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America start

America is about to start online learning, Round 2. For millions of students, it won’t be any better. – The Washington Post

That includes 700,000 students in California alone. Come fall, these children won’t log on for school because they don’t have computers.

“I remember people speaking of the Fourth of July as if everything would be fine by the Fourth of July, and life would be back to normal,” said Casey Allen, superintendent of Ballard County Schools in Kentucky, which is offering parents a choice between in-person and online school.

Now, he said, “We will be building the plane while we fly it, on virtual learning.”

Complicating matters further was the politicization of school openings. President Trump insisted in all-caps tweets that schools must fully reopen in the fall so the economy could as well, even as coronavirus cases and deaths piled up throughout the country.

The leaders of the country’s more than 13,000 school districts found themselves caught between the warnings of health officials that nothing should reopen without proper safety measures, and demands from Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that schools start back up as normal. Education leaders warned politicians they would need billions of federal dollars in aid to reopen safely, but that money has yet to be approved by Congress. Pressure from teachers unions built as well, with some unions demanding an all-virtual program and threatening to strike if forced to step back inside the classroom.

“Unfortunately, we lost a lot of time in playing those political games,” said Bob Farrace, spokesman for the nonprofit National Association of Secondary School Principals. “There hasn’t been nearly enough conversation about what learning is really going to look like.”

Nonetheless, many school officials say they are still planning to grade students as they did before the pandemic, ditching the pass-fail system many adopted during school closures. Despite the device and Internet gaps, they plan to require attendance in classes. Federally mandated standardized testing is also still slated to take place near the end of the school year — unlike this past spring, when DeVos gave permission for all states to skip it.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said he feels good about the fall, despite everything. But he admitted that view has little basis in fact.

“I say that because I am by nature an optimistic person,” he said. “I don’t look for the negatives.”

‘Teachers are creative’

When the last school year ended, many people thought the worst for schools was over. It wasn’t.

As the coronavirus crisis worsened in many parts of the country, district leaders found themselves over the summer not focusing on improving instruction but instead playing logistical Jenga.

Required by state officials to provide learning options for parents, superintendents and their planning teams devised complicated, in-depth scenarios for three different modes of learning — all-virtual, 100 percent in-person and a hybrid method that combined both.

By late July, as spiking coronavirus rates led district after district to abandon plans to reopen schools for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, school leaders said they had not found time to give much if any thought to the mechanics of online learning — even though they were giving parents the option of keeping their children home.

Politics, especially Trump’s interventions, made things worse.

In Wisconsin, Deputy State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Thompson said that many school officials had to spend precious time dealing with politically charged parent unrest. Almost any decision taken by school officials, he said — down to whether administrators recommended wearing masks in classrooms — was interpreted as siding with one political party or another.

That left educators less able to focus on more important matters, Thompson said, such as ensuring student and staff safety and developing strategies for fall learning.

“The politics making its way into this situation has made it harder for school districts . . . and divided communities,” he said. “And it was a difficult enough situation already.”

The extensive debate over in-person vs. online learning also limited some teachers’ ability to plot what their virtual schoolrooms could and should look like in September.

In Fairfax County, Va. — whose 189,000 students make it one of the largest school systems in the nation — Superintendent Scott Brabrand at first debuted a plan that asked parents and educators to choose between in-person and online education. Teachers spent weeks agonizing over the decision to return to classrooms. Then, a few days after staffers formally submitted their preferences, Brabrand reversed himself and announced the school system would start the fall fully online.

Now, thousands of Fairfax teachers are scrambling to get ready for the start of school, which was recently pushed back a week to Sept. 8.

In Philadelphia, things went even closer to the wire. The school board announced in late July that it was pivoting to an all-virtual model, after weeks of protest from parents and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, who saw in-person instruction as unsafe. The teachers union there had been so consumed with advocating for teacher and student health, said Jordan, that many members had no time to ponder the details of online teaching.

“That is exactly our next focus,” he said, noting that he plans to meet with administrators to call for increased online training for staffers. “Although I can bet you money some teachers were already beginning to prepare on their own. . . . Teachers are creative.”

