Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

The (Charleston) Post and Courier. Nov. 8, 2021.

Editorial: Serious or symbolic, anti-vaccine mandate pits McMaster vs. rule of law

It’s not clear what if any effect S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s order barring his Cabinet agencies from enforcing the new OSHA vaccine mandate would have had even if a federal court hadn’t temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s most aggressive attempt to date to get our nation past the COVID-19 pandemic.

After all, the president hasn’t tried to make state agencies require vaccinations, so the only agency Mr. McMaster’s order really affects is the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which under a long-coveted agreement with the federal government is required to enforce federal workplace safety rules in South Carolina. And as you might recall from last month, the federal government has already begun the process of stripping the state agency of that power because of its refusal to implement workforce safety rules designed to protect health-care workers from infection — rules that, by the way, have absolutely nothing to do with vaccinations.

Mr. McMaster was in such a hurry to go on TV and social media and proclaim that he was protecting our state from the intruding federal government that he issued his executive order the very same day that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration published its temporary emergency requirement for employers with 100 or more employees to require vaccinations. Less than 48 hours later, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked the mandate.

We have no idea whether the court will extend its block after it hears from both sides this week, and whether it does or not how the Supreme Court will handle the inevitable appeal. But there’s a very real possibility that the court actions will mean that the federal mandate never takes effect, and so even if Mr. McMaster’s order has any real substance to it, there was never a need for it.

But even if the governor’s executive order turns out to be nothing but Made for Twitter political theater, it is still deeply disturbing theater.

Not because he opposes the vaccine mandate. Although we believe that businesses should require their employees to be vaccinated, we’re not certain that it’s wise for the federal government to require that of anyone other than its own employees; everything about COVID-19 has been so politicized that there’s a real danger that a requirement from the Biden administration could backfire and drive holdouts even farther from vaccinations.

It’s also unclear to us whether OSHA has the legal authority at this moment to issue the mandate in the name of protecting workers from immediate danger, given that most of the nation’s adults are in fact vaccinated, children are being vaccinated, and hospitalizations and deaths are on the decline. Even if the mandate is within the agency’s authority, it’s still a pretty aggressive move by the federal government that broadens the traditional understanding of OSHA’s authority in a way that can make people across the political spectrum uncomfortable.

No, what’s disturbing about Mr. McMaster’s action has nothing to do with COVID and everything to do with the idea of ordering state agencies to defy federal law — which has an uncomfortable feel of nullification. It’s particularly disturbing because Mr. McMaster has always been a staunch defender of the rule of law; his abiding commitment to this hallmark of legitimate governments is one of the things we’ve always appreciated most about him.

As such, the former S.C. attorney general and U.S. attorney knows very well that public officials have three choices when confronted with a law (or rule or regulation) they don’t like: They try to change it, they challenge it in court, or they obey it. They do not ignore it. They do not defy it. They do not order their underlings to thumb their nose at the law. Even if they aren’t able to change it or convince a court to block it.

Although our fight against COVID-19 is far from over, from a public health perspective, we’re in a much better place than we’ve been at any point since it started in early 2020. Unfortunately, from a political perspective, the situation just keeps getting worse.

Today we have a governor who seems determined to convince voters that he’s not content to take the chance that a court might disagree with his interpretation of the law and is instead taking the law into his own hands. Even if he isn’t really doing that.

We’re sorry to see that Mr. McMaster would descend to such behavior, whose only conceivable explanation is his desire to appeal to voters in next year’s Republican primary. So we’re also sorry to see that he thinks so little of those voters.

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(Columbia) The State. Nov. 10, 2021.

Editorial: Let nature take its course in Hilton Head, South Carolina

The Mid-Island Tract sounds quite ordinary on the surface, not the sort of name that inspires enthusiasm. What it represents, however, is somewhat extraordinary.

The 103-acre parcel in the center of Hilton Head Island sits inside the Mid-Island Initiative Area, another not too terribly thrilling moniker.

But while the names - placeholders until something better comes along - are on the dry side, they represent a chance for the island to truly determine what its future identity will be.

The town acquired the land in 2013 and for a time leased it to a private company, which in turn operated it as the Planters Row Golf Course.

The golf course has since closed, though its fairways, lagoons and pathways remain, and the town’s Master Plan recommended it be turned into a park. The popularity of turning old golf courses into new parks is a trend seen in other communities, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects.

The question is what kind of park will it be.

A team of consultants is working on plans for the park and Jennifer B. Ray, capital program manager, said she expects they will be sharing the initial concept for the park with the Town Council in December or January.

While planning is underway, the consultants from MKSK are also gathering community input on what will happen around the park, the area better known as that Mid-Island Initiative Area.

Here is the extraordinary part.

Hilton Head Island, struggling to balance the needs of its roughly 40,000 year-round residents with the people who work here and the millions of tourists who come each year, has a chance to reverse course and resist the urge of development.

