2 weeks ago

Jefferson County Commission president: ‘Remote learning cannot compare with in-class instruction’

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens supports local school boards and superintendents deciding if students in their districts will physically return to school for the start of the academic year.

In a Thursday letter to Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson, Stephens emphasized that these local education leaders must be given balanced, unbiased information to make the best possible decisions for their respective locales.

This comes after Wilson earlier this week sent out a letter to school leaders in the county recommending that they “[s]trongly consider virtual instruction only (no in-person instruction) for middle and high school students throughout the first grading period (typically 9 weeks).”

Wilson further recommended that students from pre-k through middle school be required to wear face coverings while at school if in-person instruction is to be allowed.

Governor Kay Ivey and State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris this week announced a new state health order that only required students in the second grade and above to wear face coverings while at school.

Another recommendation by Wilson was to cancel or postpone “close contact sports” such as football. This came after the Alabama High School Athletic Association recently announced that fall sports will be allowed to start on schedule this year.

Stephens, in his letter, thanked Wilson for his efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19, while encouraging the local health officer to consider education outcomes when speaking about education.

“I truly understand your concern and how your recommendation is consistent with the mission of your office,” Stephens acknowledged. “I can appreciate your thought process and reasoning. I sincerely believe you are doing your best to abate the spread of the virus. … I do not envy the difficult position you are in and the choices you must weigh.”

However, the county commission head noted, “I also share the concerns of many of my constituents that there are several other important factors involved with reopening schools, all equally deserving strong consideration.”

Stephens, who is also on the board of the Jefferson County Department of Health, advised that hundreds of his constituents have contacted him “expressing their confusion and frustration over the mixed messages they are receiving concerning school attendance.”

He underscored that Governor Kay Ivey has voiced her support for resuming in-person instruction wherever it is possible to do so safely.

“I’m telling you we need to do everything we can to get our kids back in the classroom as soon as possible,” said the governor. She warned that the state will experience a backwards “slide” in education if students do not return to in-person instruction this year.

Both Stephens and Ivey are former educators, with the Jefferson County official having 21 years of experience himself.

“Local school administrators, as well as the State Health Officer, Governor Ivey and others, have communicated their plans and expectations to safely reopen schools for in-class instruction in the coming weeks,” Stephens wrote to Wilson. “Your letter, which has been widely publicized, seemingly contradicts this…”

“We should find ways to better coordinate messaging that provides the public with clarity and clear guidance, not to add to the confusion. We must provide the public with safe, effective public health protocols and guidance for combatting this pandemic while understanding and balancing the public right to individual choice,” he added.

Stephens emphasized the “innate benefits” of in-class instruction for students.

“Remote learning cannot compare with in-class instruction to provide focused learning resources, collaborative learning experiences, comprehension assessment, stable environment, social interaction, comprehensive meal programs, improved organizational skills, critical thinking skills and personality and career skills,” he outlined. “All are important.”

Another positive of in-person learning, per Stephens, is teachers being better able to identify abused children. He further explained that remote learning is especially inferior for special needs students.

“I would ask that you offer equal guidance to assist our school boards and superintendents relating to virtual, blended and traditional learning settings,” Stephens said to the county health officer. “These boards best know their communities and the individual needs of their students. Each family unit within each community must decide on their child’s learning setting and each must be afforded options from which to choose. Guidelines for a safe environment for virtual, blended and traditional learning settings would offer each school board options from which to choose.”

“I strongly encourage you to provide sound, effective options for school boards to consider as they work diligently to structure a safe environment while maintaining the highest educational standards,” he continued.

Read Stephens’ entire letter here.

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

6 mins ago

There are some very positive signs on how Alabama is dealing with the coronavirus

All too often we in the media, including myself, dwell on the negative.

The mainstream media always sides with the bad guys, be they rioters, Democrats or the coronavirus.

So, let’s talk about some good news and good guys.

The fact that we are in day three of sub-1,000 new coronavirus cases is great. Whether it is the mask ordinance or not, who cares. The numbers are coming down, and that is great.

371

Three straight days at this level have not been seen in Alabama since June 28!

Hospitalizations are down, too.

And the reproduction of the virus is below one, as well. This, according to BamaTracker.com, is great news:

Rt is the rate of reproduction of the virus. If Rt is above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus will stop spreading exponentially.

White House coronavirus task force member and Navy Admiral Brett Giroir appeared on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” on Thursday to talk about Alabama’s coronavirus response and noted that near-universal masking could have close to the same results of a lockdown without the devastating economic impact.

When asked about the recent spike in deaths the state is seeing, he noted a trend that involves a high number of cases followed in two weeks by high hospitalization rates and then followed by an increase in deaths.

Giroir believes Alabama is on the right track and should stay the course to get to the other side of this pandemic.

This is not the only good news on the coronavirus to come out in the last 24 hours. The coronavirus testing that has been done in the University of Alabama System is showing some pretty good results.

According to aldotcom, 30,000 tests have been done and 249 students tested positive for the coronavirus, which is 0.83%.

