Editorial Roundup:

Amarillo Globe-News. September 16, 2020

State, facilities need to balance, peace of mind as restrictions are relaxed

Even though the state has recently relaxed restrictions around visiting those most vulnerable to the coronavirus, people still find themselves caught between two difficult health challenges: the powerful effects of isolation and a virus that has proven especially lethal for those above a certain age.

The state moved to protect specific populations in mid-March as the pandemic took hold across the country with devastating effects in nursing homes, assisted-living centers and other long-term care facilities. While the decision slowed the spread of the virus, the imposed isolation, covering a span of more than 140 days, took a toll not only on residents but also on their loved ones.

Friends and family members want the comfort that comes from being able to visit residents of these facilities. The enforced separation has increased the anxiety for many. What once was a simple procedure has been necessarily complicated by virus outbreaks and public health protocols.

Technology made it possible for “visits” to take place, but it was not the same, and it was also seen as temporary solution. Few things are as precious to people as human contact. For residents of these facilities, a highlight is the arrival of a visitor’s familiar face. It is a welcome interruption in a regimented day. Being present and being affirmed by friends and family members does wonders for everyone, but especially for those in care facilities, which, despite all the good intentions, are not the same as being in one’s home.

After five months, state health officials moved, issuing guidance that allowed some indoor visits at assisted-living facilities, provided safeguards were observed, according to a story from the Texas Tribune. Such facilities needed to have plexiglass barriers in place, no active cases of the coronavirus among residents and no confirmed cases among staff in the previous two weeks. Still, as has been the case for months, physical contact between residents and visitors is not permitted.

Nursing facilities must observe more stringent protocols, including weekly tests of staff members and only outdoor visits are allowed. As the Tribune reported, 57% of nursing homes were still reporting at least one active case last week, and sadly, deaths in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities account for more than a third of the state’s death toll.

That means extreme caution must continue to be the top priority, and these small steps represent what we hope will be the first ones taken on a path of balancing public health with peace of mind for residents and their loved ones alike.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation, and we are constantly assessing what actions are necessary to keep residents and staff safe in the facilities,” Phil Wilson, the acting executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said in the Tribune’s story. “By following these procedures and rules, facilities can effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help us achieve our shared goal of reuniting residents with their families and friends.”

We hope to see these restrictions continue to be relaxed as is appropriate across the state. Virus case numbers and other metrics vary widely and must be taken into consideration. Likewise, facilities should comply as swiftly as possible with measures to allow residents to reconnect with friends and family.

Being deprived of human contact takes a toll on people. Finding ways to restore any sense of normalcy, such as it might be, cannot be underestimated.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. September 17, 2020

Southlake Carroll diversity plan isn’t a secret liberal plot

If you’re looking for a place where a secret, radical socialist agenda might take root and flourish, Southlake’s school district wouldn’t be a likely candidate.

Yet the Carroll ISD finds itself in turmoil over a proposal to improve diversity education in the suburban district. There’s a petition calling for the school board president to resign. A lawsuit alleges violations of Texas’ open-meetings law. And the rancor spilled over Thursday, Sept. 3, into discussion of the search for a new superintendent.

Confusion, whether accidental or intentionally stoked, over the 34-page document known as the Cultural Competence Action Plan and the process of creating and approving it appears to be at the heart of the matter.

It began when a video surfaced in 2018 of Carroll students chanting the n-word. That and a similar second video prompted minority parents and alumni to come forward with stories of mistreatment over race and other differences.

“I had been on the board three years and had never heard any of those stories,” said Carroll school board president Michelle Moore. “I was, as a board member, completely shocked and disheartened that it wasn’t coming to us as a board.”

The board appointed a diversity committee to examine the issue, and over the course of more than a year, the panel held meetings, drafted a report with recommendations and prepared to submit it to the board this spring. That was delayed to August after the pandemic, and amid all that, Superintendent David Faltys announced his decision to retire.

The delay meant that the report landed after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer and the nationwide protests over racism. Suddenly, an already sensitive topic was super-charged.

Opponents allege that Moore and other board members conspired to quickly adopt the plan, including provisions to track “microaggressions” and add an LGBTQ agenda to school curricula. Moore said the board was merely poised to accept the report from the diversity council and begin the process of taking feedback and refining its recommendations.

Moore pledges now that no action will be taken to implement the report until a new superintendent is in place, which could be early next year. That’s a good step; it allows ample time for debate and won’t hand the new district leader an agenda to execute without him or her having input on it.

