Byrne: Love in the time of the coronavirus

Like many of you I “attended” Palm Sunday worship online. It was strange not to be there at St. James Fairhope physically for the Liturgy of the Palms to gather outside for prayers and walk into the church together with our palms singing “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”

I heard the words of the Passion according to St. Matthew but wasn’t there to see the faces and expressions of the readers. We said prayers for those afflicted by the disease and those caring for them. We also said the right words for the offering, the Eucharist and the peace, but there was no offering or Eucharist, and we couldn’t physically greet one another with the words, “The Peace of the Lord be always with you; And also with you.”

Worship is more than just words. It’s the act of coming together as God’s people to worship Him, sing hymns, pray, hear God’s Word and be one body. We did it apart last Sunday and will do it this Sunday for Easter. It’s strange but necessary.

When I was a teenager, there was a novel and movie called “Love Story.” It had one of the dumbest lines I’ve ever heard: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Love means frequently having to say you’re sorry, whether or not you caused another’s trouble or hurt.

Over a million people worldwide are confirmed to have COVID-19. Tens of thousands have died from it. I’m very sorry for them, their family members and loved ones. I’m sorry so many on the front lines are working long hours, exposing themselves to danger, and that so many have lost their jobs as we practice social distancing.

All that could drive many to depression, anti-social behavior, and self-destructive acts. To avoid that we all must help one another, just as we do down here during hurricanes, except at a physical distance. And it doesn’t do any good – in fact it’s harmful – to play the blame game. While there will be a time to assess the culpability of the Chinese government, rhetoric or discrimination against Asian Americans is irrational, harmful and just plain wrong.

Congress and President Trump put aside our differences, however temporarily, to overwhelmingly pass the CARES Act, pumping over $2 trillion into our economy in a bold move to cushion the economic effects of social distancing and pay for the health care and research to defeat this disease. I and my staff are working around the clock to get information to our constituents about the disease itself and these new government programs. And, as we hear needs, we take them directly to those in charge of providing help. We aren’t on the front lines caring for the sick, but we have a supportive role to play and are determined to do our part.

During Sunday’s online service, I remembered that love isn’t a sugary, sentimental thing. It often involves sacrifice. It’s not that sacrificial for me to miss being physically in church, though I felt I was missing something. That something is a small thing compared with risking the spread of this disease.

And, listening to the Passion narrative, I remembered what real sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, really is. And why did Jesus do it? Because He loved us that much. It wasn’t just the physical agony, but more painful to him, taking on all our sins to himself, all our collective denial of and disobedience to God. He said “I and the Father are one” and then allowed Himself to be separated from God as He took on all our sins. No wonder he cried out at that moment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But God did not leave Jesus to death, for the Resurrection was three days away.

God has not forsaken us. To care for us, he requires each of us to love and take care of one another. Right now, in part, that means we must be apart from one another, and for many to suffer economically and perhaps even emotionally. Let’s all be more attuned and sensitive, and helpful, to one another.

Good Friday isn’t good because Jesus was killed but because He rose again. It may seem dark now, but the light of Easter morning is just around the corner.

The last verse of an old French Easter carol called Now The Green Blade Riseth says, “When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, thy touch can call us back to life again, fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again like wheat that springeth green”.

Spring is here. So is love. Pass it on.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

6 hours ago

Virtual K-12 school options see increased attention as pre-existing growth hastened by pandemic

Since the state legislature passed a law creating the option in 2015, attending an Alabama public school over the internet has become an increasingly popular choice for students across the state.

The year 2020 saw the first graduating class of students who learned virtually for all four years of their high school education.

Additionally, online schools are seeing increased attention as the coronavirus pandemic creates concern among some returning students.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey told WBRC that school officials are looking to expand virtual learning options. Mackey highlighted specifically that virtual options would let immunocompromised students learn without the fear of contracting COVID-19.

