Keep the Polls Open

Yesterday, the news dropped that Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has issued an executive order urging schools to close so that they may be repurposed for the days of August 18 (primary) and November 3 (general) as polling places. He also encouraged state and school employees to serve as poll workers on those days.

Social media reaction, especially from teachers, was swift and ran along the lines of “no,” “hell, no,” and <unprintable.>

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) dissents.

Even before the executive order, GOT was considering becoming a poll worker. Things don’t happen in a vacuum and to understand the background of the story, let’s revisit why the executive order was issued.

Florida’s Supervisors of Elections, who are county officials elected by the residents and have the status of being constitutional officers, asked for more flexibility in being able to meet the demands of conducting an election during a pandemic.

In particular, they asked for more early voting days and for the authority to consolidate polling places as needed to meet staffing needs. The fear is that many poll workers, being retired senior citizens, will not work on the scheduled election days for fear of being exposed to Covid-19.

The governor did not agree, but decided to ‘urge’ schools to close so that they may serve as polling locations and ‘encourage’ teachers et al. to be poll workers on those days.

You will find GOT agreeing that any mandate for teachers, even one along the lines of you-got-the-day-off-you-should-work-anyway nature, is out-of-order. Not even given that fact the poll workers are paid a stipend.

Poll workers work long days. They must report by 6 AM to their assigned location. Polls open at 7 AM and close at 7 PM. Already, we have a 13 hour shift. But even then, once the polls close, the workers have to secure the ballots and tabulating machines, tidy the location, do other duties for the purpose and until the count is reported to the central office, etc. Even without problems, they often work for 15 hours for a stipend of $225, or about $15 an hour.

Better than minimum wage, you might say, until you realize that ought to be the minimum wage.

But GOT will stay on topic. Why would he volunteer for such a day when he could sit at home and relax?

Protests and demonstrations have broken out across the nation, “from the mountains to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam …” or “from California to the New York Island,
from the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters …”

All to say that Black Lives Matter. Critics say they shouldn’t demonstrate on the streets because that carries the potential for violence, in particular theft and arson. (No, I won’t use the emotionally-laden terms usually applied in these situations.)

What about kneeling for patriotic displays of song, flag, and military? Nope, ask Colin Kapaernik how well that worked out.

The fall-back advice is that the way to effect change is at the ballot box: Vote!

That brings us to Georgia, whose voter suppression moves came in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that vacated key parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. What good is a vote if you can’t cast it?

Then, this year we saw what happened in Wisconsin and then Georgia (again!) as voting officials claimed that they needed to consolidate voting places in response to Covid-19. People waited for hours to cast their vote; some got discouraged and went home.

Milwaukee opened only five polling places. Five places for a city with an estimated population of 590,000. Then, Georgia also experienced long lines.

Let’s put all this together. Covid-19 gives election officials the excuse to consolidate polling places, which impacts negatively the right of all persons, especially black persons, to exercise their 15th Amendment right to the ballot box.

Florida’s Supervisors of Election asked for the same. GOT is not impugning their intentions in any way; nevertheless, consolidating polling places will suppress voting if for no other reason than voter confusion when their usual polling place is closed and they don’t know how to find the new one.

Black people are risking their lives marching in the streets to demand what they are due: equality under the law and in our society.

Should GOT stay at home because of a fear that the virus represents a risk to health and life?

Or should GOT do his part and become a poll worker to keep all precinct polls open and operating? Yes, it involves a risk, but really, it is nothing in comparison to what other people are doing.

GOT will risk his life and health to see that people have access to a ballot. He has applied to be a poll worker in his county and will take personal leave if necessary to do the work.

It is the least he can do.

In closing, GOT would like to ask other teachers, “Won’t you do the same?”

