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The Chilling Federal Crackdown on Concerned Parents

School board meetings show only that freedom is messy

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The Chilling Federal Crackdown on Concerned Parents

Twenty years ago, Paul Carson said he never would have hesitated speaking out at a school board meeting about any issue affecting his children’s education.

But one day, that changed. “I just don’t do it,” Carson told me. A physician who practices medicine in an urban Pittsburgh hospital, Carson said it has nothing to do with his being 20 years older. “It has everything to do with the culture we are navigating.”

Anyone, he said, can take a video of what you say, edit it to his or her advantage, then post it on social media. Or they can just simply claim on social media that you are a racist or extremist because you express an opinion outside the sensitivities of the cultural curators who define what is acceptable and what is not in our country.

When Carson used a media platform in discussions about school district issues , as he did last year when the children in the Pittsburgh Public Schools went for months without in-person education, he said he had to be “profoundly cautious” in expressing his views.

School board meetings have been around forever, and they have always had the potential to become raucous. I remember attending them with my mother as a teenager, then as a mother myself when my children were young. I also had to attend a few as a reporter for the local newspaper I worked for at the time. Emotions often ran high, as they should when children’s welfare is involved. Good parents never lose sight that the people who educate their children spend more day time with them in a classroom setting than parents themselves do. Emotions also ran high when new buildings were proposed, which always eventually meant higher taxes.

I have often told young reporters that if they want to see firsthand the most important political process in the U.S. system, turn off cable news, get off the iPhone, turn their eyes away from Washington, and cover a local school board meeting.

No one should accept threats or physical violence at a school board meeting or anywhere else. But such conduct is fortunately rare. The problem today is, can we trust our government to distinguish between the actual threat of violence and the passionate expression of viewpoints by parents?

That question became a reality this week when Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo suggesting a nationwide federal crackdown on parents at school board meetings. And the answer from parents like Carson is, “Absolutely not.”

Garland made his decision under pressure from the National School Boards Association. Its interim director responded by saying Garland’s memo sends a “strong message to individuals with violent intent who are focused on causing chaos, disrupting our public schools, and driving wedges between school boards and the parents, students, and communities they serve.”

Freedom is messy. Our discussions about things that matter to us, such as our children, are chaotic, disruptive, and, yes, divisive. They drive wedges — that’s a feature, not a bug.

In the past few months, parents across the country have become frustrated with extremist curriculum choices that their school boards are making. In response, they have done what Americans have done for generations — show up at school board meetings to voice their concerns.

In many cases, their concerns cross traditional political, racial, and socioeconomic lines and are at odds with the Biden administration.

Garland is now using the FBI against parents on the grounds that school board members feel threatened. But what does “threatened” look like? Is it someone yelling at you? Disagreeing with you? Holding an opposing opinion? Who is defining those threats?

This memo wasn’t just designed to target those who would commit violence. It was also clearly designed to stop regular people with real concerns from voicing those concerns because of the fear anything they say will deem them a domestic terrorist, an event that would destroy their personal, community, and professional lives.

It is downright chilling to think that there are parents out there who are worried that they are going to end up on a government list or under some type of government scrutiny if they decide to go into a school board meeting to give a public comment on an issue.

Eighty years ago, dairy farmer Jim Edgerton stood up at a town hall meeting in his hometown of Arlington, Vermont, to voice his disagreement with the town councilors’ decision to build a new school. Edgerton was the only person at the meeting or in town who objected to the proposed building.

Read more on Washington Examiner

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Local News

More than half of Bay Area residents plan to leave permanently

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More than half of Bay Area residents plan to leave permanently

More than half of the residents living in the San Francisco Bay Area say they are considering moving out of the area permanently, according to a poll from Joint Venture Silicon Valley released Monday.

The survey of voters in five Bay Area Counties found that 56 percent of respondents said they were likely to leave the region within “the next few years,” a higher percentage than in any of the think tank’s previous polling.

A separate 44 percent said they were unlikely to leave, with 14 percent of these people saying they want to move but could not.

Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, told The San Francisco Chronicle that the issue comes down to the costs of housing.