The Mid-Island Tract could be reclaimed for nature.

It’s a course supporters like Kay Grinnell, president of the Hilton Head Audubon Society, are hoping and campaigning for across the island.

“I think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Grinnell said.

Grinnell and her team envision what planners call passive recreation as opposed to the active type. That means turning the Mid-Island Tract into a nature preserve with trails and little else except a restroom and parking for visitors. The rest, Grinnell hopes, would be “repurposed and turned back to nature.”

She suggests active recreation such as tennis courts and playing fields could remain at other island parks where some of those amenities already exist and reconditioned in the locations where they aren’t often used.

“Birding and ecotourism are growing and this would put that trend on steroids here,” she said.

Birding is, by all accounts, big business.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, a 2016 report found there were about 45 million birders responsible for “trip-related and equipment-related expenditures” of nearly $96 billion in total industry output. The industry accounted for 782,000 jobs, and $16 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenue.

Like many island residents, Grinnell isn’t native to the island. She moved here like so many others because she found something she loved. “I fell in love with the nature,” she said.

She’s also one of those 45 million birders who travels for the hobby, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, hiring guides, renting cars and buying equipment along the way.

Her group notes that some 300 species of birds regularly inhabit or visit the island, which sits directly on the Atlantic Flyway, the largest of the four principal migratory routes through the United States. The tract, for instance, contains the only known nesting colony of Red-headed Woodpeckers on the island.

The town’s online survey asks residents to share their thoughts about the possible uses of the Mid-Island Initiative Area, which includes a mix of old and new commercial developments, industrial uses, residential neighborhoods, the Hilton Head Island airport, town-owned parklands and conservation areas, and significant cultural resources including Union Cemetery and St. James Baptist Church.

Survey respondents are asked what they do when they visit the area and what’s missing.

The number one item missing, according to the survey so far, is a park.

That survey closes this Friday, Nov. 12, though Ray added that community input regarding the initiative area will also be gathered at an Open Park Day on Nov. 20.

Hilton Head officials have made a concerted effort to gather public input and we are optimistic that there has also been an effort to consider the opportunity that has presented itself.

It’s rare for 103 acres of land to sit idle in any resort town and yet here they are.

We urge the town to let nature take its (golf) course.

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The (Orangeburg) Times and Democrat. Nov. 9, 2021.

Editorial: S.C. out front in computer science education

No one can dispute the important nature of computers and technology in today’s world. It is debated often just what balance of teachings are needed in schools, from mathematics to history, from personal finance to physical education. There can be no debate on the importance of today’s students learning computer science. And South Carolina is doing a good job on that front.

Code.org and its partners released the 2021 “State of Computer Science Education: Accelerating Action Through Advocacy.” Published annually, the report provides the most comprehensive analysis of national progress in computer science education. It includes descriptions of policy trends, an in-depth view of each state’s policy and implementation, and data on disparities in access to and participation in computer science.

“Careers that require computer science knowledge and skills continue to grow in South Carolina and across our nation,” S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said. “I am proud of the foundation we have laid that has made us a national leader and is helping to prepare our graduates for future success in this field.”

The 2021 report reflects South Carolina’s emergence as a national leader in computer science education with the highest rate (21%) of students enrolled in foundational computer science courses and 92% of high school’s offering computer science coursework, tied with Arkansas for the highest percentage in the nation.

Additional highlights from the report include:

— A 12% growth in the percentage of high schools in South Carolina offering computer science courses from 2020 (80%) to 2021 (92%). Since 2017, the percentage of high schools offering computer science has increased 49%.

— Students of all racial and ethnic groups have equal access to attend a school that offers computer science, and no participation disparities exist for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

— Computer science student enrollment by gender is close to parity, with 46% female students.

— South Carolina is one of just three states with a full year, one credit graduation requirement in computer science.

— In 2017, South Carolina became one of just six states to adopt computer science standards with the passage of the South Carolina Computer Science and Digital Literacy Standards for grades K-8. In 2018, South Carolina adopted high school computer science standards making the standards span the full K-12 spectrum.

South Carolina has adopted seven of the nine policies recommended by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition and is in the process of creating a state plan to satisfy the eighth recommendation.

“To prepare our children for an ever-changing, 21st century economy, it is imperative we actively adapt our curriculum to changes in technology, and that is exactly what we have done with computer science education,” Gov. Henry McMaster said. “Our early action in recognizing this need will provide our students with the necessary groundwork to thrive at the highest levels both academically and professionally following graduation.”

The state’s climb to prominence in computer science education is testament to the focus that has been put on the career field in recent years by state and local leaders including McMaster, who serves as a member of the Governors’ Partnership for K-12 Computer Science.

In each of the last three executive budgets, McMaster has recommended an increase in computer science education funding and the General Assembly has adopted the majority of those recommendations.

The money spent on fostering computer science education is a wise investment for South Carolina.

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