Quick Notes from the DeSantis Presser

It came after 20 minutes of announcements and speeches about Melbourne hosting the AAU Junior Olympics this summer. The governor spoke so quickly it was hard to keep up. Here are the highlights as best as possible:

  • Schools to return to on-campus instruction for the fall.
  • CARES funds will be used to address learning losses during the spring and gaps between achievement groups.
  • “Florida fell less behind than other states because its distance learning was one of the most effective in the U.S.”
  • $64 million will be used to close achievement gaps through ‘fortified’ K-5 learning programs for the summer.
  • New goal: 90% of students to be proficient in reading by 2024.
  • $20 million for K – 3 reading curriculum as vetted by Just Read Florida.
  • $15 million for highly effective reading coaches and support by regional teams.
  • $29 million for transition to kindergarten programs.
  • $45 million for safety net programs, including $30 million for tax scholarships to protect traditional K – 12 schools from a huge increase in enrollment if private schools close. (Emphasis mine.)
  • $69 million for childcare providers.
  • $223 million for early learning programs, including safety precautions for Covid-19.
  • Free ACT/SAT for 2020.
  • $35 million for technological certification programs at state colleges.
  • $10.9 Million for K – 12 plan for technological prep for post-graduate programs.
  • $2.3 million for telehealth services.
  • Survey districts for PPE needs.

Then it was Corcoran’s turn:

  • Safe plan to open; schools fully open in the fall.
  • Must have teachers in front of children, but keep everyone safe.
  • Emphasis on in-person learning versus distance learning.
  • Focus on 3rd grade, where we need to ‘grapple’ (that was the word he used–several times) with getting them to a 90% literacy rate.
  • Something about credentialing personnel in 20 weeks where they would have high skills and high wages.
  • Then he waved a huge foam finger. (OK, I made that up, but he emphasized about being number one.)

A link to the recording via the Florida Channel is not yet available. Update: link now available.

Also, please offer corrections if a detail is wrong. It’s hard to keep up when they talk so fast.

Flashback: How About It?

Finally, a post from the end of 2019 about Jacksonville and its broken promises:

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Looking at you, Mayor.

My city is broken. No statistic is more telling than that, despite the extra spending for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Cure Violence nonprofit initiative, and the handwringing, my city continues to experience more murders per capita than any other place in Florida.

Yet our politicians and leaders remain focused on privatization as the solution that will bring relief.

The now-aborted process of selling off our city-owned utility, the blocking of a school sales tax to rebuild and reinvigorate our city’s public schools, the vision of a city that is 50% or more charter in schoolchildren enrollment, the proposal made by a Downtown Investment Authority board member to privatize parking meters (by himself, of course, but at least he had the decency to resign from the DIA before immediately making the proposal … but wait, for the sheer chutzpah of the action, he was immediately nominated to a board position on the city utility), the condemnation of city (public) owned buildings and the fencing off of the resulting grass lots … how is this helping?

My city is broken.

2019 has not been a good year for Jacksonville. The “Bold New City of the South” has been spiraling backwards to the days of pre-consolidation, when every city leader had his own barony, a fiefdom of corruption, the stench in the city was not merely pollution from the paper mills.

The new American feudalism.

Fortunately for Jacksonville, the attempt to sell the utility brought about a public fury that even the chief baron himself, the overlord Lenny Curry, had to back off.

That doesn’t mean he has changed, either his philosophy or his intentions. He will have to try a different way.

Wait a minute, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT). You started this post talking about the murder rate.

Yes, I did. All the privatization mentioned above, even if it does take place, how will this change the circumstances in Jacksonville’s neighborhoods? How will despair change to hope? How will this cause young men to throw down their guns and see a future in which they can make a living wage, establish loving relationships, and be fathers to their children?

GOT is not blaming the young men. They are making the best choices they can under the circumstances in which they find themselves. GOT does not condone the choices, but! to change the choices means we must change the circumstances.

How about a city that provides resources where they are needed?

A rich, gentrified downtown will not save Jacksonville from the violence. Better opportunities in its neighborhoods will.

