Commentary, Trump Administration

The Right’s troubling war on the Postal Service: three “must reads”

Image: Adobe Stock

With the fall election almost underway and President Trump trailing badly in the polls, there are growing concerns that Trump and his minions may attempt to interfere with the voting-by-mail option that millions of Americans plan to use to cast their ballots. What’s more, the recent appointment of a right-wing plutocrat and Trump loyalist from North Carolina named Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General is doing nothing to allay these concerns.

Here are three “must reads” from the past few days that caring and thinking people may want to explore in order to get a handle on this troubling situation:

#1 – Yesterday’s lead Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com — “Mail service critical to 2020 elections, Trump needs to end irresponsible attacks.” After explaining that DeJoy has taken steps to slow mail delivery by, among other things, cutting overtime as mail volume has increased, the editorial explains:

“As state and local election boards have been working to expand voting opportunities and shore up absentee voting by mail to accommodate our life-saving need to be socially distant, Trump’s postal service is making critical voting by mail and absentee voting less reliable. That is the REAL voter fraud here – not the phony scenarios the president has conjured up.”

#2 – An article by a veteran journalist with North Carolina connections, Alex Kotch, for the Center for Media and Democracy, entitled “Trump Megadonor in Charge of U.S. Postal Service Poses Grave Threat to U.S. Elections.” As Koch explains:

“As DeJoy slows down the Postal Service, the Republican National Committee is using $114,500 of DeJoy’s money, along with millions more from numerous GOP billionaires and multimillionaires, to sue states that have passed laws to expand mail-in voting, according to Sludge. GOP benefactors helped give the RNC’s legal proceedings account a $23 million budget to block vote-by-mail proposals in some states and fight enacted policies in others. Many of these states are swing states that could determine the result of the presidential contest.”

#3 – An article by North Carolina A&T professor and former Postal Service employee Philip Rubio for the progressive website The Baffler entitled “You’ve Got No Mail.” As Rubio puts it:

“DeJoy’s policies represent the latest and most aggressive cuts in what has been a disturbing trend since 2011. First-class mail is now being curtailed at mail processing centers and post offices, in violation of both labor agreements and Title 39. Postal workers have accused the USPS of getting Americans used to slowing service and accepting privatization. Before these “operational changes,” April 2020 poll results noted a steady 91 percent public approval rating for the USPS despite prior cuts, as more people apparently realize the USPS’s importance and object to its degradation.

…With postal workers now especially worried about mail-in ballots being delayed this November, how will they react to being ordered not to use overtime to transport those ballots—or coronavirus test kits and vaccines?”

All in all, it’s another disastrous mess perpetrated by the Trump administration and its enablers. All patriotic Americans should be speaking out against this attempted heist.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

PW Exclusive: UNC System creating all-campus COVID-19 dashboard not open to public

The UNC System is creating a system-wide dashboard to monitor COVID-19 metrics across the system’s 17 campuses, according to a memo from UNC System President Peter Hans to chancellors of UNC schools.

The memo, obtained by Policy Watch this week, describes a dashboard that would be updated daily for “internal, informational purposes only” and not available to the public. It would be password protected and chancellors would have to request access even for their leadership teams, according to the memo.

The memo, dated August 5, is accompanied by a series of charts marked “confidential draft: not for distribution” which detail which metrics may be tracked.

Josh Ellis, UNC System associate vice president for media relations, sent Policy Watch a statement late Thursday.

“The UNC System issued a draft administrative memo to our campuses providing direction on data reporting to the System Office to assess relevant conditions at our institutions,” Ellis wrote. “The information being collected is public information and nothing in the memo suggests otherwise.”

The memo uses the words “for internal, informational purposes only” in describing the dashboard and says that it will be password protected, for use by chancellors and their leadership teams if they should be given permission.

“Our campuses have, or can choose to have, public facing dashboards with information that is most relevant to monitoring and assessing conditions at each of our institutions,” Ellis wrote.

The memo makes no reference to public-facing dashboards at the university level and does not address whether the info collected daily is to be used in any university’s public-facing dashboard.

“Much of that data is also shared with county or local health departments and collected by the state,” Ellis wrote. ” The UNC System is committed to the safety of our students, faculty, and staff, and providing safe environments to learn, teach, work and live.”

This is a developing story Policy Watch will continue reporting.

Read the memo in its entirety below:

 

Education

State Board of Education wants school funding to remain intact if enrollment declines amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The State Board of Education (SBE) agreed Thursday to ask state lawmakers to hold public schools financially harmless if they lose students due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

School leaders worry that families will choose options other than public schools because they are afraid to return to them for in-person instruction; or they are unhappy with a school board’s decision to provide remote-only instruction.

A decline in enrollment is critical for a school district because education dollars follow students. Fewer students means a funding decrease at a time when districts must do more to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on public schools.

Eric Davis

SBE Chairman Eric Davis said that only the General Assembly can adjust state law to prevent school districts from losing funding due to a drop in average daily membership (ADM).

Generally, the state funds school using a calculation based on its average daily membership or student attendance. ADM is determined on the 20th and 40th day of the school year.

The board agreed to ask lawmakers to pass legislation so school districts won’ be penalized for enrollment decrease during the 2020-21 school year.

“This would include seeking authority to pursue changes to legislatively mandated reductions in initial allotments to mitigate the impact of the unpredictable effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on student enrollments for the 2020-21 school year,” Davis said.

The pandemic has required many districts to create virtual academies for families who don’t feel it’s safe to return to schools for in-person instruction.

“We’re facing unprecedented uncertainty, and as we do that, I think we have to recognize that we may have to build new systems to support those things that we’re encouraging districts to do,” said Anthony D. Jackson, superintendent of Vance County Schools.