My takeaway:

This is huge. It opens the door for a return to classrooms, college football and some sign that normal college life might be possible.

The students at these schools deserve a huge amount of credit for this. They clearly social distanced, masked up, washed their hands and sacrificed to help get these numbers where they are.

This shows that it can be done and we can get these numbers down to avoid further restrictions, damage to our economy and maybe get back to a normal-ish life soon.

There is an incentive to accentuate the negative. Some make their living off of that, but it’s OK to see the good in the world every now and then.

Listen:

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

1 hour ago

Netflix releases trailer for movie filmed in Alabama starring Tom Holland

Netflix on Thursday released a trailer for its upcoming film “The Devil All The Time,” which was filmed in Alabama and features an ensemble cast including Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson.

The streaming content giant says its new movie “renders a seductive and horrific landscape that pits the just against the corrupted.”

The trailer released Thursday showcases a grim, unsettling tone with multiple shots framed in darkness and scored with ominous music.

The movie was filmed in 2019 from February to April. Several locations across Alabama were used during production, including a street in downtown Anniston that was dressed to match the movie’s post-World War II setting.

201

“The Devil All The Time” is an adaptation of the 2011 novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, which spent weeks on the bestsellers list. The film is directed by Antonio Campos.

The movie appears to have piqued the interest of many on the internet. It accrued 1.6 million views on Youtube in the first five hours it was online.

Tommy Fell of the Alabama Film Office told the Elmore Autauga News that “The Devil All The Time” is the largest production to shoot in the Yellowhammer State since Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” in 2003.

Holland portrays the son of a WWII veteran who is pitted against an evil preacher portrayed by Robert Pattinson and other nefarious characters in the small town where he lives.

The various spots the crew used across Alabama will be used to create the small Ohio town where the movie is set.

Holland is familiar to many moviegoers as the most recent actor to portray Spider-Man, a performance that earned him high marks from critics and many devoted fans.

“The Devil All The Time” will premiere September 16, exclusively on Netflix.

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

1 hour ago

Retirement Systems of Alabama head: Trump ‘enjoys conflict and turmoil over progress and a United America’

Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) CEO Dr. David Bronner had some harsh words for President Donald Trump this month.

In August’s RSA Advisor, a monthly publication from the group, Bronner entitled his normal column, “The ‘Economic Terror’ of 2020.”

“We are slightly past halfway of 2020 and to be honest, it feels like a decade of problems thrown at the world in a mere six months. Unfortunately, our president enjoys conflict and turmoil over progress and a United America,” he wrote to begin the column.

501

“I have known President Trump for over 25 years,” Bronner continued. “We have played golf twice, and sat beside each other during numerous public and private events – the Miss Universe pageant and the Elevated Acre Park dedication in New York City. Our relationship cooled when he built Trump Towers with illegal immigrants from Poland and abused contractors in the process.”

“Take his unusual management style, add to it the world’s worst pandemic in our lifetime, toss in legal protests (don’t forget that is how women got to vote), some taken over by rioters – and here comes hurricane season,” he warned. “How do these things affect and impact Alabama? When Alabama started to develop tourism 27 years ago, we had about $1.8 billion in tourist revenue – most of that was from the beaches. Revenue grew to $17 billion in 2019. If a solution to COVID-19 is not found, that could easily be cut by 50% to 75%.”

Bronner subsequently highlighted vaccine development efforts as a source of optimism before making some economic observations and predictions.

He then concluded the column with praise for former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who recently denounced President Trump.

“In time, we will get past these serious problems – from racism to health pandemics – if we listen to the real heroes of America like General James N. Mattis, our former Secretary of Defense: ‘In unity, there is strength,'” Bronner wrote.

The Advisor issue, including Bronner’s column, is hosted on RSA’s website online, which utilizes an “AL.gov” domain.

A physical copy was also sent to the more than 370,000 RSA members, who are State employees and retirees. Additionally, Advisor copies are traditionally placed in RSA-owned buildings and certain governmental buildings, including the State House, for distribution. The Alabama Great Seal is displayed just above Bronner’s column.

The federal government maintains “.gov” domains and regulates their usage. It is the policy of the federal government that “political information” not be shared on “.gov” websites, which could put the RSA’s domain in jeopardy.

The Code of Alabama states, “No person in the employment of the State of Alabama, a county, a city, a local school board, or any other governmental agency, whether classified or unclassified, shall use any state, county, city, local school board, or other governmental agency funds, property, or time, for any political activities.”

Bronner is the highest paid state employee in Alabama. In Fiscal Year 2019, he was paid $754,684.98, according to records published by the Alabama Department of Finance.

This is not the first time the RSA head has publicly attacked Trump or made controversial political statements.

During a meeting of the Alabama State Employees Association in October 2015, Bronner said of then-candidate Trump, “I know the bastard, he ain’t worth anything. I assure you, if Mr. Trump was president, you wouldn’t like it. That I can promise.”

