Editorials from around New England

November 23, 2018

Editorials from around New England:



The Bennington Banner

Nov. 23

The state Board of Education-ordered move of the Arlington and Sandgate school districts to the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union isn’t happening until 2021, so the districts have time to study and work things out. That, along with the fact that the move is unlikely to change the operation of the Arlington schools, are positives in what is otherwise a head-scratching situation.

It’s true that the governance of the Arlington and Sandgate schools has been a topic of studies and debate for years. On social media this past week, in response to criticism by state Rep. Cynthia Browning of Arlington, board member Oliver Olsen of Londonderry pointed to a Bennington Banner story from 2010 about a study of such a move. (That story also noted that at the time, districts had historically not been moved to other supervisory unions against their will.)

But the specific proposal, first raised late last month by Olsen, went from a thinking out loud idea to a motion being moved, seconded and approved in a matter of weeks. That’s lightning speed for any wing of Vermont’s government bureaucracy.

We see little to suggest that this proposal needed to be dealt with so quickly, other than the desire to tie up loose ends as the Act 46 process reaches its litigious conclusion.

Which supervisory union handles which schools is important, because leadership matters in education. But it’s an administration story, largely of importance in school office buildings and not quite as pressing in the classroom.

The important questions are these: How will this improve education in Arlington, Sandgate, and the schools of the SVSU? Will it reduce administrative costs so that more money is spent on education? Or will it be like Act 46, where the financial savings have been less than dramatic?

Yes, the state’s education administration has been talking about what to do with the BVSU, its smallest supervisory union, for a long time, and whether its two districts should be sent to the SVSU or the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union. But this specific proposal, the one Olsen suggested and Education Secretary Dan French endorsed, was not given the benefit of a process that would have afforded Arlington and Sandgate parents and educators input or a measure of control over the future of their schools, other than their brief appearance before the BOE.

That fundamental, vital step should have been honored, and there’s still time to set that right.

Remember two years ago, when the Board of Education held a public hearing at Burr and Burton Academy over proposed changes to policies governing independent schools accepting public tuition?

The proposed rules were going to be pushed through by the BOE, but at some point, someone rightly insisted on public hearings, here and in St. Johnsbury. About 800 people showed up here, filling BBA’s E.H. Henry Gymnasium. Many of those in attendance cried foul at the board for attempting to push through a policy change that would have hindered school choice in our area, without local input or regard for how those policies could affect their children.

We fail to see why Arlington and Sandgate parents, teachers and students — collectively, the most important stakeholders in this question — have not had a similar opportunity to inform and direct the board on which SU would best reflect their needs. Or whether they should be left alone.

If this truly could not wait another minute, it might have made more sense for the BOE to hand the three districts a firm short-term deadline — three months, perhaps — in which to broker their own compromise, with the understanding that there would be no more extensions. We can understand that eight years is a long time to decide anything, and perhaps the results would have been exactly the same. But at least there would have been community input.

What makes things awkward moving forward is that the BVSU, knowing it eventually needed to go somewhere, was more interested in the BRSU than the SVSU as a future dance partner, and instead wound up a scorned would-be suitor.

Battenkill Valley superintendent William Bazyk told the Bennington Banner that the BVSU had long had an understanding with the BRSU that the two unions would eventually join. “I’m upset with the BRSU and the state Board of Ed, for the quick change of (direction),” he said. “There was a lot of work going into this.”

In declaring that it could not support the addition of Arlington and Sandgate, the BRSU said that its resources are stretched thin with a pair of new Act 46 merger districts in their first year of operation. It also noted that it has never operated a public high school.

The SVSU, on the other hand, has run a public high school for 50 years. But it also has a merger to deal with — the BOE-ordered merger of the Bennington, Shaftsbury, Pownal and Woodford school districts, which could not come to an Act 46 agreement on their own.

There isn’t a perfect solution — all the more reason to not rush into this step.

We’re not in a position to say the BRSU could have or could not have taken in Arlington and Sandgate. It’s already a large and diverse SU, with a mix of school choice, designation to New York state schools, and K-12 non-operating districts. But it would have been adding only one district that operates its own schools — and a district that is accustomed to doing things on its own. How much extra work this would have created, only the BRSU can say.