As the state Superintendent of the Year, Jackson serves as an adviser to the SBE.

He said state education leaders must not exacerbate equity issues exposed by the pandemic.

“At some point, we’re all going to come back face-to-face,” Jackson said. “My concern is that I’m not going to have the resources at my disposal to meet the social and emotional needs of my students and my staff when that happens.”

He said school districts need funding and operational flexibility.

“I would ask for us to be very flexible and to find some level of balance between fiscal prudence and operational grace as we talk about putting these systems back together,” he said.

Any reduction in funding would hit low-wealth districts hard, said Matthew Bristow-Smith, principal of Edgecombe Early College High School and state Principal of the Year.

“The ability that we have to serve young people, particularly in areas that are marginally resourced on under-resourced are directly linked to this outdated funding mode,” said Bristow-Smith, an SBE adviser.

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC-Chapel Hill housing policies, density change as pandemic concerns intensify

It’s been a rough week for the UNC System — particularly its flagship campus, UNC Chapel Hill.

First, it was revealed that the Orange County Health Department recommended the school move online-only for the Fall semester and restrict on-campus housing to a bare minimum. The school did not disclose those recommendations to faculty, students or the community and only responded to them when they were reported by media outlets, including Policy Watch.

The school’s lack of transparency was condemned by students, faculty and local elected officials.

On Wednesday evening, UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz defended the school’s decision not to follow the health department’s recommendations at an emergency Faculty Executive Committee meeting.

Instead, he said the UNC System had told campus administration to “stay the course” and continue with their reopening plan. He also touted several lesser measures the school is taking that address the health department’s concerns.  The two largest: reducing full capacity dorms to 64 percent capacity and classroom capacity to 30 percent.

But in a press conference Thursday, UNC-Chapel Hill Provost Bob Blouin clarified that the reduced residential capacity on campus isn’t the result of a plan by the school but the result of masses of students cancelling their housing contracts.

“We thought it would be better if students made the determinations more on their own rather than being directed in one way or another,” Blouin said.

The provost said the administration has been trying to “encourage dedensification of the campus.” Among those have been the “Carolina Away” program allowing more remote learning. It was initially thought a few hundred students might use the program, Blouin said, but somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 are now planning to use it.

But the primary reason the dorms have become less dense is that students cancelled their housing contracts, either because of health concerns or because more of their classes went online.

Allan Blattner, executive director of Carolina Housing.

The extended deadline for getting out of housing contracts without financial penalty is August 7. Students can cancel for any reason.

The school further clarified in a follow up e-mail.

“As outlined in the Roadmap for Fall 2020, all residential students may cancel their housing contract for any reason and without penalty prior to 5:00 p.m. August 7, 2020,” a spokesperson wrote in the email.

“After August 7 or following move-in, whichever comes first, a student-initiated contract cancellation will be accompanied by the standard cancellation costs, and that individual student will receive a prorated credit,” they wrote. “Students who elect a course schedule of remote learning for all classes before the Fall 2020 late registration deadline of August 16, will have no cancellation costs or penalty and will receive a prorated credit.”

“However, if the University moves to fully remote instruction as an off ramp during the semester, the University and Carolina Housing will work with the UNC System to determine whether the University is able to issue housing refunds to residential students,” they wrote.

After that date, any student whose classes are all online can cancel their housing contract without penalty, Blouin said. Students wishing to do so can contact the Carolina Housing via email.

With two dorms being used as isolation and quarantine dorms for those exposed to or positive for COVID-19 there are 7,877 available beds on campus, said Allan Blattner, executive director of Carolina Housing. Right now there are about 4,990 students scheduled to live on campus, Blattner said.

It is not clear the degree to which classroom density, which the university says will be down to 30 percent, is the result of moves to actively reduce capacity or of professors shifting their classes online.

There has been a movement among professors at many UNC schools to move as many classes online as possible as administrators have not been willing to officially move all instruction online.

This week Dr. Mimi Chapman, chair of the faculty council, said she will herself be teaching online-only following the Orange County Health Department’s recommendation.

“I could not possibly do otherwise in the face of such a letter from our local health department,” Chapman wrote to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz in an email Wednesday.

Calls and e-mails to the UNC System and UNC-Chapel Hill for clarification on system and university policies and density reduction measures were not returned Thursday.

Education

State Board of Education resolution honors Halifax County Schools educator who died after battling the coronavirus

Teicher Patterson

The State Board of Education (SBE) on Thursday approved a resolution honoring the life of Halifax County Schools (HCS) Principal Teicher Patterson who died last month battling the coronavirus.

Mr. Patterson was the principal of the Enfield Middle STEAM Academy, and the 2019 HCS Principal of the Year.

The resolution was read during Thursday’s SBE meeting by state  Principal of the Year Matthew Bristow- Smith, principal of Edgecombe Early College High School.

HCS Superintendent Eric Cunningham said the school district lost a general.

“We lost a real solider who was on the frontline,” Cunningham said.

Mr. Patterson’s career in education spanned 28 years. He was a music teacher, assistant principal, principal and served as president of the N.C. Association of Educators and as a district representative of the NC Parents-Teacher Association of Halifax County.

The resolution noted that Mr. Patterson was present for his students and always went “above and beyond so every child knew they mattered.”

It also pointed out that Mr. Patterson strongly believed that all children, regardless of “circumstances and geography” are capable of achieving at the highest level.

Mr. Patterson was a graduate of N.C. Central University and a member of its band. A district press release said Mr. Patterson wanted to share music with students because he saw it as the tool that moved him from poverty to the middle class.

Here’s the SBE resolution.