A public-owned utility can help rebuild neighborhoods by upgrading water and sewer systems without the need to satisfy a ROI (Return on Investment) that a privately-owned company must meet. It can replace failing septic systems. It can improve the quality of water throughout the city.

How about it?

Good neighborhoods need a school. Public schools are more than centers of learning; they are community institutions. They provide identity, they provide meeting space, and they provide programs that communities need outside their operating hours.

In Jacksonville, public schools and city parks go hand-in-hand. To lose the former is to lose the latter, access to green spaces, access to places where community sports teams can practice and compete, access to recreation.

If we turn our public school facilities over to charter schools, will they provide that access? Anyone playing basketball on KIPP’s courts over the weekend, please speak up.

This points out how the city only works well when resources from disparate sources are combined to meet the needs of the citizens, those whom do ‘most of the living and dying’ in the town. (Obscure reference to a line from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.)

How about it? How about, instead of shutting schools down, we brought the resources to bear that would make them a success?

How about establishing enterprise zones in the places they are needed instead of the sports complex so that people needing jobs could find them in the places where they live instead of providing subsidies to a certain billionaire who wants to develop property next to a stadium? How about it?

How about we stop judging our schools by test results, nay a test result, singular please, a once-a-year stress-off-the-charts failed exercise that fails to capture student learning and achievement due to bad standards, bad practice, and political pressure to perform? A test that most closely correlates to the income levels of the families of the children.

How about it? How about we use our city resources to bring all agencies to address the trauma of children that leaves them biologically less able to learn?

How about a mayor more concerned with helping the least of his people rather than leaving a legacy?

Years ago, GOT lived in Chicago. The public housing projects were a mess. Crime-ridden, forlorn, no one wanted to address the issues.

Then a mayor made a splashy move. She moved into the worst of the projects as she reasoned that if the mayor lived there, the city would focus its efforts on making the project an outstanding place to live.

How about it? What would happen if Lenny Curry moved his family into the northwest corridor? Grand Park or across the river in Arlington.

Would his priorities change? Would the city’s?

How about it?

Flashback: Again, Harry?

From February 2019:

[Video clip of the Mirror of Erised from the first Harry Potter Movie.]

I must ask you not to do this again.

Stop looking into that mirror for a world of your deepest, most desperate desires.

Because when you do so, it’s all about you. What you want, what the supporting cast around you should be like, … how you will create a lesson for black history month that checks all the boxes on your administrator’s checklist.

Yet again, we have a lesson on black history that has gone terribly awry. Michael Harriot of The Root provides the best explanation with his usual sardonic humor why it is a bad idea to have school children reenact any part of America’s history that involves slavery.

This time, a school in Northern Virginia had its P.E. teachers set up an obstacle course for children to run that depicted the underground railroad.

The lame (my interpretation) explanation from the school district was that no children were designated as slaves or slave-owners as groups were made to run across the course.

As if that prevented children of color, those who experience the racism of America every day, from feeling powerful emotions about what it means to be black, not in the quaint days of yore, the antebellum South, does anyone know what the word means today? … Back to the point, black children still carry an enormous burden of America’s racist history.


It doesn’t matter how you try to frame it. To do something like this is to force them to undergo a distress of history and experience.

Because this history is not the past for our students of color. It is the reality of the lives they live now.

So, white teachers, I have a suggestion. The next time you think you dreamed up a great idea for February, the month designated for Black History, before you go about it, run it by your black colleagues first.

And when they say, “No, HELL no, stop that stupid racist <ahem>,” listen.

And don’t do it. Just don’t.

Flashback: MLK Holiday

From January 2019:

Put in I in those letters and you discover what too many people have done: homogenized and pasteurized the remembrance of a man who pushed America to do right for all its people.

This is the quote often used, but used too often by people who are doing exactly that: judging character by the color of skin.

That they may be unaware of it is not an excuse.