And the potential violation of the meetings law is a serious charge. The lawsuit includes screenshots of text messages that appear to show a majority of the board discussing the issue. Even if it fell within the letter of the law, it’s inappropriate for so much public business to be debated without the public being able to view and participate.

That said, the backlash to the plan is disproportionate. For one thing, if the Carroll board is suddenly overrun with liberals in disguise, candidates could have run this year against Moore and another board member, or to occupy an open seat. Each race drew just one candidate.

The need for greater attention to racial issues and other cultural sensitivity is real. Southlake has landed in the national news too many times for incidents. Kids will always do and say dumb things, but it’s clear some aren’t learning how hurtful such language can be.

And this isn’t just a case of manners or, as some would say, political correctness. Carroll students are graduating into a world that increasingly pays attention to cultural differences. Institutions such as universities and corporations demand a workforce to be aware of these factors.

“We had a mother share that there are a lot of essay prompts about diversity and inclusion” on college admission applications, Moore said. “We have to be smart about this, for our kids. Teachers need to know how to have these conversations in the classroom.”

Debate on the particulars of the plan should be welcome. The “anti-racism” agenda currently in vogue often includes assaults on everything from the American founding to the nuclear family to capitalism. Southlake residents have a right to draw a line against such things being taught in public schools.

There will be plenty of board meetings and other discussion of the diversity plan. Rather than railing with a futile online petition or lawsuits, those who care should show up, participate and argue for their positions.

With any luck, some of the raw emotions stirred up two months before a contentious national election will fade, leaving room for a real dialogue.

But Carroll students, like those across Texas and the country, need preparation to live in a diverse world, to know how to treat others with respect and empathy.

Those aren’t liberal values. As Moore put it: “I can believe in this work and still be conservative.”

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San Antonio Express-News. September 17, 2020

Pledge easy, but policing issues aren’t

Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott did not challenge all Texas political candidates to sign a pledge that they’d back hungry children.

He didn’t ask them to pledge to back the state’s uninsured. He didn’t ask them to pledge to support firemen, nor did he ask that they support essential workers.

There are thousands of groups the governor could have asked all political candidates to back. But last week, it was only police officers for whom Abbott asked for pledges of support, because unlike hungry children, the uninsured, firemen and essential workers, it’s police officers who serve Abbott’s immediate political purposes.

At a “Back the Blue” press conference, Abbott signed a pledge that reads:

“I sign this Texas Backs the Blue Pledge to oppose any efforts to defund the police and to show my support for the brave law enforcement officers who risk their lives to protect and serve. Defunding our police departments would invite crime into our communities and put people in danger. That is why I pledge to support any measure that discourages or stops efforts to defund police departments in Texas.

“Our law enforcement officers have our backs every single day, and we need to show them that Texans have their backs.

“#TexasBacksTheBlue”

This is a version of a pledge sponsored by Heritage Action, a Washington-based conservative advocacy group.

The mass protests for racial justice that began with George Floyd’s death are a movement for reforming policing, not abolishing police departments.

As we’ve noted before, “defunding” isn’t the best word for the goal of reallocating funds away from the police and toward programs and other city departments that would better serve communities while freeing up the police to concentrate on public safety.

Municipalities across the state are struggling with how best to balance police reform, address the rising need of their residents for services and be more efficient in use of their resources within the restraints of tightening budgets.

In response, Abbott and other top Texas elected leaders have chosen to demagogue any reduction of funding to police departments and threaten local governments with punitive action, such as legislation that would freeze the property tax rates of cities.

Of the $150 million that Austin cut from its police department in August, $130 million was either the transfer from the department of civilian duties — such as forensic, as well as victims and support services to other departments — or funding toward alternative forms of public safety.

In a recent video posted to social media, Abbott said defunding the police “invites crime into our communities, and it threatens the safety of all Texans.”

Will Austin’s plan work? We don’t know. But if voters in Austin are unhappy with this decision, then they can elect new public officials. That’s the beauty of local control.

These are complex issues, requiring nuanced thinking, discussion and creative solutions, not “you’re either for or against us” attacks or gimmicks like signing pledges in the middle of an election.

Law enforcement is vital to the health and safety of a community, but it’s not the only factor. And there are also many instances when law enforcement may not be the appropriate or best response to a crisis. Consider the tragic case here of Damian Lamar Daniels, who was in mental distress but was killed in a confrontation with Bexar County deputies. Would a social worker been better suited for such a call?

It’s a fair question, not one that implies a lack of support for law enforcement. Signing a pledge is easy. Guiding a nuanced discussion about law enforcement and community safety is hard work.

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