In Florida’s Duval County, where the Republican National Convention was set to take place in August until Trump canceled it, a top public schools official was planning to ask the Florida Department of Education for permission to begin the school year entirely online. Then he realized that was an impossible request: Of the district’s 130,000 students, more than 40,000 don’t have devices at home to do their work. So schools will have to open there for some students.

In his small, conservative slice of Kentucky, Ballard County’s Allen is also hoping teachers are making their own preparations for fall — especially if they will be teaching online, as some of the staff will do depending on demand. The district is offering families a choice between in-person and distance learning, and at least a quarter of the county’s 1,100 students have already picked the virtual option, more than Allen was expecting.

School staff are slated to return to campus in August, the superintendent said, and he plans to take stock of what teachers have accomplished then.

“I fully expect some people will have done a better job than we ever imagined,” he said. “But then I know there are going to be others we need to bring along.”

Allen, who describes himself as “technologically limited,” has tried to communicate his expectations to Ballard County teachers via YouTube videos throughout the summer. He knows how to film those but asks an assistant to post them on social media.

In the videos, the superintendent lists his one real requirement: That teachers do the best they can with what they have. Whatever that looks like.

“For instance I haven’t said, don’t post your lessons on Facebook,” Allen said. “If it’s a format that is working for students and teachers, I am going to leave it.”

‘Caught up by Christmas’

There are some bright spots in the education landscape — which now looks as though it will include some online learning in most places, to give parents options. The districts that say they are ready followed the same recipe: Early and lengthy preparations for online learning, coupled with an intense focus on teacher training.

That was the case in Atlanta, where the public school system will offer all-virtual school starting Aug. 24. On that day, 52,000 students will begin receiving 2½ to 5 hours of video instruction each day, as well as social and emotional learning to help them process pandemic-induced trauma. Teachers are attending optional professional training sessions on subjects ranging from Zoom to how to virtually reach students with disabilities, and all Atlanta educators will be required to take two-week seminars on similar topics in late August.

Atlanta waited until mid-July to announce formal plans to remain online-only for at least the first nine weeks of this academic year. But, said Superintendent Lisa Herring, the school division began girding for the likelihood of an all-virtual fall back in May.

“Unfortunately, we have . . . employees and students and families who’ve had loss and trauma and illness as a result of covid-19,” Herring said, referring to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. “That reality brought it to the forefront that our level of preparedness had to be executed sooner rather than later.”

A handful of other districts have made extensive preparations. In Florida’s Broward County Public Schools, which began building its online learning capabilities years ago, Superintendent Robert Runcie said teachers have been working for months to beef up their online academic lessons and train on the online Canvas platform that helps simulate in-class learning. To make it easier for parents of young children, there will be morning and afternoon/evening learning sessions for elementary school students.

The 147,000-student Charlottesville-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina spent the summer transferring its in-person courses onto a virtual platform in new ways that teachers hope will better capture students’ attention. In San Diego, officials unveiled a digital program July 30 that mimics a six-hour school day, with daily live interaction between students and teachers. In Wyoming, schools Superintendent Jillian Balow asked a virtual state school to give teachers tips on how to do their jobs online.

But levels of preparation vary drastically. In Seattle, for example, teachers had not started training for online education as of early August. And across the country, student engagement remains a challenge.

In Los Angeles, just 60 percent of students participated daily in online learning during the spring, according to Los Angeles Unified Schools Superintendent Austin Beutner. To boost attendance this fall, the state is requiring teachers to report absences and to develop outreach programs to locate students who lag in attendance.

Los Angeles mother Sharnell Blevins said she hopes the mandatory attendance, coupled with more live-video classes, will help. She recalled the spring as a disaster.

“My kids weren’t setting their alarm clocks to get up for class,” she said. “They would tell me, ‘Half the class isn’t there, Mom, I don’t have to go.’ ” And she also often watched students in her children’s high school classes teach their teachers how to use Zoom.

As for the federal funding that district leaders say they need to reopen school buildings when health conditions allow, Congress doesn’t appear close to a compromise. In March it provided $13.5 billion for K-12 education — but that isn’t anywhere near the more than $200 billion that school leaders say they need.