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State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, told Yellowhammer News that the consensus number among Alabama educators, as of now, is around 5% of students may not return to the classroom this fall.

Estimated enrollment in Alabama’s public schools is around 740,000 students. Five percent of that would be 37,000 school kids.

“We’re just going to have to see what that looks like, and it may look different in different places,” added Collins on the coronavirus’ impact on enrollment.

The pioneering class that learned virtually for all four years graduated from Alabama Virtual Academy (ALVA), a project of Eufala City Schools. ALVA began with 50 students in 2015 and grew to over 3,000 students by 2019.

The Academy plans to raise its enrollment to 3,500 this fall to help accommodate increased interest during the coronavirus pandemic.

Students can enroll in ALVA regardless of where they live in Alabama.

Alabama Virtual Academy is done in partnership with the company K12 Education Inc., a firm that specializes in building online learning programs.

K12 Education Senior Director of School Partnerships and Compliance Perry Daniel told Yellowhammer News that ALVA is especially popular for students who live in Huntsville and Birmingham.

Daniel said 80% of nongraduating students who enrolled in ALVA last year have chosen to return this fall.

Students enroll in ALVA similarly to how they would at any other public school. The necessary supplies are then shipped to students at home.

Instruction at ALVA is conducted through a platform named Online School, with a supplement of video conferencing with certain teachers. It is available for students in grades K-12.

The Limestone County school system operates the Limestone County Virtual School Center, which is roughly similar in enrollment and course offerings to the Alabama Virtual Academy.

Athens City Schools and Conecuh County both operate much smaller virtual learning options.

The Chickasaw City school system in Mobile County opened a virtual academy focused on career training at the start of the 2019-2020 school year.

The school, called Alabama Destinations Career Academy, serves students in grades K-9 and aims to present “hands-on learning experiences in growing career fields” such as “information technology, heath and human services, and advanced manufacturing,” according to a release provided to Yellowhammer News.

Reporting by Alabama Media Group indicates there were 6,100 Alabama students enrolled in the virtual schools during the 2019-2020 school year.

ALVA from Eufala City Schools led the way with 3,091 students and Limestone County Virtual had 2,298.

A source of tension in the development of online schools is that the system providing the school gets the allotment of resources the State of Alabama allocates for each pupil enrolled, even as the costs for providing a virtual school are much less than a physical location.

The Alabama Department of Education recently issued a request for proposals to see which organizations could offer a feasible statewide online school. The proposals are due Friday, June 5.

“[I]n an abundance of caution, we want to have a virtual option in place that school systems across the state can take advantage of in the event it is needed,” Alabama State Department of Education Communications Director Michael Sibley recently told Alabama Media Group.

Collins commented to Yellowhammer about the statewide digital school, “I hope we’re just not looking for a bargain basement price, but that we’re actually looking for quality online education. Because it is available, and we want to make sure we’re getting something that is best for the students of Alabama.”

At the encouragement of Superintendent Mackey, multiple school systems across the state are also developing their own local virtual schools for this fall and beyond. Such efforts would be independent of the statewide virtual academy.

Collins told Yellowhammer that systems in Decatur City and Hartselle City, which she represents, are both building local virtual options.

Alabama State Senator Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) recently addressed the ALVA graduating class that learned virtually for all of high school.

Gudger told the graduates, “We will talk about what happened these past few months for the rest of our lives, especially new phenomenon like social distancing.”

The state senator continued, “But one term that did not surprise any of you was virtual learning, because you all are the pioneers for virtual education here in Alabama. The skills you have learned at ALVA will undoubtedly serve you well as you advance to the next stage of life. Congratulations again a job well done.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

7 hours ago

Alabama Farmers Federation endorses Jerry Carl in AL-01

The Alabama Farmers Federation’s political arm, FarmPAC, on Tuesday announced the endorsement of Republican Jerry Carl in Alabama’s First Congressional District.

