The Friday Edition: Vaxxed and relaxed at the front of the class
Billy Robb is back ... Plus your weekly rundown on what you missed at the Capitol.
This week, we invited local teacher and fellow substacker Billy Robb back to write today’s top item about teaching during the pandemic. He wrote about a similar topic for us a few months ago. Now, after getting hit with the virus himself, he’s trying to forget about the trolls and focus on the kids. Down below, after Billy’s insight, we have your regularly scheduled bill roundup and look ahead to next week, along with something happening in virtual reality.
Schools are getting hit hard by this winter surge. I can attest to this personally now. After teaching without a hiccup for the entire first semester, I caught COVID-19 over winter break. For nearly two weeks at the start of the second semester, I was at home in isolation.
So began a chain reaction: My classes fell behind on content, because even if a school can find a substitute, learning is disrupted in the absence of the lead teacher. Additionally, each prolonged student absence creates a learning gap that needs to be addressed. This mad scramble is playing out in a public school system where teachers are already strained under the weight of counter-productive education policies.
Meanwhile, debates over COVID-19 mitigation efforts continue to rage.
Mask-mandates or mask-optional? Quarantine for exposures? And for how long? What about temperature checks?
It may feel as if we’ve made no progress agreeing on how to safely run schools during a pandemic, but we’ve actually leaped a major hurdle. We’re no longer debating open vs. closed. The overwhelming public health consensus is that, all things considered, it’s better for students to be in school in person.
The Biden administration said that 96% of the nation's schools are open this January, compared to 46% last January. CDC director Rochelle Walensky reiterated a few weeks ago that schools should be the “first places to open and the last places to close.”
In Arizona, at the beginning of the pandemic, schools were closed down for months. Many schools remained in hybrid mode for an entire year. It’s only recently that we’ve reached a bipartisan consensus that schools should remain open the best they can.
As a teacher, when to open or close a school is not my call. I’m just trying to make good decisions and disseminate credible information.
I would like to strongly denounce all COVID-19 conspiracy theories, but our track record at identifying misinformation is less than perfect. The lab-leak theory, once a dangerous conspiracy theory that needed to be suppressed, is now a plausible scientific theory.
I would also like to follow the science. But science is about making corrections, and the corrections haven’t always been forthcoming. Recently, a much-touted Arizona study that claimed to show evidence for the effectiveness of masking in schools turned out to be dubious. Many local voices touted this study in argument; few have since acknowledged its flaws. Local media covered the original study, but gave no airtime to the subsequent scientific criticism.
We’re now entering our third year of dealing with COVID-19, and the latest omicron surge has deflated any hopes about a post-pandemic world. While certain optimists are still talking about “bending the curve” and “crushing the virus,” the realists are ready to live “vaxxed and relaxed.”
In schools, we don’t argue much about the risks and restrictions for sports, field trips and other illnesses — but we’re still grappling with the best approach to this new (and changing) virus.
Schools are doing their best to remain effective — just like other industries are fighting to remain operational despite the challenges.
While it’s comforting to believe that if everyone would just do the right thing, the virus would disappear, we shouldn’t fall into the trap of COVID-19 theater. Enacting rituals in the absence of evidence undermines public tolerance of the whole project.
Moreover, science alone won’t resolve our dilemmas. As we learned with our experience with school closures, mitigation decisions entail trade-offs. People can disagree about whether a new layer of restriction is worth it, even if they accept the same scientific facts.
Faced with judgment calls, the political parties now represent differences of opinion about how to cope with the virus. I’ll leave it to the pundits to figure out which party’s strategy is better for winning elections.
Personally, I’m going to Twitter to dunk on the haters who criticize this article.
Just kidding. Twitter is a big reason why these disagreements feel impossible. Twitter distorts the nature of the conversation. It amplifies aggressive tones. It allows extreme views to seem stronger than they are in reality. Most reasonable people don’t want to get near that mess of a conversation online.
One big step forward, I think, will be for us to accept that different people have different opinions. Forget about the extremes. Forget about the trolls. Rational and moral people have different takes about COVID-19 mitigation efforts. And that’s fine.
New variants or treatments may emerge, changing (again) the nature of the pandemic. We will have to adapt, communicate, and make decisions.