In late July, just weeks before the start of the school year, the U.S. Department of Education disbursed $180 million to 11 states to help them prepare for virtual learning. Recipients were chosen through an application process that asked states to propose “new, innovative ways to access education” online.

Texas was one of the winners. The state’s deputy commissioner of school programs, Lily Laux, said the money, totaling nearly $20 million, will go toward developing training for more than 300,000 teachers, as well as building out new virtual courses covering “core subjects” for prekindergarten through 12th grade, with a special focus on reading and math for English language learners.

Unfortunately, it came a little too late.

“We have shared with our superintendent [that the courses] are not going to be fully ready for this fall,” Laux said. “But we do hope to be caught up by Christmas.”

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America Captain

Captain America is now in Fortnite – The Verge

A Captain America skin is now available in Fortnite, Epic Games announced today. He’s the latest comic-themed skin to be added to the popular free-to-play battle royale game.

Captain America costs 2,000 V-bucks (about $20) from the Fortnite in-game store. If you buy the skin, you’ll also get Captain America’s iconic shield, which isn’t just cosmetic — you’ll be able to wear it on your back and use it as a pickaxe in-game. Captain America’s shield has actually already appeared in the game before — you could wield it last year as a special item in a limited time Avengers-themed mode, but you weren’t able to buy it to wear whenever you wanted.

There’s also a new Captain America-themed fireworks emote for sale, which could be fun to deploy if you choose to celebrate Independence Day on the Fortnite island this weekend. The emote costs 300 V-bucks.

Fortnite has a long history of offering skins based on popular comic book characters. Deadpool was available as part of last season’s battle pass, and Aquaman will eventually be playable as part of this season’s battle pass. Epic Games also sold Marvel’s Black Widow and Star-Lord as part of last year’s Avengers crossover and X-Force skins last season. Epic has offered DC skins, too, including Harley Quinn, Batman, and Catwoman.

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America Coronavirus

Coronavirus: Elon Musk says it’s time to ‘free America now’ from lockdowns – The Mercury News

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk is no stranger when it comes to getting on Twitter to express his feelings about a subject he cares about. And the latest subject to get the Musk Twitter treatment is the ongoing coronavirus-related societal lockdowns across California and the country.

“FREE AMERICA NOW” tweeted Musk late Tuesday in what was the most-recent of a series of tweets he sent out this week to show his thoughts on the stay-at-home orders that have been put in place as part of the ongoing effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. Earlier this week, the counties around the San Francisco Bay Area extended shelter-in-place rules that were scheduled to end on May 3 until the end of May.

Those orders have closed many non-essential businesses, including Tesla’s vehicle manufacturing plant in Fremont, since March. Tesla had been planning on bringing employees in some production areas back to work on Wednesday, but then reversed course and canceled that plan.

FREE AMERICA NOW

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2020

Musk sounded even more emphatic when he tweeted out a link to a Wall Street Journal opinion article authored by former Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers that questioned whether lockdowns related to coronavirus actually end up saving people’s lives.

“Give people their freedom back!” tweeted Musk, along with a link to Rodgers’ Journal article that included a photo of an Iowa movie theater closed due to coronavirus.

Give people their freedom back! https://t.co/iG8OYGaVZ0

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2020

Musk also took at shot at his home turf of Silicon Valley, with a new potential name for the famously liberal region of tech innovation.

“Silicon Valley has become Sanctimonious Valley,” tweeted Musk, who then said the area was “Too much the moral arbiter of the world.”

Too much the moral arbiter of the world

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 27, 2020

This isn’t the first time Musk has gone on a tweetstorm about coronavirus. Back in March, Musk tweeted that the coronavirus panic was “dumb” and that he thought there would be almost no new coronavirus cases in the United States by the end of April. As of Wednesday, the U.S. has more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 58,000 deaths from the disease.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment about Musk’s latest coronovirus-related tweets. The company is scheduled to report its first-quarter results after the close of stock market trading on Wednesday.

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America Trump

Trump’s plan to open America, China’s new Wuhan death toll: Friday’s coronavirus news – Vox.com

The United States has now reported more than 672,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 30,000 deaths. The global total is at nearly 2.2 million cases and nearly 150,000 dead.

