Author Archives: btlawren

SFUSD President Gabriela Lopez and Contra Costa Supervisor Karen Mitchoff

San Francisco schools have it all going on right now- trying to get kids back in the classroom, being sued by the City Attorney, an antagonistic relationship with Mayor London Breed, renaming schools- the list goes on. Gabriela Lopez became President of the Board last month and she is not backing down at all.

Here in the East Bay, Contra Costa is working to get people vaccinated and reopen businesses. Supervisor Karen Mitchoff shared some unfiltered opinions on Governor Newsom, Mayor Breed and Contra Costa’s own District Attorney Diane Becton.

You can check out the podcast here.

Trust … and the lack thereof

Teachers and staff don’t trust the school district to keep them safe.

Parents don’t trust that unions want to get kids back in school.

Districts don’t trust the county and the state to provide clear and consistent guidance.

It feels like an intractable problem.

Instead of trying to solve everything at once, we are better off collaborating on taking smaller steps that get us going in the right direction. We can’t get every kid back in school tomorrow, but let’s start getting some kids back on campus very quickly.

Start with the small groups that have already been approved- let’s prioritize getting them on campus. Next, let the teachers who want to return to in-person instruction do so. Let the students of those teachers come back, even if it is just for a few hours a couple of times a week to start. This is essentially what Dr. Clark has proposed for MDUSD.

Let’s give teachers and staff the opportunity to trust that all the safety measures are being taken to protect everyone. Let’s build trust for families who are concerned that students won’t even come back in the fall. Trust that we will look out for each other- parents won’t sent kids to school who might be ill. Give parents an opportunity to help with the return and be involved in supporting it.

It isn’t perfect for anyone. But it is a start. It get kids back in the classroom. It allows the District to build on it over the summer and help catch up students who have fallen behind. It is a foundation for having the next school year provide full-time campus instruction.

Image result for trust me meme

“We are coming back!”

That is what MDUSD Superintendent Dr. Adam Clark told me when I asked him if, barring catastrophic events, students would at least be back in the fall. He is also completely committed to getting more of our students back on campus before this school year ends….but that is a bit more complicated. We talked about some of those challenges and how we can navigate them.

As an example of the challenges, right now the return of teachers to in-person instruction has to be negotiated as part of a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) that covers the rest of this school year. At the end of this school year, the need for a MOU will expire and the District and the teachers will revert back to the existing agreement. Essentially, teachers will be expected to fulfill their normal duties unless a new successor contract is in place.

One of the people on the other side of the negotiating table is Dan Reynolds- he works for California Teachers Association and is part of the MDEA bargaining team. Dan is a passionate advocate for teachers and for public education. He has kids in MDUSD and I know he wants them back in the classroom as well… but wants to make sure it is done safely.

If you’d like to listen to these conversations as a podcast (missing out on my super boring background and Dan’s amazing headset that might get TV channels over the air), you can get it here.

If teachers and staff are vaccinated, why wouldn’t kids be at school?

There are many complex issues in the reopening of schools during Covid, but sometimes we make things too complicated. If we get our teachers and staff vaccinated, what would prevent them from returning to classrooms?

Of course there would still be safety protocols and cleaning procedures to follow. We’d still need physical distancing and there would not immediately be the same number of students in a classroom. Employee agreements have to be signed. But why wouldn’t we be able to start physically returning kids to the classroom where they need to be?

There is lots of talk about looking at this District or that state to find a model of how they have planned for kids to come back. I know for MDUSD, and I’d imagine for almost every other school district, that the Superintendent, the staff and the Board have exhaustively planned for the return of students. It isn’t a lack of a plan that is preventing the return- there might be minor differences in the details, but the blueprint is there for a return to the classroom. It is a matter of implementing the plans that have been developed based on the health guidelines available.

Governor Newsom’s recent statement about not waiting for perfect conditions to get kids back in the classroom is correct. But instead of his plan to shift around money to create an illusion of new funding for reopening, he’d be better served continuing to focus on more efficient distribution of the vaccine in California. As of a couple of days ago, only 5.5% of Californians have received a shot and fewer than half the doses we’ve received have been administered. That is slowing down the reopening of schools and the rest of our society.

Let’s get teachers and staff vaccinated and start getting kids back in the classroom.