Of course, there are selfish people trying to poison the conversation. There are people who deny well-established scientific conclusions, such as the overall effectiveness of the vaccines at saving lives. There are people who believe the virus is a setup by evil globalists and big pharma to install worldwide authoritarianism.
But not everyone who wants fewer public health restrictions is an extremist or a conspiracy theorist. Likewise, not everyone who wants to take extra precautions is an apologist for medical tyranny.
American society wasn’t ready for a pandemic, but I hope we can improve our institutions — and our disagreements — in response to the chaos of the last few years.
Thanks so much to Billy Robb for writing the stuff above this. Everything below this is again written by us at the Arizona Agenda, so don’t hold anything in the next three sections against Billy.
Lawmakers rushed to introduce more than 200 new bills this week ahead of Monday’s deadline for filing bills in the House. The Senate bill introduction deadline has already passed.
After Monday, we can stop watching the bill introductions and start watching out for strike-everything amendments, lawmakers’ clever way of wriggling out of a deadline and ensuring the typical “legislative process” that we all learned in school means nothing.
Committees are going full-bore ahead of the February 18 deadline to hear bills. A few of the bills that cleared committees, their first hurdle, this week and that will likely come up for a vote before the full House or Senate soon include:
HB2159, which prohibits police departments from making cops take polygraph tests
HB2024, which allows Arizona funeral homes to offer liquid cremations
HB2226, which bans fireworks overnight, except on fireworks-specific holidays
SB1094, which requires petition circulators read the whole thing aloud to any signers — just for initiatives, not lawmakers’ petitions to qualify for the ballot
HB2412, which makes it so government bodies have to post video recordings of their meetings within 24 hours
SB1120, which proposes that Arizona must buy a special fraud-resistant ballot from one company, with an amendment to spend $12 million on it
HB2241, which requires voters show ID when dropping off early ballots
HB2294, which makes all state government documents to identify sex as male or female (those are the only options offered currently)
HB2453, which prohibits governments from requiring face masks in government buildings
SB1036, which fines school districts that don’t display an American-made American flag in every class
The House and Senate floors got their first real taste of action this week as lawmakers took a few of the controversial bills that committees passed in early weeks to a vote in the full House and Senate. A few of the bills that were approved by their chamber of origin this week include:
SB1165, which bans trans girls from playing on the girls’ team in school sports
SB1009, which limits the next governor’s ability to declare a state of emergency and exercise emergency powers without the legislature’s approval
HB2112, which bans schools from teaching critical race theory, or teaching “judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity, or sex”
HB2495, which bans schools from requiring any book that contains any depiction of “sexual conduct” with some exceptions if parents give permission
HB2251, which increases the penalty for pointing a laser at a cop
Next week’s agendas are getting meaty and, as always, are subject to change with almost no notice. But here are some early highlights.
Monday afternoon at the Capitol, all eyes will be on the Senate Government Committee, which is hearing a load of election bills, including SB1404, which would eliminate in-person early voting and mail-in early voting, with exceptions for senior citizens and people who can’t show up on Election Day.
For a brief respite from elections drama, tune into the debate in the House Military and Public Affairs Committee on HB2448, which would require schools to offer gun safety training and HB2347, which would require police departments to dismiss investigations on officers if the investigation isn’t finished in a year.
On Tuesday, toggle between tabs to watch the bills flying through the House and Senate education committees, both of which meet at 2 p.m. There’s a lot going on in those committees, but the theme of the Senate hearing is expanding vouchers and tax credits for private and religious schools. Look to SB1707, SB1657 and SB1131 for details. The House committee is revisiting civics instruction, which is all the rage these days. Check out HB2008 and HB2632.
Wednesday is gonna be a long one, with nine committees meeting. Pick your poison — from the House Judiciary or Government and Elections committees, to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, there’s something for everyone to hate. We’re leaning towards House Government and Elections, if only to watch the animal rights groups testify on HB2224, which would make it a crime to declaw cats unless it’s a medical necessity.
Thursday, as usual, is reserved mostly for floor action. We never know what’s coming up this far ahead of time, but keep your eyes out for your favorite bills that have passed committees in recent weeks.
Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick is going to officiate what may be the first NFT metaverse wedding ever. What a time to be alive. If that’s what you call this.