Carl, a Mobile County commissioner and businessman, is set to face former State Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) in a GOP primary runoff on July 14.

Per FarmPAC’s process, congressional endorsements are recommended by county federations in each district based on the candidates’ positions on key issues impacting farmers and rural Alabama.

“We take pride in being a grassroots organization with local leaders driving the endorsement process,” Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell said in a statement.

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“After a careful consideration, county Federations in southwest Alabama made their recommendation, and I am pleased to announce the Alabama Farmers Federation has endorsed Jerry Carl,” he advised. “Alabama’s 1st Congressional district has a rich heritage rooted in agriculture and timber, and Jerry will be strong advocate from those industries in Washington.”

Carl expressed appreciation for the federation’s endorsement.

“It is an incredible honor to have the endorsement of the Alabama Farmers Federation,” Carl remarked. “With agriculture being our state’s largest industry, our farmers are the backbone of our state and our economy. They represent the hard-working interests of the district that I will fight for in Congress as we work to get our economy back on track.”

“The Federation knows I will fight tirelessly for the president’s agenda and will do what is needed to support the hard-working men and women who put food on our tables and clothes on our backs,” he concluded.

Other candidates previously endorsed by the federation who are running in the July 14 Republican runoff are Tommy Tuberville for the U.S. Senate, Jeff Coleman for Congress in AL-02 and Judge Beth Kellum for Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2.

RELATED: Merrill: Absentee balloting still an option for runoff voters concerned about coronavirus

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

City of Mobile cleans Confederate statue after overnight vandalism; Suspect arrested, charged

The statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes in downtown Mobile was defaced on Monday night, with a suspect already being booked and the monument restored.

Local media outlets reported that 20-year-old Mitchell Bond, a white male, has been arrested and charged with a misdemeanor after graffiting the base of the statue.

A two-person crew from the City of Mobile reportedly spent more than an hour power-washing the statue, and the spray paint can no longer be seen, per WKRG.

Bond, apparently sporting a t-shirt depicting former President Bill Clinton firing a gun, was hauled off to jail in handcuffs on Tuesday. His arrest came after investigators utilized surveillance footage of the incident, per NBC 15.

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Semmes commanded the CSS Alabama in the Confederate Navy. He died in Mobile in 1877.

Originally dedicated in 1900, the statue of Semmes is covered by the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.

George Talbot, director of communications and external affairs for the City of Mobile, told Fox 10 that “the statue was vandalized last night and a suspect has been identified. The graffiti is being cleaned, as we would do with any public property. Any decision on moving it would be collaborative in nature. There is a process for that, and we are listening to the community’s voice as part of that process.”

Semmes is a member of the Alabama Hall of Fame. The City of Semmes in western Mobile County was named after him, as was The Admiral Hotel (a Curio by Hilton property) in downtown Mobile.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

8 hours ago

Dale Jackson: Politicians taking a knee display performative wokeness, performative weakness

Why would an American politician take a knee as protesters chant “take a knee” or publish a picture of them taking a knee to social media?

There are only two reasons: performative wokeness or performative weakness.

There is a difference, but every single time some sad white politician thinks he or she can quiet a mob or show solidarity by taking a knee they are sadly mistaken.

That never appears to be the goal. This appears to be about pandering acquiescence and nothing more.

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Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, a public official of one of the most progressive non-college towns in the state, took a knee at a “mostly peaceful protest.”

Why?

According to Battle, he was attempting to show he supported the protest to keep his community safe.

“You know, I walked up and they said ‘kneel with me,'” Battle said on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show.” “I didn’t know if they wanted to pray or if they wanted to kneel, but I was fine with it. You know, there’s no pride in this thing. The pride is getting through the event and getting through it with our community intact and without shots being fired and without windows being broken. If it takes kneeling, I’ll kneel to try to make sure our community is safe.”

That is performative wokeness.

When asked about the chants and demands that cops kneel at this same protest, Battle said he never saw that and felt there was no need for it from Huntsville police.

