Update! Canaan Superintendent Nathan Freeman sent me an email saying that the “Civil Rights Day’ designation was a mistake that’s now been corrected. His full explanation can be found below.
Hey, everybody! Three-day weekend! Monday is Civil Rights Day!
Uhhh… what’s that again?
Yeah, “Civil Rights Day,” the preferred appellation among those who aren’t quite sure about that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. guy. Kind of a commie, wasn’t he? Definitely a troublemaker. I guess we have to give “them” a holiday, though.
The above image is from the calendar of the Canaan School District, which apparently cannot abide Dr. King’s name. Yes, Canaan, the former employer of Education Secretary Dan French and, lest we forget, the only district in Vermont that never adopted a mask mandate, even during the worst of the pandemic.
The Vermont Agency of Education has announced the establishment of a Family Engagement Council, an advisory body to be appointed by Secretary Dan French.
One could see this as a benign move, or even overdue. The problem is, “family engagement” has become a buzzword for conservatives angry about critical race theory or LGBTQ+ issues or Black Lives Matter. To establish such a body at this particular moment should set off some alarm bells. At the very least, we should watch closely the formation of this council.
Plus, neither French nor his boss have inspired confidence. Gov Phil Scott openly supports a statewide voucher program that would funnel taxpayer dollars to private schools and home schoolers. Scott hasn’t actively pursued the idea because he knows it’s DOA in the Legislature. French, meanwhile, came to the Agency from the Canaan school district, one of the most conservative in the state. It was the only district that never instituted a mask mandate, even during the worst days of the pandemic. And during French’s tenure,
Applications are being accepted until December 18. Who can apply? “The council will consist of between 10 to 15 parents, guardians and family members of students enrolled in Vermont schools.”
Note the last phrase: “…enrolled in Vermont schools.”
Not public schools. Any school, public or private.
Hey kids, if you’ve never seen Tim Conway’s infamous dentist sketch, take a minute and watch it now.
Now you know why, when they film The Dan French Story, they need to fire up the time machine and bring back Tim Conway to play the lead. Because man oh man, if that isn’t Dan French on a platter, I don’t know what is.
French’s latest is yet another twist in the Gotthard Pass that is the Scott administration’s Covid policy for schools. For months, his agency had strongly discouraged schools from imposing mask mandates — even to protect students at high risk for Covid complications.
As our political leaders, state and national, try to reassure us that the post-pandemic future is now, one of their favorite rhetorical devices is mental health. The danger to our physical health is nothing compared to the toll of isolation, fear, absence of normal activity, and apparently how facemasks cut off blood flow to the brain. Our leaders aren’t simply pushing us back to the assembly line of work and consumerism; they are the good guys, protecting us from Covid’s frightful toll on mental health.
Take, for example, Edjamacation Secretary Dan French implying that those of us still worried about the pandemic are pushing our kids into the abyss. At this week’s Gubernatorial Agenda Promotion Event, he talked of reducing the anxiety level in schools by getting everything back to normal. In other words, if you’re still concerned about prevention, if you’re constantly badgering kids to wash up or stay home if they’re sick or — horrors — force them to wear a mask or do so yourself, you’re complicit in fostering a pandemic of mental illness.
Nowhere in any of this do we hear about the mental and emotional toll of living with the pandemic, of the continuing vigilance that many of us feel compelled to maintain even as French and Gov. Phil Scott pretend that those stresses don’t exist.
Masking is a two-way street. I wear a mask in public spaces, but it’s much less effective if other people are unmasked. Meanwhile, our leaders are practically tearing the masks off our faces. Oh well, the concerns of marginal Vermonters like the old, the immunocompromised, the disabled, and anyone at elevated risk are absent from the administration’s equation.
These things used to be weekly updates on the Covid-19 pandemic but, as of today, that’s no longer the case.
For the second week in a row, Gov. Phil Scott opened the event by declaring he had nothing to say about the pandemic. Instead, he used his platform to tout an administration policy priority. And the first administration official who followed Scott the lectern wasn’t Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine or Virus Vaticinator Michael Pieciak or Education Secretary Dan French.
No, it was the person pictured above: Public Service Commissioner June Tierney.
Needless to say, she didn’t talk about Covid. She talked about Scott’s plan to enhance mobile phone service by spending $51 million on new cell towers.
Right off the bat, we get two big tells that the state of the pandemic is no longer the chief subject.
Then came Strike Three. WCAX’s Calvin Cutler wanted to ask about the medical monitoring bill making its way through the Legislature, so he opened by noting that his question was “off topic.”
Scott’s response? “It’s not off topic for our weekly press briefings.”
That’s a new, and I’d say deliberate, change on the governor’s part.
So, per Scott himself, we no longer have weekly Covid briefings. We have weekly administration Happy Hours broadcast live across the state. In an election year, it begins to look less like public information and more like free publicity.