The hurt feelings from this might linger for a while, and that’s unfortunate. We do hope the professionals involved can put it behind them, because the era of parochial rivalries among Bennington County towns is a counterproductive vestige of the past that only gets in the way of progress.

But the bottom line is not about which SU gets what it wants, or which administrators are handed the heavier workload. What matters most is how such a change will affect education.

That’s what this discussion needs to be about, and the BOE ought to reopen the question and hear what Arlington and Sandgate teachers and parents have to say. It just might produce a better result.

Online: https://bit.ly/2R95B6C



The Telegraph

Nov. 23

During the next 14 months, Democratic Party presidential contenders will probably bring similar messages to New Hampshire voters. They will most likely say something like:

“Donald Trump is a terrible president. He is wrong for America.”

Our reaction to this statement will probably be something like:

“What makes you different from the other candidates who do not like President Trump? Why should New Hampshire voters support you instead of them?”

We are not sure how many Democratic candidates will actually end up running, but information compiled from national media outlets indicates these individuals are considering the race: former Vice President Joe Biden, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, current NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, outgoing Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former U.S. HUD Secretary Julian Castro and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

As for sitting members of the U.S. House considering the Democratic race, the list includes U.S. Reps. Beto O’ Rourke of Texas, Tim Ryan of Ohio, John Delaney of Maryland, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Eric Swalwell of California.

Members of the U.S. Senate reportedly exploring Democratic presidential runs are Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kamala Harris of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

We hope these individuals will give state voters reasons to support them beyond the simple “Donald Trump is bad” argument.

Online: https://bit.ly/2POXAqM



The Bangor Daily News

Nov. 19

There has long been room for colleges to improve how they respond to reports of sexual assault, but the Trump administration is swinging too far in the direction of protecting alleged perpetrators. Luckily, there is time to swing back, and the administration has said it wants to hear from people with a stake in the issue.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education released highly anticipated proposed rules for how universities should respond to sexual misconduct. They give alleged rapists and harassers more protections, narrow the types of cases schools must investigate, allow schools to use a higher bar of evidence in adjudicating cases, and ease up on punishments schools may face if they don’t take their responsibility seriously.

The department argued that the previous process under President Barack Obama resulted “in infringement on academic freedom and free speech and government regulation of consensual, noncriminal sexual activity.” But it’s important to remember that sexual assaults are rarely reported, let alone fabricated, and alleged victims have a right to trust their school will protect them.

There are a few positives: The proposed rules wouldn’t permit questions about an alleged victim’s sexual history, a tactic that Maine has already banned in criminal proceedings. And they require schools to give both sides the chance to review, electronically, any evidence obtained as part of the investigation, and respond in kind, so everyone knows what information is guiding a final decision.

But let’s look at a few specifics.

Currently, when students go through the grievance process, schools use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard — basically, is it more likely than not? — in deciding cases. This is the same level of evidence that someone needs to obtain a protection from abuse order in a court. Now, however, the Education Department is proposing that schools decide for themselves whether to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard or the higher bar of a “clear and convincing” standard to give them “flexibility.”

If a significant point of the new rules is to provide clarity to schools, this matter of what standard of evidence to use must be settled. There can be little justice in a system where different schools abide by different standards.

The proposed rules would also only require schools to respond to alleged sexual misconduct when they have “actual knowledge” of it happening, meaning: Did someone report it to a designated official “who has authority to institute corrective measures,” often called a Title IX coordinator? Quite often, students don’t know to report a traumatic assault to a specially designated person they’ve never met before. The funnel by which a school learns of potential assaults should we wide, not small, to best address issues of safety.

In addition to requiring an incident to have occurred on school property or at school activities, the proposed regulations ease up on oversight of schools’ decisions on how to punish students.

The Education Department believes that local schools “are best positioned to make disciplinary decisions; thus, unless the (school’s) response to sexual harassment is clearly unreasonable in light of known circumstances, the Department will not second guess such decisions,” read the proposed rules.