Like the Wolf said in Pulp Fiction

Let’s not get too busy congratulating ourselves (paraphrasing). Yesterday was a triumphant and joyous day for many of us….but there is still a lot of shit that needs to be fixed in this country and Joe Biden isn’t doing it alone.

Our beautiful country has its flaws….and it is important that we examine them or else they never get fixed. The Trump years brought many awful things to the surface, but many of them existed long before him. There are too many voices that have gone unheard and that is part of why our country is so fragmented.

Today’s conversation is with Willie Mims- Education Chair of the NAACP in East Contra Costa. Titles really don’t do Willie justice- he is an activist who makes a lot of public officials very nervous. Willie shows up and speaks up at meetings all over the place- he is a force to be reckoned with. I was on the receiving end of a few very pointed comments from him during my term on the MDUSD Board. But I always knew he was worth listening to because I always learn from him.

It was fascinating to hear Willie weigh in on things like statehood for DC and was Lincoln a good President.

If you prefer, check it out as a podcast.

The return of decency

We don’t know if Joe Biden will go down in history as a great President. He does not have the charisma of Barack Obama or John Kennedy. But let’s start with the return of empathy and decency. It has been so incredibly lacking these last four years as we have seen the politics of rage and personal grievance.

I’ve never heard or seen a story about Donald Trump that involved an act of simple kindness. It has always been about what can benefit him.

He will not be missed

Now we see a humble man who connects with people.

Security guard who met Joe Biden in elevator gives first nominating speech  at convention - CNNPolitics

A man who has known tremendous tragedy in his life and seeks to comfort others.

Video of Joe Biden hugging son of Parkland victim goes viral

A man who reveres his country and is grateful for what it has given him.

In tearful farewell, Obama awards Biden the Medal of Freedom – The Denver  Post

A man who is confident enough to seek out strong partners.

Kamala Harris was one of Joe Biden's biggest opponents on the debate stage.  Now she's his vice-presidential pick - ABC News

A man who seeks out new and diverse voices to be spotlighted.

Joe Biden will make verbal gaffes and policy mistakes. Sometimes he will go too far or other times not far enough. But today, as a start, we have a good and decent person back in the White House and that goes a long way.

The speech Trump never gave

“My fellow Americans,

We are under attack. We are facing an enemy that we cannot see but it is an enemy nonetheless. Covid 19 poses a threat to our great nation- to our way of life, to our economy, to the health of our citizens. But just like our country came together after 9/11, like our country came together after Pearl Harbor, we are going to come together and defeat this enemy.

This is not a fight that any American or any American state will have to wage alone- we are in this together, as the United States of America. We are going to use every resource of our great and powerful country to battle against Covid 19.

Every American will play a role in helping us win. We are going to follow the advice of our medical experts to help us defeat Covid as quickly as possible. That means wearing a mask. Stay physically distant whenever possible. Wash your hands. Simple things that every American can do. It is our patriotic duty to protect each other and to protect our country.

There are going to be some difficult actions that we must take. In order to stop the virus from spreading, there will be a need to shut down parts of our economy and areas of our country where there are hotspots. We will do this quickly and we do this decisively so that we can make these shutdowns as short as possible.

For the businesses and for the employees that are shut down, you will have the full support of the American government. We will pass an economic package to protect the businesses, the workers and the families that are impacted. You will also be supported medically- the testing and treatment of Covid will be fully paid for by the federal government.

The federal government will be coordinating with every state in the Union to make sure they have every resource they need. This is not a threat to Republican states or Democratic states- it is a threat to the United States.

We are investing massive resources into giving us the tools to win. That means PPE, masks and testing- we will do whatever it takes to protect our country. I am using my powers under the Defense Production Act to make sure we have the speedy delivery of testing and then a vaccine.

The road ahead will be challenging but we will get through this together as Americans. Thank you and God Bless America. “

Regardless of party, I can imagine every recent President (Ford, Carter, Reagan, either Bush, Clinton, Obama) giving a similar speech. Americans were ready for that speech and most would have rallied behind it. Lives would have been saved. Fewer businesses would have been lost. More Americans would be employed. Our kids would be back in school. And Trump very well might have won reelection.