Gov. Phil Scott used the occasion of his weekly Covid briefing — well, customarily weekly; he’s missed two of the last three weeks — to do a little bragging. The Omicron numbers are starting to trend downward and Scott was quick to take credit, although he also warned it was too soon for a victory lap.
That’s all fine. Normal for a politician. But on a couple of occasions, the governor took it uncomfortably close to the realm of tastelessness.
First, a reporter asked him to reflect on Vermont’s death toll passing the 500 milestone. He said the right words, most of them, although in an oddly dispassionate tone; but he couldn’t resist referring — not once, but twice — to the state’s relatively low death toll. In other words, he took a solemn moment as a pretext for delivering a political talking point. And later on, he talked of keeping the death rate on the low side in spite of Vermont’s aging population. Yeah, I know, us Olds are so inconvenient.
The above was burped out this morning by “National School Choice Week,” an organization that claims to support education but doesn’t know how to spell Phil Scott’s first name. For the record, it’s one-L, as in Ogden Nash’s lama.
“National School Choice Week” is one of those innocuous-sounding labels adopted by a right-wing organization to obscure its true nature. Here’s how they themselves describe what they stand for:
School choice means giving parents access to the best K-12 education options for their children. These options include traditional public schools, public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.
Of course, parents already have access to all these options. What NCSW wants is for public dollars to follow every student no matter where they are educated, including institutions that practice various forms of discrimination and religious indoctrination. Such a program inevitably drains resources away from the public school system, which is one of the jewels of American government.
And yes indeed, Scott did issue a proclamation in support of NCSW. It’s couched in the usual language about improving the quality of education and accountability and parental authority. But look: Scott is endorsing a cause put forward by the enemies of public education on the right. That should worry anyone in Vermont who supports a strong system of public schools.
One week ago I referred to Education Secretary Dan French as “the Inspector Clouseau of the Scott cabinet.” Today, on advice from our crack legal team, I am unreservedly apologizing to the memory of the good Inspector, his descendants, and especially his lawyered-up estate. Because good God, the man is starting to make Clouseau look like a paragon of efficiency and organization.
And only a few days later, as VTDigger reports, we learn that the schools don’t have anywhere near enough test kits to actually conduct “test at home.” Yep, French’s latest policy was a disaster from conception to unveiling to pratfall.
Got a question. How the blue Hell did French’s agency not realize that tests would run out? School officials realized it within a couple of days.
Gov. Phil Scott is the master of leavening otherwise innocuous statements with little passive-aggressive cracks, such as his couching any opposition to his Wise PoliciesTM as “playing politics.” Well, Education Secretary Dan French, the Inspector Clouseau of the Scott cabinet, has listened and learned at the feet of his master.
You see, French buried a lovely nugget of condescension in his second consecutive Friday newsdump of fresh guidance for the public schools. Not only has he shifted state policy away from in-school testing and contact tracing; now he’s actively dissuading school officials from pursuing more stringent measures.
In his Friday email to the schools, French told them “to avoid the temptation to build additional processes.”
What he’s saying, I guess, is that school officials have to be cautioned away from the shiny bauble of additional work. Yes, the sirens of contact tracing and Test to Stay may be singing prettily from the rocky shore, but local officials need to tie themselves to the mast and sail on by the opportunity to take on a workload that was killing them throughout the fall semester.
Does he know how condescending this sounds? Probably not, given his customary level of obtuseness.
This was the facial expression Gov. Phil Scott pulled when he was asked if his administration got “caught with your pants down” by the Omicron variant. Yeah, he doesn’t like admitting he may have been wrong and he hates it when someone calls him on it. Maybe we can stop with the “nice guy” stuff, please?
Backing up for a sec. In a Friday newsdump at the end of last week, Education Secretary Dan French announced a complete change in Covid-19 policy for the public schools. At the time, I wrote: “There’s only one good thing about this fiasco. It’s the first time anyone in the Scott administration has admitted that their policies weren’t working.”
Well, at his Tuesday Covid briefing, the governor came out swinging against the idea that his now-inoperative school policies didn’t work.
“The process we’ve been using with school nurses acting as contact tracers was effective before Omicron,” he said in his opening statement, “but it no longer is as effective as it once was.”
I’d like to hear him say that to the face of any school nurse in Vermont. They, and other school staff, were overwhelmed by the workload involved in contact tracing and Test to Stay*. It was unsustainable, and the administration did nothing to help. That’s why the Agency of Education struggled throughout the fall semester to get school districts to sign up for Test to Stay. It was more effective than, say, doing nothing at all, but it never came close to being effective.
*Speaking of which, Scott announced that child care facilities will now be able to sign up for Test to Stay. Did anyone else notice the contradiction? “Test to Stay” is now ineffective in the schools, but it’s the latest thing for child care? Huh.
Hell, he couldn’t even bring himself to admit that the policy failed to meet the test of the Omicron variant. All he said was the policy was “no longer as effective as it once was.”