1 month ago

Singleton: Leadership is being constant to something greater than yourself

I left Montgomery on Thursday evening fuming. In four weeks, more than 700,000 K-12 students, teachers, nurses and administrators across 138 school districts will venture back into Alabama’s classrooms for the first time since COVID-19 stopped our education system in its tracks.

In the four months since schools closed in March, the Alabama State Department of Education (DOE) hasn’t developed a single uniform parameter to protect the health of Alabama’s teachers and students this fall – not one. On Thursday, I learned that they don’t intend to.

The DOE released a so-called “roadmap” to reopening schools. It’s a 45-page document that has no provisions for testing or contact tracing. No criteria for determining the best time for school districts to open. No statewide plan for distance learning in the event schools are forced to close again. No substantive direction. The document is nothing more than a series of colorful graphics and suggestions, void of the leadership required by this crisis.

This isn’t a case of reasonable minds disagreeing. It’s not even debatable. The DOE plan is woefully inadequate and it comes at a time when the state is setting new records for COVID-19 cases with each passing day. I left Montgomery angry because our school administrators and teachers, our parents and our children deserve so much better. I was anxious because I don’t want to see our schools become incubators for this virus, and I don’t want to ever see the day when children are the new face of COVID-19 in Alabama.

But I know problems are rarely solved in anger. So, I started focusing on solutions. In a time when nearly everything in our country is politicized, the wisdom that stood out to me the most was from the late Republican U.S. Senator John McCain. “Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely and who rely on you,” he said.

With all the fear, uncertainty and loss COVID-19 has caused, we now have the opportunity to change the landscape of public education in Alabama – for now and the future. This is about a cause greater than any single individual.

The Alabama School Nurses Association has proposed the Safely Opening Schools (SOS) Program. It’s an aggressive, proactive plan focused on health equity – ensuring each and every Alabama school is equipped to implement health measures to keep our teachers and students safe. It includes three primary components.

1. Building nurses stations/isolation rooms at every single school in Alabama at a cost just under $50,000 per building.

2. Purchasing testing machines and supplies for every school in Alabama that is projected to result in more than 500,000 tests in nine months.

3. Hiring approximately 300 nurses for the schools around the state that are currently without one, with their salaries guaranteed for two years.

The SOS program is a strong plan, and I join my colleagues from across the aisle, Senators Jabo Waggoner and Jim McClendon, in supporting it. We’ve asked Governor Ivey to fund the majority of the program’s $150 million price tag out of Alabama’s $1.8 billion federal CARES Act allocation. We believe the remaining expenses could be covered by various grants, at no cost to Alabama’s taxpayers.

This is about our principles. For far too many Alabama students, school is the first and only checkpoint for signs of distress like physical abuse, poor nutrition, and mental and physical health issues. The return on this investment will extend well beyond this current health crisis. We have the opportunity for every school in the state – EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL – to have a cutting-edge nurse’s station, with state-of-the-art testing equipment and a full-time school nurse. Without this program, all students are at increased risk. That risk is disproportionately high for students in underserved and historically marginalized districts.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. We also have to address other educational inequities like access to technology, broadband and learning support. For most of the counties in my district, the percentage of families with broadband in their home is in the single digits. Our commitment to mitigating these impacts and providing an equitable system of public education must be unwavering. We can’t afford to have a wait-and-see attitude. We have to make prudent decisions and we have to make them now.

The leadership should be coming from the DOE, but instead, they’ve opted to pass the baton to local school districts. If the DOE is not up to the job, then the onus is on the rest of us to protect Alabama’s children, and the parents and teachers committed to educating them. In a time where so many things divide us, glory belongs to the act of being constant to the people on whom you rely, and who rely on you.

Bobby Singleton is the Alabama Senate Minority Leader

57 mins ago

License plate to support Alabama business proposed — Must meet 1,000 application benchmark

A license plate that will support Alabama small businesses will be created if 1,000 apply for one by July 31.

Funds from purchasing the plate will be given to Main Street Alabama, which will in turn provide workshops and grants to small businesses around the Yellowhammer State.

The tag can be applied for here. A $50 fee accompanies the application.

“With this program, individuals can show their dedication to their favorite small businesses, who in many cases are their friends and neighbors, with a tag that gives back to them with workshops and grants focused on strengthening their business,” said Main Street Alabama state coordinator Mary Helmer in a statement.

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Helmer added, “Small businesses keep it local by consistently sponsoring the local baseball team, providing gift baskets for the local charity drives and creating jobs in their community.”

Main Street Alabama is a non-profit entity and an offshoot of Main Street America organization.

The artwork on the tag was created by Chris Seagle, a graphic designer based in Birmingham.

The idea for a car tag supporting small business originated among a group of elected officials in Jefferson County.

Casey Middlebrooks, a member of the group and a Hoover City Councilman, said that his fellow officials “felt Main Street Alabama had the statewide presence and resources to facilitate support to small businesses throughout the state.”

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

Ivey urges Alabamians to complete Census — Billions in funding, congressional seat at stake

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Friday released a video public service announcement urging Yellowhammer State residents to complete the 2020 Census.

The deadline to complete the Census recently was moved up to September 30, meaning there is less than seven weeks left for Alabamians to either self-respond or respond to Census Bureau field staff.

Leaders from the public sector, as well as industry, economic development, charitable and civic organizations, have warned for months that Alabama has a lot on the line during the 2020 Census response period.

Projections have shown the state will lose a congressional district and corresponding electoral college vote — likely to a far-left state such as New York, California or Illinois — if Alabama’s response rate continues to lag.