But Trump never gave anything like this speech. He was too busy pretending that the virus was nothing to worry about and that he had everything under control. Trump leaves a legacy of failure and it is why he will go down in history as our worst American President.

How do you get kids back in the classroom?

Answer: It starts with teachers and staff. You can’t have kids in the classroom without them. They, rightfully, appear to be one of the highest priorities to receive the vaccine. It also seems logical that teachers and staff who are not willing to return to the classroom right now should not receive priority for the vaccine. 

Currently California is not vaccinating people quickly enough. There is a very large gap in the number of doses on hand and how many people have actually received it. It has to be the top priority of Governor Newsom and every elected state official to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible. It is important to prioritize who receives the vaccine first, but it is incredibly irresponsible to be overly prescriptive to the point that precious vials of the vaccine are sitting unused. Contact your Assembly member, your State Senator and the Governor to encourage the speedy distribution of the vaccine. That will be the biggest accelerator of reopening schools and businesses. 

In order to get teachers and staff back in the classroom, you have to have agreements with the unions that represent them. For some people, “union” has become a dirty word and an easy villain. Certainly there were times as an elected official where it was cumbersome to reach an agreement with unions, but I happen to think that we often overlook the huge positive impact that unions have had in our society (safe working conditions, employee protections, fair wages, etc.) Regardless of how you might personally feel about unions, the reality is that they will determine when their members return to the classroom. 

There has been an ongoing teacher shortage in California and the situation has only gotten worse in recent months. California’s chronic underfunding of public education, concerns about health,  the stress of the job, the disparagement from members of the community- these have all contributed to the problem. It is easy for keyboard warriors to safely sit behind a keyboard and type that all these lazy teachers deserve to be fired, but do they actually have a rational solution or alternative? 

Even in Districts that went back in the fall, there are staffing issues. Poway Unified just announced they were pushing back the date of their broader reopening because they have 70 positive test cases in the first week of January. They cannot find enough substitutes and replacements to fill the gap. 

More and more data show that reopening schools, with stringent safety requirements, can be done without significant outbreaks. That does not mean it is risk-free. That does not mean it is easy. It will have to be a collective effort in order to make it work. 

A portion of the people who are calling the loudest for schools to be reopened immediately are also the ones who seem to take Covid the least seriously. Ranting that this is all a hoax, you haven’t changed your lifestyle a bit and you never wear a mask doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that you are the type of parent who will be looking out for the safety of the teachers, staff and students. Don’t believe these people exist? Feel free to read through the comment sections of certain local blogs. 

I think a lot of us are balancing our desire for getting kids back in the classroom with the knowledge that we are still in a pandemic that has reached its deadliest stage. There are a lot of different perspectives and it is worth listening to reasonable discussions. Respectfully communicating your opinions to decision makers on a local and state level can go a long way- use your voice. 

Stay safe. Be kind. Wear a mask. 

A tiny bit too late

Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao (Mitch McConnell’s wife) have now resigned from the Trump Cabinet. Twitter (briefly) and Facebook (for a couple weeks) have kicked Trump off their platforms. A few Republican Senators are suddenly shocked, shocked I tell you, about the bad behavior. It is predictable, it is shallow, it is meaningless.

The calls for the 25th Amendment to be invoked are also theater. Has a single Cabinet member indicated they will support it? Nope, they are just going to resign instead and try to pretend it was a matter of conscience. Does anyone think that Mike Pence, after selling his soul for the last four years for his own political advancement, is going to push Trump aside and have the most inconsequential Presidency in history? There is zero upside in that move for Pence so you know he won’t do it.

We are told that if Trump hasn’t resigned or been removed, impeachment proceedings will begin on Monday- a week before the Inauguration. If impeachment can be pushed through in time, it is still worth doing. And if a Supreme Court nominee can be rammed through with lightning speed, then we could certainly speedily remove the most dangerous man to ever occupy the Oval Office. Let’s force every Congressional Republican to cast a vote and show where they stand. Trump deserves to be the first President to be impeached twice and actually removed from office.

Calls for national Republicans to act in good conscience and good faith are naive and disingenuous. If Trump is going to go before January 20, it will not be by his hand or that of the Republican Party. If Democratic leaders actually want him gone, they know what needs to be done. Do it.