RELATED: How an Alabama state employee built a billionaire’s lifestyle in a taxpayer-funded job

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

1 hour ago

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing to boost Alabama investment by $830 million

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM), the joint venture between automakers Mazda Motor Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., plans to make an additional $830 million investment in Alabama to incorporate new cutting-edge manufacturing technologies to its production lines and provide enhanced training to its workforce of up to 4,000 employees.

“Toyota’s presence in Alabama continues to build excitement about future opportunities that lie ahead, both for our economy and for the residents of our great state,” Governor Kay Ivey said.

“Mazda and Toyota’s increased commitment to the development of this manufacturing plant reiterates their belief in the future of manufacturing in America and the potential for the state of Alabama to be an economic leader in the wake of unprecedented economic change.”

The additional investment brings the total figure in the state-of-the-art facility in Huntsville to $2.311 billion, up from the $1.6 billion originally announced in 2018.

414

The investment reaffirms Mazda and Toyota’s commitment to produce the highest-quality products at all of their production facilities.

The investment also accommodates production line modifications to enhance manufacturing processes supporting the Mazda vehicle and design changes to the yet-to-be-announced Toyota SUV that will be both produced at the Alabama plant.

The new facility will have the capacity to produce up to 150,000 units of a future Mazda crossover model and up to 150,000 units of the Toyota SUV each year.

HIRING PLANS

MTM continues to plan for up to 4,000 new jobs and has hired approximately 600 employees to date, with plans to resume accepting applications for production positions later in 2020. Initial hiring began in January.

“Mazda Toyota Manufacturing is proud to call Alabama home. Through strong support from our state and local partners, we have been able to further incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, provide world-class training for team members and develop the highest quality production processes,” said Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration at MTM.

“As we prepare for the start of production next year, we look forward to developing our future workforce and serving as a hometown company for many years to come,” he added.

Full-scale construction of the Alabama plant continues, with 75 to 100 percent completion on roofing, siding, floor slabs, ductwork, fire protection and electrical.Construction began in early 2019.

“This newest investment by our partners at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing shows the company’s continued confidence in the ability of our community to provide a strong, skilled workforce to meet the demands for quality and reliability,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.

“We look forward to the day when the first vehicles roll off the line,” he added.

“We are excited to learn of this additional investment being made by Mazda Toyota Manufacturing,” Limestone County Commission Chairman Colin Daly said.

“We continue to be grateful to MTM for their belief in our community and look forward to our partnership with them for many years to come.”

MAGNIFYING IMPACT

Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said MTM’s new investment will magnify the economic impact of a project that is poised to transform the North Alabama region.

“With this enhanced investment, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA is adding new technology and capabilities to a manufacturing facility that was already designed to be one of the most efficient factories in the automotive industry,” Canfield said.

“We’re confident that the groundbreaking collaboration between Mazda and Toyota will drive growth not only for the companies but also for North Alabama for generations.”

(Courtesy of Made In Alabama)

3 hours ago

Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

There is good news in Alabama’s fight against the coronavirus this week, with a number of key metrics including hospitalizations showing the state making progress while the disease remains highly active.

Hospitals across the state admitted an average of 108 COVID-19 patients per day over the last week — a number that is far higher than preferred by healthcare professionals — but also the first time the rate has declined on a week to week basis since the beginning of the pandemic.

Previously, the seven-day average of hospitalizations had hovered between 160 and 200 since July 17.

Yellowhammer News used numbers from the coronavirus information hubs BamaTracker and Johns Hopkins University for the data in this article.

376

There was an average of 1,156 new coronavirus cases confirmed in the Yellowhammer State over the last seven days. That is is down from an average of 1,415 for the week concluding on August 6, a roughly 18% decline.

(BamaTracker)

Notably, Alabama’s total number of coronavirus cases since the virus reached the state exceeded 100,000 this week and reached a total of 101,491 as of Thursday morning.

Another good sign for the state is that seven counties reported no new cases on Thursday. For virtually all of July and early August, only one or two counties each day did not report a case.

Especially encouraging to infectious disease experts is the decline in the percentage of tests for COVID-19 that are coming back positive.

According to the data, 13% of the tests given each of the last seven days in Alabama have come back positive, and though that is well above the national average of 7.8%, it is a welcomed decline from a statewide high of over 20% that happened over the week ending August 2.

BamaTracker says the ideal range of tests coming back positive is 1%-5%.

On average, 24 people with coronavirus died each day for the last week in Alabama, one of the highest rates from throughout the pandemic.

(BamaTracker)

The state’s death toll now stands at 1,821 with another 69 people who are presumed to have perished with COVID-19 but have not yet been confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

According to experts, a surge in new cases follows the occurrence where the virus was spread by about seven to 14 days. A corresponding increase in hospitalizations occurs around two weeks after the surge in new cases, and the concluding uptick in deaths comes two to four weeks after the increase in hospitalizations.

Those expert findings would indicate Alabama’s increase in deaths stems from behavior occurring around the weekend of July 4, though figures like State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris are quick to point out that something as complex as the fluctuations of a pandemic are never attributable to one single factor.

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