Yet President Donald Trump has just put forward new guidelines for how US states can begin to ease some of the lockdown restrictions that have been in place for the past several weeks.

On Thursday, the president revealed his administration’s step-by-step plan to “Open Up America Again,” though he said that, ultimately, the decision to begin easing shutdowns would be left to the discretion of state governors. Some states are already considering plans to loosen measures in the coming weeks; others have extended their lockdowns.

The steps themselves laid out in the plan make sense; they offer a gradual, phased-in approach to bringing people back to work and reopening businesses. But the US still lacks large-scale testing or surveillance infrastructure, which means that even this kind of careful, gradual reopening risks once again sparking outbreaks.

China on Friday revised the official death toll in Wuhan — where the virus first originated — raising it by nearly 50 percent, from 2,579 to 3,869. Officials denied a coverup, but the massive revision is likely to raise even more questions about Beijing’s handling of the pandemic.

And in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro fired his health minister, who was both popular and widely praised for trying to stanch the outbreak in the Latin America country, even as Bolsonaro tried to downplay it.

Here’s what you need to know today.

A plan to reopen the US?

On Thursday, Trump released his proposal for reopening the American economy, after weeks of shutdowns across the country because of the coronavirus. The lockdown measures appear to be slowing the public health crisis, but they have pushed the US economy to the brink of collapse, with approximately 22 million Americans filing for unemployment in just about one month.

“Now that we have passed the peak in new cases, we are starting our life again. We are starting rejuvenation of our economy again, in a safe and structured and a very responsible fashion,” Trump said at a press conference Thursday. “We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time.”

Trump said that governors would “call the shots,” and said some states that have not been badly hit by the virus could start reopening soon, while others might take longer.

Broadly, the plan lays out three phases. Phase One asks vulnerable individuals to stay at home and encourages everyone else to maintain social distancing measures like avoiding socializing in groups of 10 or more people and keeping nonessential travel to a minimum. It also says large venues, like movie theaters, can reopen if distancing measures are in place, but bars should stay closed.

Phase Two loosens restrictions further, allowing for nonessential travel and gradually reopening schools and bars, the latter with reduced capacity. Vulnerable people should continue to shelter in place; everyone else is asked to avoid gatherings of 50 or more.

Phase Three says vulnerable people can resume normal activities, while advising them to still be cautious, and places can open for business, though some must adopt some social distancing limits and/or increased sanitary practices.

The plan also includes specific criteria states or regions must meet before beginning each phase. You can read the full proposal here.

The phase-in proposal is similar to what other countries, like Germany, have put forward in a gradual attempt to reopen businesses and schools.

But — and it’s a very big “but” — it’s unclear whether the United States actually has the infrastructure in place yet — things like massive, widespread testing and contact tracing — for this kind of phased-in reopening plan to work.

Social distancing measures aren’t a cure-all to coronavirus; they’re meant to put society on pause to slow the rate of infection so the health care system is not overwhelmed. But they’re not meant to replace other measures like testing, contact tracing, surveillance, and isolation of the sick.

In fact, testing has actually slowed in the United States, driven in part by shortages of equipment, reagents, test kits, and machines to run the tests, and in part because in many places, the criteria for being tested is still heavily tilted toward health care workers and people who are sick enough to require medical treatment.

As Vox’s German Lopez explains:

This is one reason the plans to end social distancing are so grim: Not only do they suggest that some level of social distancing will be needed for the next year or so (until a vaccine or a similarly effective treatment is widely available) — which we don’t know if the country can sustain — but they call for a level of surveillance and testing the US simply hasn’t shown the ability and willingness to build and manage yet.

This may change, especially as business leaders themselves begin to put pressure on the administration to widely ramp up testing capabilities.

But Friday, the president — who just said Thursday that he would let governors call the shots — is already using Twitter to do the opposite, calling for specific states (particularly ones that have seen protests against stay-at-home orders recently) to be “liberated.”

LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020

LIBERATE MINNESOTA!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020

Trump’s mixed messages may be a political ploy to portray himself as the “good guy” who wants to get everyone back to work.