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“Complete your 2020 Census today,” Ivey said to begin the new PSA. “We only have until September 30.”

“Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities,” she continued. “It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail.”

The governor concluded, “Be counted — if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”

Watch:

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

2 hours ago

Report: Birmingham golf tournament Regions Tradition canceled for 2020

A report from WBRC in Birmingham on Friday says that the yearly golf tournament Regions Tradition has canceled the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event organizers say it will be back in early May of 2021.

WBRC says they were told by a “source close to the tournament” about the decision to cancel the 2020 version.

The tournament had previously been rescheduled from its normal late spring/early summer slot until September due to COVID-19 concerns.

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Regions Tradition is a tournament on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, a series of competitions held each year for golfers over age 50.

According to Alabama NewsCenter, the annual Regions Tradition tournament has an economic impact on the Birmingham area between $20 million and $25 million every year.

The Tradition was first held in 1989 and is one of the five major golf tournaments on the Senior Circuit.

Regions took over as the event’s sponsor in 2010 and relocated the tournament to the Birmingham area beginning in 2011.

Steve Stricker won the tournament in 2019, a title he will now keep for two years.

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

2 hours ago

Jefferson County health officials say coronavirus pandemic precautions will continue into 2021

Two impactful figures in Jefferson County’s healthcare system advised on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting precautions such as mask-wearing will remain a major factor in public life at least through the end of 2020.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson and CEO of the UAB Health System/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance Will Ferniany briefed reporters on coronavirus information during a Friday morning videoconference.

“This pandemic is not going away by the end of December,” warned Ferniany.

Wilson said it was “very likely” that he would push to keep a mask order in place across Jefferson County “through the flu season” which would indicate the ordinance would stay in place at least through the spring of 2021.

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“We have pretty good evidence that our face-covering orders, and our help from the public wearing face coverings, has made a difference,” remarked Wilson.

“We still have a ways to go but we’re starting to bend the curve downward,” Wilson told reporters.

The remarks made by Wilson and Ferniany are similar to what Mobile County epidemiologist Dr. Rendi Murphree told Yellowhammer News in recent days.

Ferniany said that UAB is making a significant investment in rapid testing that should be ready for action by the end of the year, the availability of which should make dealing with the virus more manageable.

Wilson highlighted a standard he felt more people should understand.

The county health officer said that any person exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days, even if they go out and get a test showing they do not have the virus.

“Fourteen days is the maximum amount of time from being exposed to the virus where you could still develop symptoms,” Wilson said to explain the policy.

Ferniany said UAB Hospital is currently treating around 90 patients, down from a peak of 130. He relayed that 40 of the COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized are in the ICU.

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

The executive also said that the toughest aspect of caring for COVID-19 cases currently is the shortage of nurses. He said the hospitals he oversees are down “several hundred nurses” with the partial explanation that traveling nursing companies are luring workers away with higher wages.

Wilson reported additional good news for Jefferson County. He said that the area is not experiencing a higher rate of black citizens dying from COVID-19 than white citizens.

“So far we’re not seeing a racial disparity in terms of deaths in Jefferson County,” he relayed.

“Forty-one percent of our deaths in Jefferson County with COVID-19 are African American. The African American population is 43%,” Wilson stated.

Yellowhammer News asked Wilson what kind of benchmarks he would need to be passed to trigger a loosening of coronavirus precautions and whether that would be dependent on a vaccine.

“We’re not going to be out of the woods for quite a long time,” Wilson responded.

“The bottom line will be the amount of disease activity we have in the community, and the trajectory of that,” he continued.

With respect to the vaccine, Wilson replied, “It is really hard to predict what is going to happen with the vaccine: How effective is it going to be, how widespread we’re going to be able to vaccinate people and how soon. There are way too many unknowns for us to say much about that.”

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

Rep. Aderholt: GOP control of House not out of reach, Senate should remain Republican

Before the onset of the pandemic, Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill were optimistic about the possibility of recapturing the House and maintaining control of the Senate.

However, the mood of the body politic has changed with the arrival of COVID-19 and has made the future a bit murky. Still maintaining a level of optimism is U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville), who thinks Republicans could make gains this election but is unsure if they can make enough gains to assume control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

During an interview with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Aderholt offered his view of those prospects on both sides of the U.S. Capitol as they stand now.

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“Republicans always want to be optimistic,” Aderholt said. “We’ve got about 18 seats that we’re down right now. And the question is, can we pick up that and plus a seat or two to get the majority. To say it is a sure thing — it’s not. It’s going to be a tough election year, especially in the congressional districts where the Biden folks are going to be getting out, or the anti-Trump. I don’t think they’re so supportive of Biden, but they’re just anti-Trump.”

“I think we can pick up seats,” he continued. “I think it is entirely possible because of Donald Trump. He is going to be at the top of the ticket, and he is going to really help some members that really get the vote out to help them. The question is nobody knows will there be how many we can pick up. I won’t be surprised if we do pick up some seats. The question is, will we pick up 18 to 20, enough to take the majority. And that’s something we won’t know until closer on.”

Aderholt did not think Democrats could regain the U.S. Senate and added that he saw the seat currently occupied by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) flipping to a Republican seat, which makes those prospects more difficult for Democrats.

“I’m still optimistic the Senate can stay Republican,” Aderholt added. “I know there are three or four seats that are still toss-ups, so to speak that are Republican-held now. Obviously, I think we’re going to win the Doug Jones seat. That will be a pick-up for us. I don’t think the ones that are questionable, Republicans that are having a hard time right now, I don’t think we’ll lose all of them. We might lose one or two. But I think at the end of the day, we’re still going to stay over 50.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.