them off in the middle of streets or in backyards here in Ohio.

Lawmakers could look at ways to relax some restrictions by using safety guidelines, but simply requiring sellers to give safety pamphlets to buyers, as the rejected bill required, would have been insufficient and would have led to more injuries in Ohio.

Public safety, and not appeasing the fireworks makers and sellers, should be the priority. Kudos to DeWine for seeing that more-specific language is needed to ensure Ohioans are kept safe.

The vetoed bill, if passed, would have given local governments authority to restrict the dates and times that residents can discharge fireworks, or ban their discharge altogether. A dangerous seed would have been planted regardless of actions taken by municipalities.

Making something legal is the wink that gives the impression that it is safe. That’s something that those who have treated injured eyes, hands and faces can tell you does not apply to fireworks.

Fireworks were involved in about 10,000 of the injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments in 2019, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Between March and September 2020, fireworks injuries increased by 56%, to 15,600.

The safety commission estimates that there were 3,100 injuries from June 21, 2020, to July 21, 2020.

About 2,000 of the injuries were burns, 400 were fractures or sprains, 200 were contusions or lacerations and 600 were other diagnoses.

The increase is partly attributed to the fact that more people used fireworks at home amid the pandemic.

This was very apparent to city dwellers bombarded last year by the bursts and blasts from neighbors’ amateur fireworks shows.

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that 19,500 fires were started by fireworks in 2018, resulting in $105 million in property damage.

Fireworks can be annoying and traumatizing to pets and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other medical or mental issues.

But there are more serious reasons DeWine was right to use his veto power.

Although rare, Kivlenieks’ tragic case reminds us that fireworks can be deadly.

No matter how much fun they are, fireworks are not child’s play and should be left to the professionals.

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Toledo Blade. July 9, 2021.

Editorial: Honoring lost children

Dan Cole was so moved, back in 1999, by the deaths of two teenagers in a traffic crash that he wanted to create a small memorial in their memory.

Almost immediately the idea for the Toledo Children’s Memorial grew. First, Mr. Cole, a pediatric rehabilitation specialist, added the names and faces of four other Toledo children who died that year.

Then, the memorial, near Jackman Road site of crash that claimed 18-year-olds Maggie Hayes and Cassie Jones, became a place where Toledoans went to honor many other children.

Over the years, more than 40 names have been added to the site. Many more unnamed Toledo-area children who have died also have been remembered there.

In many cases over the last two decades, the children’s memorial has been the site where the community has gathered for vigils and memorials when young people have died by violence or in other tragedies.

The Compassionate Friends, a support group for parents who have lost children, often uses the memorial site for an annual memorial gathering.

For a time, Mr. Cole said the site was monitored by a security camera, which often captured people who showed up to quietly pray at all hours of the day and night.

“It’s a nice, peaceful place to reflect,” Mr. Cole, 68, said.

In 1999 Mr. Cole said he was moved by the thought that losing a child must be terrible. He wanted to bring peace to parents. Then, in 2008 his own adult son died, which Mr. Cole said made the memorial even more meaningful to him personally.

“It meant more to me then,” he said. “I could identify with the parents.”

Now, Mr. Cole, who spent $20,000 on the initial memorial and about $1,500 to $2,000 a year more maintaining it, says it is time for someone else to care for, and hopefully expand, the memorial.

In 1999, Dupont gave a small plot of land at the corner of its property near the intersection of Eleanor and Jackman roads for the memorial. A few years later, the memorial was expanded with a small parking lot.

Now, as the Dupont plant has been shuttered, it may be possible to buy a larger area and expand the memorial, Mr. Cole said.

“It could be a beautiful park,” he said.

But even if the memorial doesn’t get larger, it should be properly maintained for years to come by a group that can continue the loving care that Mr. Cole has given it. Mr. Cole hopes a group can take over the children’s memorial, assuring it will be cared for for years to come.

This would be the best way to honor what Mr. Cole has given the city — a place to grieve, a place to remember the youngest lost Toledoans. Community leaders must put their heads together to find an existing group to take over the memorial or create a new children’s memorial to manage it going forward.

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Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. July 8, 2021.

Editorial: Social distancing to save the birds

What’s killing the birds?

Just as important, can we turn back the mysterious illness spreading through the avian population in Ohio and beyond?

It appears to be particularly dangerous for specific species, including blue jays, common grackles, European starlings, American robins and house sparrows. One theory is that pesticides used to kill cicadas might be responsible, but thus far its origins remain, well, a mystery.

What is clear is that the symptoms, including crusted-over eyes, blindness and neurological issues, are severe enough that Ohio Department of Natural Resources has urged residents to stop using bird feeders and bird baths.

The idea, which the Lorain County Metro Parks already has adopted, is to keep birds from congregating.

As Paul Sherwood of the Black River Audubon Society put it, “This is about social distancing with birds.”

Sound familiar?

It’s reminiscent of the tactics we humans used to protect ourselves from the COVID-19 pandemic. That virus has killed approximately 4 million people around the world, including about 606,000 in the United States. The death toll in Ohio stood at 20,366 on Wednesday, including 454 in Lorain County.

Preventing the spread of the coronavirus, which wasn’t well understood early on, required all of us to make sacrifices, including wearing masks, limiting our interactions and keeping our distance, even from those we loved.

We did so for more than a year as we waited for vaccines to be developed and deployed. Those vaccines are safe and effective, but unfortunately, after an initial rush, the vaccination rate has fallen off.

Nevertheless, the news on the COVID-19 front seems to be good — at least on the surface. The infection rate has been dropping, and Lorain County Public Health estimated Tuesday that there were just 10 active cases confirmed in the county.

The trouble, though, is the rise of mutated versions of the virus, including the delta variant, which is rapidly becoming more prevalent in the United States. It is more infectious than the original strain, although the vaccines still appear to provide some measure of protection against it.

The more people the delta variant infects, the greater the risk that it will spread and infect more people. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could experience another surge or another variant that’s even more infectious or deadlier. Vaccinations can help guard against that by limiting infections.

So would masks and social distancing, if the spread makes them advisable again.

Which brings us back to the birds.

Thus far, cases of whatever is plaguing them has been limited to Brown, Butler, Clark, Clermont, Delaware, Franklin, Greene, Hamilton, Montgomery and Warren counties. However, diseases have a tendency to migrate, particularly among highly mobile populations, like birds and people. Sooner or later, whatever is killing the birds will likely arrive along the shores of Lake Erie, including in Lorain County.

Recall that until March of last year the coronavirus wasn’t on many Americans’ radar. But then the NBA canceled its season. Tom Hanks and his wife contracted the virus in Australia. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine pumped the brakes hard on the Arnold Sports Festival before any COVID-19 cases were even reported in the state.

If we can take measures to protect ourselves from a once-in-a-century pandemic, we should be willing to put aside birds’ buffets and baths for a time to safeguard our feathered friends from whatever is killing them.

Conversely, if we’re willing to do that for the birds, we should be willing to take steps to protect ourselves from the coronavirus.

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