But Trump said governors would have discretion on when to reopen, and undermining those governors who feel stay-at-home orders are still necessary to protect the people of their state could have devastating consequences. A premature loosening of rules will only deepen both the public health crisis and the economic pain.

China dramatically revises its coronavirus death toll

The coronavirus outbreak originated in Wuhan, China, and the Chinese government has faced mounting criticism for hiding information about the severity of the virus in the early days of the pandemic, which experts say helped create the global catastrophe the world is seeing now.

And given the scale of the crisis, China’s own statistics about the coronavirus have been called into question throughout the course of the pandemic. The country imposed a months-long, unprecedented lockdown to control the virus, but the US intelligence community and others say China has underreported both the total number of cases and the death toll in the country.

Now, China has revised the official death toll in Wuhan by more than 1,200, an increase of about 50 percent. The number of coronavirus deaths jumped from 2,579 to 3,869. Officials also slightly revised up the number of infections in the city by more than 300, for a new total of more than 50,000.

Officials said the revision was because of incorrect and delayed reporting, not from some attempt to cover up information, according to the Guardian.

“Medical workers at some facilities might have been preoccupied with saving lives and there existed delayed reporting, underreporting or misreporting, but there has never been any cover-up and we do not allow cover-ups,” China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a news briefing.

(Zhao Lijian is the same Chinese official who, in order to shift blame away from China for its mishandling of the outbreak, promoted the conspiracy theory that the US military may have brought the coronavirus to Wuhan.)

All countries, not just China, have faced legitimate difficulties in reporting statistics as hospitals and officials deal with a fast-moving health emergency and a novel virus. New York City also revised up its death toll by thousands this week, including people who died at home without a coronavirus test but likely succumbed to the disease. Italy, too, has said it might be undercounting deaths.

But when it comes to China, these new figures will only fuel suspicions that China has tried to hide information, especially given its lack of forthrightness in the early stages of the pandemic.

Jair Bolsonaro fires Brazil’s Dr. Fauci

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently downplayed the coronavirus threat in his country. He hosted a huge rally in March. He has tried to undermine states that have imposed social distancing restrictions to protect their citizens by telling everyone to just go back to work.

“We have to face this virus, but face it like a man, dammit, not a boy,” Bolsonaro said in early April. “We have to face it with reality. That’s life. We’re all going to die someday.”’

Through it all, coronavirus infections have continued to rise in Brazil, with the country now registering more than 30,000 cases and nearly 2,000 deaths — although Bolsonaro has questioned those statistics, accusing governors of manipulating the data for political ends.

All of this put Bolsonaro’s health minister, Henrique Mandetta, in a truly awkward position.

Mandetta is a doctor who’s become popular in the country for trying to communicate the real risks of the coronavirus to Brazilians. He’s encouraged social distancing measures and backed up the states in discouraging gatherings and curtailing business. And he’s tried to convey all of this information while navigating his boss’s misinformed talking points.

Which, uh, may sound familiar to anyone who has been following the trials and tribulations of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the US’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force. And sure enough, as Bolsonaro is often compared to Trump, Mandetta has been compared to Dr. Fauci.

In an interview on Sunday, Mandetta basically called out his boss, saying that he “hoped we can speak with a single, unified message, because otherwise Brazilians end up doubting.”

“They don’t know whether to listen to the health minister [or] the president. Who should they listen to?” he added.

It seems Bolsonaro finally had enough of Mandetta contradicting him, and on Thursday Bolsonaro fired him.

And many Brazilians are angry. People had already been protesting daily against Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis, but after Mandetta’s axing, they erupted, with people banging pots and shouting “Bolsonaro murderer” from their windows, according to the Financial Times. Brazil’s leftist former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva accused Bolsonaro of leading the country “to the slaughterhouse.”

Mandetta will be replaced by Nelson Teich, an oncologist who had been working as partner in a medical service consulting firm, according to the Guardian.

And some good news

If you’re a nun in Spain, sports are not canceled.

Nuns playing basketball at a monastery in Sevilla, Spain while sheltered in place for the coronavirus. Hoops makes the world go around.pic.twitter.com/53oKV5GnNU

— Michael Dolan (@mikedolanny) April 16, 2020


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