This sounds like the department will shirk its responsibilities to defend students from colleges that act in bad faith or show poor judgment.

Finally, it is worrisome that the federal government would allow attorneys to cross-examine alleged victims and perpetrators during a live hearing. Unless there are protections in place, this setup could make the grievance process too similar to a court of law where one side could hire an expensive, intimidating attack lawyer to grill the opposing side. These are campus disciplinary hearings to decide how to keep students safe and whether to punish alleged perpetrators; they are not trials.

Granted, there are benefits to going through the rulemaking process. In the past, the U.S. Department of Education has simply issued a series of less formal guidance documents for universities to follow when they look into claims of sexual misconduct; there haven’t been official Title IX regulations since the 1970s. And while the guidance process is faster, it didn’t always allow the public to provide input.

So make use of the opportunity and make your opinion known. You can submit your comments on the proposed rulemaking electronically at regulations.gov, or send them to Brittany Bull, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue S.W., Room 6E310, Washington, D.C. 20202.

It’s important to be part of the process and ensure your voice is heard.

Online: https://bit.ly/2OTRrnX



Cape Cod Times

Nov. 21

As Florida moved slowly, inexorably toward the completion of yet another recount, casual political observers might wonder just what the heck is going on in the Sunshine State. After all, it has been 18 years since the pride of the electoral process gave us the weeks-long presidential election cliffhanger. One would think that this would have represented a sufficient amount of time to make changes to a faulty system.

But in a larger sense, the perennial political battleground that is Florida is representative of what is happening in dozens of states, counties, and communities across this country, as a very nearly evenly divided electorate goes to the polls and then struggles to live with the results for the next two to four years.

In the end, former Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican, narrowly defeated Democratic Senate incumbent Bill Nelson by several thousand votes out of more than 8 million cast. Doing some quick math, this means that Scott will have won by a margin of less than one percent of the vote.

The Florida race is something of an anomaly when it comes to Senate contests this year. With the exception of Arizona and Texas, most of the winning candidates celebrated decisive victories. The battle for the House of Representatives, however, reveals that the divisions in the Florida Senate race were playing out across the country. Looking at the electoral map, more than a dozen elections were won or lost based on a margin of less than five percent, enough to sway control of the House from the Republicans to the Democrats.

But that narrow margin should give Democrats pause before celebrating their so-called blue wave too heartily; a fickle electorate could just as easily hand control back to the Republicans in another two years if the Democrats fail to do anything than act as obstructionists to the president. Many in this country would prefer to see action rather than inaction or reaction, with serious proposals to make substantive change. And if the Republican-controlled Senate and the President Trump decide to obstruct those efforts, voters can decide in another two years as to which approach they prefer.

To be fair to Florida, the state’s voting debacle is in some sense an indication of a system that works. Although there were many - and some would argue, easily avoidable - problems with the mechanics associated with counting the ballots, there was a well-defined process in place to make sure that when problems arose, there were procedures to deal with them. A legitimate argument, however, could be made that even this should be revisited; a few days represents an insufficient amount of time to recount 8 million ballots, especially if a significant number of voting machines fail during that process.

Likewise the threshold for a partial hand recount. Florida state law holds that if the election results are within .25 percent of each other, officials must reexamine ballots that had been initially dismissed because of irregularities to determine if any should be counted as part of the disputed election.

These processes help give us some degree of hope, even as, nearly two weeks after most of the contests were called, we still awaited final results in Florida. Here’s hoping that Florida will, in the next two years, put its mechanical electoral house in order so that when the next national election takes place, there will be no question as to who should be celebrating.

Online: https://bit.ly/2TyLAYC



The Day

Nov. 23

Depending on where a family lives in the United States, and whether their hometown is relatively affluent or not, American parents range widely in their degrees of awareness about teenage vaping. They need to catch up fast, because the federal Food and Drug Administration chief says there is an epidemic causing serious health risks to those under 18.

Busy parents shouldn’t feel guilty if they need vaping — the use of electronic devices to inhale high doses of nicotine — explained to them. A few years ago e-cigarettes didn’t exist, and more recently they weren’t even mentioned in the annual surveys of student substance use. Nor do they leave a telltale whiff of tobacco or suspiciously stained fingers.