Anyone who believes Dr. King would approve of the retreat into racism, segregation (if you don’t believe that, you haven’t been paying attention to charter schools and ‘choice’), and violence against black persons by institutional forces is foolish.

Anyone who believes that Dr. King would excuse unjustified killings by police of innocent, no even guilty, black people because of the violence tearing apart urban neighborhoods is intellectually lazy and foolish.

Anyone who believes that Dr. King would smile upon talk radio trashing workers and unions has forgotten why he was where he was when his life was taken. They are foolish.

His greatest wonderment was why poor whites persisted in prejudice and hate. Why can’t they realize that the movement for social and economic justice would benefit them, too? They should be the greatest allies.

To this day, they are not.

If he was alive today, he would have harsh words for us but spoken in love.

https://www.yourtango.com/2018309763/best-martin-luther-king-jr-quotes-mlk-civil-rights-activist

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Don’t be silent. Raise your voice.

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That fierce urgency has not diminished. This is our time and we need to be getting on with it: justice and fairness and an eradication of systemic racism from our lives.

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Flashback: Ten Days: the Maximum!

From January 2019:

Oh, Georgia! Voter suppression by the candidate who had the responsibility of oversight over his own race. And you ignored the conflicts of interest as Brian Kemp purged the voter rolls of black voters and closed numerous polling places in majority-black counties–all to keep them folks from turning out and voting for his opponent.

I suppose I should be thanking you, Georgia, because you make Florida look good, but I am not.

An “old sweet song” of racism and white supremacy keeps Georgia on my mind.

This is what the school-to-prison pipeline looks like. A 12-year-old boy is given cash by his parents to pay for his school lunch. (Let’s not imagine what might have happened if his parents had not given him money for lunch. There are too many lunch-shaming stories floating around as it is.)

The cashier runs the counterfeit pen across the bill and the streak turns blackish or brown. Counterfeit! (The iodine solution in the pen reacts to wood-pulp-based paper, but does not react to the fiber-based cotton and linen the U.S. Treasury uses to make currency.)

What happens next? The straight A, honor roll student is punished with a 10-day suspension. Although the investigation reveals he had no idea and his parents did not know either, that did not matter.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, boy! Neither is your tender age and innocence that kept you from questioning the cash your parents gave you for your lunch. Possession is nine-tenths of the law (as the saying goes), you possessed, you will be punished.

Sadly, tragically, this young man is innocent no longer. He now understands what it means to bear a black skin in America.

Oh, Georgia! Oh, America! How can you be okay with this?

Flashback: Unleashed or Off the Chain?

From January 2019:

DeSantis advisory-committee member Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, said Thursday law enforcement should have authority over arrests on school grounds.

“We need to be unleashed into the schools, show consequences to the kids, so that when they grow and turn 18, we’re not actually creating a pipeline to the prison system,” Bell said. “We need to show there is accountability for your poor decisions and your poor actions. Curb behavior at the beginning, instead of when it’s too late and we let someone like Nicholas Cruz to flourish within our school board system.” (Source: News4Jax, TV station in Jacksonville.)

“Bureaucrats don’t understand policing or police work,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was killed in [Parkland] shooting. “We need to take bureaucrats out of the mix of policing in the schools.” (Source: Tampa Bay Times, January 3, 2019.)

“We have substituted the judgment of school administrators and educators for law enforcement,” Petty said. “We need to stop looking at law enforcement as the enemy. They are part of the solution, and we need to approach it that way.” (Ibid.)

Are we ready to unleash these people to take discipline measures out of the hands of school administrators? GOT can see a dystopian alternate universe where police officers burst into a classroom, slap handcuffs on a student, and drag them out of the room. The ‘crime’? Too many tardies.

It is interesting, this call to be unleashed as educators are also hearing a message from some law enforcement personnel that they must carry guns because they cannot expect law enforcement to show up in an active shooter situation.