“It’s housing, stupid,” Hancock told the newspaper. “That is driving almost all of the results we see in this poll.”

Among those who were likely to leave, 84 percent cited the cost of living as a major reason, 77 percent specifically cited high housing costs and 62 percent cited the quality of life.

Read more on The Hill

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Local News

Walgreens Closing 5 San Fran Stores, Citing ‘Organized Retail Crime’

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Walgreens Closing 5 San Fran Stores, Citing ‘Organized Retail Crime’

Walgreens will close five more San Francisco stores, a company spokesperson confirmed Tuesday, citing ongoing organized retail crime as the reason. 

The closures are as follows:

  • 2550 Ocean Ave. will close on Nov. 8 and will transfer prescription files to 1630 Ocean Ave.
  • 4645 Mission St. will close on Nov. 11 and will transfer prescription files to 965 Geneva St.
  • 745 Clement St. will close on Nov. 15 and will transfer prescription files to 3601 California St.
  • 300 Gough St. will close on Nov. 15 and will transfer prescriptions to 2145 Market St.
  • 3400 Cesar Chavez St. will close on Nov. 17 and will transfer prescriptions to 2690 Mission St.

“Organized retail crime continues to be a challenge facing retailers across San Francisco, and we are not immune to that,” said Walgreens spokesperson Phil Caruso. “Retail theft across our San Francisco stores has continued to increase in the past few months to five times our chain average. During this time to help combat this issue, we increased our investments in security measures in stores across the city to 46 times our chain average in an effort to provide a safe environment.”

The drugstore chain hopes to relocate employees from closing stores to other nearby locations.

San Francisco Board of Supervisor Ahsha Safai of District 11 said he was “devastated” by the loss of the store on Mission Street on Twitter, writing “I am completely devastated by this news – this Walgreens is less than a mile from seven schools and has been a staple for seniors, families and children for decades. This closure will significantly impact this community.”

Safai told SFGATE that though the store on Mission Street had added an off-duty police officer as store security in recent months, it was “too little, too late for this store.” He said he has been in touch with Walgreens and that the shoplifting was having an impact on the company’s bottom line, as well as impacting the safety of its employees and customers. “This is a sad day for San Francisco,” Safai said. “We can’t continue to let these anchor institutions close that so many people rely on.”

Walgreens closed a location at 790 Van Ness Ave. in October 2020 after an increase in crime, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, citing a loss of up to $1,000 in stolen merchandise every day. (SFGATE and The San Francisco Chronicle are both owned by Hearst but operate independently of one another.) The rampant shoplifting was often brazen and carried out in broad daylight — that month ​​Inside Edition was filming a segment about the increase in crime in the drugstore when they caught a man jumping over the front counter to do that very thing. 

California law dictates that theft of less than $950 in goods is penalized as a nonviolent misdemeanor.

Read more on SF Gate

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Health

New York must allow religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandate, judge rules

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New York must allow religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccine mandate, judge rules

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that New York state cannot impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on healthcare workers without allowing their employers to consider religious exemption requests.

U.S. District Judge David Hurd in Albany, New York, ruled that the state’s workplace vaccination requirement conflicted with healthcare workers’ federally protected right to seek religious accommodations from their employers.

The ruling provides a test case as vaccine mandate opponents gear up to fight plans by President Joe Biden’s administration to extend COVID-19 inoculation requirements to tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans.

Vaccines have become highly politicized in the United States, where only 66% of Americans are vaccinated, well short of the initial goals of the Biden administration.

Seventeen healthcare workers opposed to the mandate sued, saying the requirement violated their rights under the U.S. Constitution and a federal civil rights law requiring employers to reasonably accommodate employees’ religious beliefs.

Hurd agreed, saying the state’s order “clearly” conflicted with their right to seek religious accommodations.

“The court rightly recognized that yesterday’s ‘front line heroes’ in dealing with COVID cannot suddenly be treated as disease-carrying villains and kicked to the curb by the command of a state health bureaucracy,” said Christopher Ferrara, a lawyer for the workers at the conservative Thomas More Society.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, vowed in a statement to fight the decision, saying her “responsibility as governor is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that.”

Read more on Reuters

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