Nationally, the FDA says, 3.62 million middle- and high-schoolers used them in the last year, enticed in part by fruity flavors that appeal to young tastes.

Parents and educators need to understand and guide young people about the dangers of nicotine addiction and the insidious trend of getting hooked by devices that, ironically, help many adults get off cigarettes. In either case, it is nicotine addiction at work, and it makes a lot of money for the companies that produce and sell such brands as Juul, Vuse, Blu, Logic and MarkTen.

Some states began to see the bane of widespread vaping before Connecticut did, but the numbers have now become significant here. Between 2015 and 2017 teens’ use of the devices in the state has doubled, with high incidence in affluent towns. Ninth and tenth grades seem to be peak years for starting a nicotine habit that could be a lifetime burden. Ask any reformed smoker about how much they miss nicotine.

Juul Labs made news last week by voluntarily pulling most of its flavors off the market for now. The FDA had threatened a ban on the devices, but it may be regrouping to consider the least litigious and thus quickest ways to limit teen access. For now the agency is saying that retail sales must be from closed-off areas of stores where no one under 18 is allowed. The Connecticut General Assembly will probably see a bill in the next session to raise the legal age of purchase from 18 to 21.

Vaping took no time at all to go from 0 to 60. Parents, public health officials and those who teach or work with young people need to get up to speed.

Online: https://bit.ly/2RaROMW



Providence Journal

Nov. 22

Facebook, that blue-barred, addictive haven for the showy, the argumentative and the lonely, no longer deserves our trust.

It’s not just that the social media giant has stumbled — allowing user data to be collected and exploited by Cambridge Analytica, failing to stanch the flow of inauthentic information from Russia and elsewhere, hiring a communications consultant to shovel dirt on the company’s critics — but that it shows no sign of changing the way it operates.

It’s time for Mark Zuckerberg to step aside from the company he founded and still controls. Let him take his billions and find something new to do.

Once upon a time, Mr. Zuckerberg had a brilliant idea: Provide an easy-to-use platform for people to populate with information about themselves, and that would enable them to form networks of like-minded people. The platform would be free to users, and Facebook would sell advertising to companies and causes that wanted to reach them.

For a long time, it was a jointly beneficial arrangement. But as Facebook has grown and become powerful, it has shown a repeated disregard for its customers, carelessness about their data and reluctance to respond meaningfully to criticisms. It seems the company’s response to each crisis is to apologize publicly, refocus on its marketing and delay or decline to make significant operational changes.

As a New York Times headline read this month: “Delay, Deny and Deflect.”

In the wake of the deeply reported and thoroughly damning Times article about the company’s tactics and culture, Mr. Zuckerberg’s response was to call a company meeting, describe the newspaper report as bull manure and threaten to fire anybody who leaks information to reporters.

This is not the behavior of a person who believes “When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place,” as Mr. Zuckerberg has said. Rather, it is the behavior of someone who believes himself to be at war — at war with would-be regulators, with media critics and angry users.

Maybe this was the natural course for a company that has connected something like 30 percent of the world’s population, entered the Fortune 500 and become a potent influencer of online behavior. Maybe rapid growth and head-turning success makes people blind to the moral cost and social damage their product exacts.

But it mustn’t always be so. Like many wildly successful startups, Facebook should recognize it must adapt to the market that it has helped to reshape. It’s time for a new generation of leadership from people who take a broader view of the company’s conduct and obligations, its need to restore trust with its customers and the way it should connect with its internal and external audiences.

Most of us have spent a lot of time on Facebook, connecting with old friends, showing off our leisure-time activities and scoring political points. But it’s past time to ask ourselves whether this is the way we want to, as Mr. Zuckerberg says, speak our voices and exercise our power.

For we have seen repeatedly who really wields the power in this arrangement. And it’s not us.

We’re approaching an existential choice for Facebook: Either Mr. Zuckerberg and his sidekicks leave, or they risk seeing the public leave.

Online: https://bit.ly/2OZ765p


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