As an educator, GOT admits he is not an expert in the law or law enforcement. Persons in law enforcement often come with a college degree in criminal justice or political science. They have gone to training academies. They spend weeks in professional development every year to understand how best to police a community, identify threats, and enforce the law as they maintain peace and order in our neighborhoods.

But law enforcement also lacks expertise in education, school environments, and child development, especially the development of adolescents. The very idea of police walking the hallways of a school to show consequences to children with the idea that they will become adults too afraid to break the law is naive at best.

Peace and order in communities is not maintained by fear. Only tyrants think otherwise.

Peace and order is maintained when all persons in the community recognize their membership, their role and place in the community, and the interconnectedness and reliance of all members upon the others. A breach in the relationship injures the community. Peace and order comes when offenders go through a process of restoration to their place in the community, not removal from it.

Then there is this: The Trump administration wanting to void civil rights protections dating back to the 1960s. The Secretary of Education moving to erase previous guidance to the nation’s schools about replacing zero-tolerance policies with restorative practices.

Look at the quote above: We don’t want kids to turn 18 and be creating a pipeline to prison.

The speaker got it right, but in a way he did not intend. No, you don’t want schools to be a pipeline to prisons; you want schools to become prisons!

They want to be unleashed, but isn’t it more true that they’d like to be off the chain?

Flashback: Water Is Wet

From December 2018:

A white person telling a black person about racism is like telling a fish that water is wet.

Fish know that water is wet. They live in water, they swim in water whether it is placid, turbulent, warm, cold, full of currents that shove them into places they don’t want to go or push them deeper into oxygen-depleted zones, … waters full of plastic they ingest to the detriment of their health … red tide threats that kill them … dangerous bacteria … mercury that stores up in their bodies …

Fish live in water. They have to. They know its qualities and what it means to live their lives in water. They know the impact on their lives and health.

They also know that they must live their lives in the water. To leave the water means death.

Now comes someone who walks on dry land and wants to explain to the fish that water is wet.

That is what it is like when white people try to tell black people what is and is not racism.

Black people know. They spend their lives swimming in it and do not need anyone to explain it. They are the experts.

Flashback: Cosplay

From November 2018:

Don’t do it. Just don’t.

Another day, another poor decision that breaks into the day’s news. In this case, a Missouri teacher had students dress up as historical characters that existed when constitutional amendments were passed to show the passions and opinions that were for and against them.

Sadly, when it came to the 15th amendment, one of the historical characters, an unnamed student, came in a replica of a KKK costume.

There was no racist intent, we are told. The student was only displaying something from history, we are told. It was part of a group project, we are told. No harm meant.

This is what privilege looks like. We have no ill intent; we only mean to look at history, examine what took place, and try to get a lesson from it. We think this is supportive of people of color. We want children to imagine how it was back then and that reenacting is the way to help students develop empathy.

We don’t stop to consider that racism is still active today and that people of color still experience it. We don’t consider that seeing someone come into a classroom in the white robes of evil will trigger passion, fear, and suffering in others.

We’re tuned into what a good thing that we think we’re doing that we overlook its effects on others, in particular, our students of color. This isn’t history for them; it is life.

I’m not a hero. Whenever I read a story like this, it sends me into reflecting on my classroom and how my interactions with students were helpful or, despite my best intentions, were harmful. As a math teacher, I have little opportunity to do something like the news story, but! what about those teachable moments that arise, that have nothing to do with mathematics, but I should not let pass? It’s easy to direct attention back to the content, but are there not times to throw the lesson out the window when something important is raised by students?

Something like this is easy to flag, address, and punish. What is harder to admit is that we don’t talk about issues of racism in our schools. We ignore it; we pretend that everyone is equal and all is fair. Whenever an uncomfortable issue arises, it is better to pretend than to begin to have painful conversations that have to start with the staff.

If we as teachers, leaders, and staff cannot talk among ourselves about difficult issues of race, how can we expect that our students will?

If we want to pretend that everything is fair, then the disparities of punishment and suspension that hit our students of color disproportionately and the hardest will go unrecognized.

Please do not quote Martin Luther King, Jr. at me. All the people who use his words to justify the ongoing inequitable systemic racism … you don’t want to hear what he would say to you if he was alive today. You lift some words out of context to comfort yourself rather than get what he really was saying.

As for the cosplay in the classroom, don’t do it. Just don’t.

Flashback: Devil in the Grove

From July 2018:

(Gilbert King, HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. ISBN 978-0-06-179228-1)

An unvarnished look at actual Florida history, Devil in the Grove will not be an easy read as it tells the story of four black men accused of raping a white woman (only two of whom had even interacted with the young woman and her husband on that fateful night in July 1949) in Lake County, Florida, a county located to the immediate northwest of Orange County and in the center part of the state, a part resistant to the end to the orders of the U.S. Supreme Court to end segregation.

Spoiler alert: There are no spoiler alerts. This is a story that the author cannot control. He can’t direct the plot away from the sympathetic characters because they don’t deserve their fate. The events really happened and the book will grip you as it takes you through what happened in Lake County against the larger backdrop of the action of the NAACP and its Legal Defense Fund headed by Thurgood Marshall.

It is a story of abusive law enforcement and the way it terrorized people of color in the county, a story of power among the citrus growers and their need for cheap labor, a story of how segregation recreated a system of forced labor after the 13th amendment outlawed slavery, and a story of what happens to those who protest.

Lest you scratch your head in wonder, that you thought the real evil was in the Deep South (and there was real evil there) states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, that Florida being ‘south of the South,’ was nothing like them, you might be right in a twisted way: “From 1882 to 1930, Florida recorded more lynchings of black people (266) than any other state, and from 1900 to 1930, a per capita lynching rate twice that of Mississippi, Georgia, or Louisiana.” (pages 169 & 170.)

There was no rape. In describing the events against the larger national backdrop of the NAACP’s legal strategies, the reader gathers a good sense of the times, the struggles, the chaos, the fears, the terror, and the hope that were part of daily life in the South (“Lawyer Marshall is coming”), and the author then personifies those feelings and experiences in the story about Lake County, where the sheriff exercised tyrannical power to the point that people lied for him out of fear for their own lives and that in turn empowered him to be a law unto himself.

Read the book if you don’t understand #blacklivesmatter and why it is the height of stupidity to protest, “But #alllivesmatter.”

Read the book if you think those times are far in the past and we’re better now and we would never acquiesce in the worst violations of human rights.

Read the book and think about those red MAGA hats and what people really want. Fascism and National Socialism (yes, the Hitler and the German Nazis were socialists) will not take root here, but we have our own dark past yearning to break free because we haven’t ever really dealt with it.

No spoiler alert is needed because you know how the story turned out. While the NAACP was successful in overturning the original convictions, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new trial. The sheriff collected the two defendants at Raiford (Florida State Prison where death sentences are carried out) and, on the way back to Lake County, was successful in murdering one. The other defendant played dead and survived two bullets from the sheriff and a third shot through his neck by a deputy.

The survivor was reconvicted but received a life sentence that was later commuted. One year after the commutation, he received permission to go back to Lake County to attend the funeral of his uncle. He was found dead within a few hours of his return to Lake County.

If you want to know why I am talking about this book in my new education blog, it is this: this book should be required reading in every U.S. History high school classroom in Florida.

Postscript:

As for me, Devil in the Grove is a cautionary tale about politicians and the power they wield in this state. The politicians who a generation ago would be protecting and enabling the Lake County sheriff, recognizing no bounds on their power and their desire to enrich themselves by it and the exploitation of the vulnerable and poor, these are the ones who have targeted public education for destruction in this state.

They hold the power and will tolerate no dissent. As I am a dissenter, this book is a cautionary tale about the risks of fighting back against the privatization schemes such as those manifested in the so-called Schools of Hope.