“They kept saying, ‘They need to kneel, they need to kneel.’ There wasn’t a need for them to kneel. They were standing there doing their job and they were standing there as a blue line in front of everybody to make sure people were safe,” Battle explained.

They did not kneel.

But some cops have taken a knee.

Either way, Mayor Battle can support their cause and be a part of it. He can, and does, support the removal of the Confederate memorial on Madison County Courthouse grounds but these protesters still wanted an image of him on his knees.

They got it.

Did he get what he wanted?

Nope.

Tear gas was needed, rocks were thrown, rioters went to another part of the city, and attempted to attack a shopping center.

So it is now performative weakness on Battle’s part. We will see how it plays out at the next scheduled protest in Huntsville on Wednesday.

Nationally, Joe Biden visited a church in Delaware and took this photo:

Now, this is performative wokeness!

Mask on tight, even though it was off earlier in the visit. Biden centered in the photo, down on one knee, while black leaders stand behind him.

It might as well be this episode of “South Park,” where a main character attempts to atone for a racial slur by kissing Jesse Jackson’s backside (it didn’t work).

Joe Biden is doing whatever he needs to win an election, nothing more.

That is performative wokeness.

When it comes to a politician or any other figure being cajoled to take a knee in solidarity with protesters, it can only be a sign of performative wokeness or performative weakness. Those are the only options.

Americans do not want their leaders “taking a knee” to anyone. They want strength and someone who stands tall.

As cities burn and threats to businesses and communities remain, the last thing people want is the appearance of wokeness from their leaders and they definitely don’t want weakness.

That’s what this is.

Whether you like Trump or not, walking out to a burned church after ordering a park cleared of a disruptive element is a statement of power and leadership.

The media hates this. They wanted Trump trapped in the White House while they cheerlead for chaos and carnage.

They all want Trump to look weak, but he is engaging in performative strength.

The question is about what Americans want from leaders.

Americans want more strength, more law and order, less violence and a sense of normalcy.

Trump has to deliver this, not with words and photo ops but in action, too.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

9 hours ago

Jefferson County issues curfew; Most Jeff Co. cities also under curfew

The Jefferson County Commission on Tuesday voted to impose a curfew on the unincorporated portions of its jurisdiction, as most cities within the county are also under curfew.

Following the violence, vandalism and looting that occurred in Birmingham on Sunday night, municipalities in the metropolitan area quickly moved to prepare against potential civil unrest.

WBRC reported that the unincorporated areas of Jefferson County now have a curfew from 7:00 p.m. until to 6:00 a.m. The curfew currently runs through June 9.

This mirrors the curfew of many cities within the county.

Per WBRC, here are current city curfews in the Birmingham metro area:

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Mountain Brook — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Birmingham — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Hueytown — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Hoover — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Tarrant — 6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Homewood — 8: 00p.m. – 5:00 a.m.
Leeds — 6:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Adamsville — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.
Gardendale — 7:00 p.m. – 5:00 a.m.
Irondale — 7:00 p.m. – 6:00 a.m.

Hoover has also been dealing in recent days with tense protests, culminating in at least 45 arrests as of Monday, according to The Hoover Sun. A state of emergency has been declared by Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato.

The newspaper reported that Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said that officers had bottles of water, bottles of urine and eggs thrown at them during demonstrations, and one police officer was injured. Two retail stores reportedly had glass doors and/or windows smashed.

The Hoover Sun further reported that Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Coker made a request on the county’s and multiple area cities’ behalf to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to have the National Guard available to assist any part of the county that may need help in maintaining the peace.

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens and the respective mayors of Hoover, Homewood, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills all requested this action, Coker told the newspaper.

This came after Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced that she has given authorization to Adjutant General Sheryl Gordon with the Alabama National Guard to activate up to 1,000 guardsmen, should the need arise in response to violent civil unrest.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn