Kill the Messenger

An item in this week’s newsletter is the tip of the iceberg of a much deeper problem: how bureaucrats so love to kill the messengers. First that item, from the 9 August 2020 issue — the Headline of the Week:


Huh
Paulding County School Reports Multiple Covid-19 Cases after Photo of Packed Hallways Goes Viral
WAGA Atlanta (Ga.) headline


Jump to Update

This is the latest in the saga sparked by Hannah Waters, 15, a sophomore at North Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga. Paulding County is in northwest Georgia, with a population of about 169,000 people; its towns are suburbs of Atlanta. Its high schools are the cleverly named Paulding High, East Paulding High, South Paulding High, and North Paulding High …plus one other in the town of Hiram, Hiram High.

Miss Waters, an Honors student, was excited to go back to school when it reopened after closing for the pandemic. Excited, that is, until she saw scenes like this in the hallways:

Kill the Messenger
First Day Back at School (Photo: Hannah Waters via Twitter, cropped, click any photo to see larger.)

The next day was no better:

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Second Day Back at School. “This is not ok,” Hannah said in the post. “Not to mention the 10% mask rate.” (Photo: Hannah Waters via Twitter, cropped)

She was so upset at the scene that she reposted the photos to Twitter (it’s unclear to me who actually took them) on August 4, where they quickly went viral, even though she only had eight followers at the time. “This isn’t a joke. These are many lives,” she said in one post — “kids to be precise.”

Kill the Messenger
Hanna’s tally, via Twitter.

The next day she posted her tally of how many students wore masks in each of her classes.

We Know How to Fix This!

School officials took quick action to remedy the situation: they suspended Hannah and another student for 5 days for “violating phone and social media policies.”

When that “kill the messenger” response also went viral, outraged parents and onlookers pounded on school officials. Their outrage was reinforced by free speech experts. “Children do not waive their constitutional rights in school,” said the Southern Poverty Law Center, “and the district abused its discretion in suspending these students.”

“We share the outrage expressed by people across the country at these wrongful suspensions,” the SPLC said, “and urge the school district to immediately reverse and remove them from the students’ records.”

Then: “To be very clear, discipline decisions are constitutionally the purview of local boards of education,” announced the State Superintendent of Schools, Richard Woods. “With that said, I want to encourage our districts and schools to operate with transparency, and to ensure that students and staff are not penalized for expressing their concerns.”

In the face of all that, school officials backtracked and “deleted” the suspensions, expunging them from the students’ records.

As of this posting, Hannah has 16,600+ followers on Twitter, an increase of over 200,000 percent in a few days.

Then It Gets Ridiculous

“Wearing a mask is a personal choice,” Paulding County School District Superintendent Brian Otott declared in a letter to parents, “and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them.”

Really.

Just about any female who went to public school in America can tell you how they were shamed (and forced to go home and change clothes) for such “violations” as wearing tops with not-quite-wide-enough straps, or skirts or shorts that were half an inch too short, or some other tiny infraction of rules — which rules are in place because such clothing is supposedly “distracting” to the boys.

Yet the boys are never told to learn not to be “distracted” by what other students wear. Whose fault is it if they’re distracted? The girls, according to obliviotic school officials, because boys will be boys. Isn’t it high time we taught our boys to grow the hell up?

So school officials can police the exact spot clothing hits the knee, but “there is no practical way to enforce a mandate” that students follow the guidelines of pretty much every health official in the country to wear a mask to protect their health, and perhaps their lives?

My but aren’t they powerless!

…by choice.

And Then it Gets Sad

Which brings us to that Headline of the Week, and total vindication for Hanna and her sister student: “Paulding County School Reports Multiple Covid-19 Cases after Photo of Packed Hallways Goes Viral”.

The story under that headline: as of Saturday, 6 students and 3 school staff members had been diagnosed with Covid-19 — after just 3 days of school. I can’t but believe there will be many more over the next two weeks.

Notably, that case load didn’t include Paulding County School Nurse Amy Westmoreland, who said she was shocked to see the photos above, as well as Supt. Otott’s decision to stand behind his refusal to mandate masks, which “confirmed my worst fears,” she said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said of the decision. “I mean, part of me knew that it would happen, but I had a little bit of hope that they would do the right thing.”

Got that? She expected district officials would fail to do the right thing. It’s like she has somehow seen it before. “When all of the information we were getting from the Board about reopening came out, and social distancing might not be possible in certain situations and that masks were a ‘personal choice,’ I just could not get over that.”

She wasn’t exposed to Covid by the students she looked after for four years because when the school district announced the schools would reopen without requiring masks, she resigned rather than subject herself to the risk. As a health professional, she understands those risks, even if school officials refused to listen to the experts.

“I do feel like I made the right choice,” she said. “Of course, I would love to be there helping the children, but I was not able to provide them with safe care.”

How many other school staff will resign rather than be subjected to sick students, the youngest of whom are already massive germ factories even without an out-of-control pandemic? Answer: the more politicians kowtow to political pressures rather than listen to medical experts, the more faculty and staff will resign.

Now What?

With the sudden rush of cases, North Paulding High has closed for cleaning, and will fall back to online learning. For two days, that is: it expects to reopen for in-person classes on Wednesday, still without any requirement that students or staff wear masks.

Good luck, Georgia — you’re going to need it. But considering that we “make” our own “luck,” it’s likely you’ll mostly have the bad kind, and your kids and families will suffer greatly for your choices.

Note: Before the school district announced the new cases at North Paulding High School, Paulding County had 1,651 confirmed cases of Covid-19, which has so far resulted in 123 hospitalizations and 22 deaths. On Thursday, the state reported that a 7-year-old boy with no underlying health conditions had died from the disease. Nearby Florida has reported at least 7 child deaths from Covid-19; the youngest a 9-year-old girl.

Update

As of the end of the first week of school, according to district figures, North Paulding High reported 24 new cases of Covid-19 were diagnosed that week. By the end of the second week, they reported 19 more. They did not break those numbers down between students and staff.

The school did open again: it divided the students into two according to last name, and each group is alternating between online and in-person classes.

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How many masks can you count here? (Photo: Facebook)

North Paulding High wasn’t the only Covid hotspot in the state. The first-day photo of Etowah High School, in Woodstock, wasn’t a candid in the hallways: the kids lined up out front!

What happened next is predictable to anyone with common sense. “This really led to the outbreak and closure of that school,” said professor of pediatrics and pediatric infectious diseases at Northwestern University. “In that particular community, the rates of infection are actually quite high, so it probably was not the best idea for that school to open.”

Within eight days, the Creekside School District school had 14 cases of Covid-19, with 15 tests of students still pending. Because of that, the school had to close again, and 294 students and staff had to quarantine.

Meanwhile, two other Creekside schools had to close. Creekview High School had 25 cases, leading to around 500 students — over 27 percent of all students — in quarantine. As more tests were done, district officials said, they said they expected that percentage to “significantly increase.”

I didn’t find numbers for Woodstock High School, but it, too, closed. As far as I can tell, all three schools reopened as scheduled — with alternating online and in-person classes — on August 31.

- - -

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25 Comments on “Kill the Messenger

  1. What in the world?… there’s a kindergarten/elementary school next door to where I live. Before summer recess (which lasts July through August here) even the little ones had the discipline to cue 1.5m apart at their school until they could get into their respective classrooms (shooing passers-by away if they got too close). All parents and elementary schoolers as of grade 5 masked, of course.

    What is it about these simple WHO guidelines the general public in the USA doesn’t get?

    I think the general public gets it — last poll I saw showed 82 percent thought masks should be required in public places. The remaining 18 percent tend to cluster, and can be tracked by looking for the “hot spots” on current infection maps, with Georgia glowing bright red. If only their faces glowed bright red too. -rc

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  2. Meanwhile, down here in Florida, home of Florida Man, I can’t swear to what all 67 county districts are doing, but my home county, Pinellas (St. Petersburg, Clearwater area) has posted a plan that gives students three options: return to the classroom (with masks and distancing rules in place), continue with remote learning as was done in the spring, or leave the designated school and move into a fully remote plan (an option that’s been around for several years, apparently).

    Hillsborough County (Tampa) announced late last week that all classes will be remote for at least the first four weeks (through September 18). Nothing is ideal, but it has to be better than what Paulding did.

    I’ve been waiting for the day when Florida completely out-thinks another state, and Georgia is an excellent contender, at least in schooling! -rc

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  3. As a resident of Hillsborough County in Florida, which has a strict mandatory mask policy that is enforced by public shaming as often as not, I feel fairly safe — because the people around me are following the health guidelines. The ones who object almost exclusively, from what I’ve been able to discern, have politicized — or listened to politicians who politicize — what has nothing whatsoever to do with politics. Viruses are don’t care if you follow one political party or even no political party!

    And until the U.S. can persuade its citizens that there is nothing fictional about the pandemic whether or not you “believe in” it, we are going to continue to be the laughingstock of the world. And deservedly so. I am currently mortified to be a citizen of this country.

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  4. Those 6 students and 3 staff must have already had the virus before the school opened to test positive so soon. That now begs the question due to the lack of safety precautions (masks, hand sanitser, distancing) how many have they now potentially infected? Add to that, how many of those potentially infected will go on to spread it to their parents, extended family and friends?

    Time will tell, but I’m not sure the school district will relay the details. -rc

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  5. Why can’t people understand what contagious means? Diseases are not political and affect everyone, of any party. Denying science means killing people, in the case of diseases. Areas where masks are not mandatory all have higher incidences of covid19.

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  6. “To be very clear, discipline decisions are constitutionally the purview of local boards of education,”

    Um, no. That’s not clear at all. In fact, the very opposite of that is clear. A school board is legislative branch, a school administration is executive. Neither is judicial in even the tiniest way.

    The Legislative branch is forbidden from enacting rules/laws/regulations that violate the Constitution. The Executive branch is charged with carrying out the laws, regulations and rules of the Legislative branch as interpreted by the Judicial branch. Creating and enforcing an unconstitutional rule is not remotely the purview of ANY part of a school district.

    Any attempt by a public official — such as any public school employee or board member — to do so anyway causes everyone involved in creating the rule, communicating the rule to those enforcing the rules, or actually enforcing the rule, to commit a federal crime punishable by ten years in prison!

    I’m not convinced that being made principal of a public school constitutes election to the “Executive Branch” of government (even though I certainly do content that public “school officials,” including school boards, are certainly “government agents”). Then, if a school board is of the “legislative branch,” then creating and communicating rules is definitely part of their job. Bottom line, though, is I think the state’s Education Code sets up the rules for them to follow. -rc

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    • The federal Constitution requires that states create a Republican form of government. That they have a written Constitution and representation. That’s it. It doesn’t require how that government is set up. Nothing requires a split into the exact same form as the federal government and, in fact, many states do deviate from the federal form.

      The federal Constitution says nothing about school boards or anything at all about education or anything that would apply to education. There *was* no public education when the Constitution was written. So the operative Constitution is the *state* Constitution and the legislation made pursuant to it. That’s where you would have to look to see what authority what government establishment has what powers and responsibilities *in that state*.

      Reply
      • The US Constitution did not apply to the states prior to the 14th amendment. But it’s pretty solidly settled that the 14th amendment changed that — it’s the reason for the amendment in the first place.

        A state government cannot exempt itself or any subordinate government from having to obey the portions of the US Constitution that apply to the states.

        When a school policy violates statutes or a constitution (state or federal), the policy is illegal. Period. Full stop.

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  7. Is it a personal choice to wear goggles in shop class or chemistry lab? I’m guessing no and also guessing that North Pauling High has no trouble enforcing this basic safety measure.

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  8. I just can’t believe how stupid people are being about wearing masks. I mean not wearing a mask is putting the health and lives of everyone you meet, family, friends, total strangers, etc., in danger.

    I just can not believe/understand how anyone can spew the bullcrap about it’s not real, it’s a plot, etc. Are they all brain dead?

    And that Bullcrap about making it a personal choice to wear a mask or not. Public health is not a personal choice, it is a necessity for Life and health. Such as “I do not believe in Covid 19 so it does not exist, So i will not wear a mask.”

    And the people around the world murdering people for being told to wear a mask. Including in the US. It is just the same as the Anti Vaxxers.

    Covid 19 goes “Yippee more growth for me!” and continues to grow and prosper.

    I have read you for a couple decades now Randy, great info you provide on the stupidity of obliviots. And your reporting shows that no matter how stupid I may feel at times, I have never ever been as stupid as the people in This Is True. Hopefully I never will.

    I did cover the “plot” people in an earlier podcast, which you can stream or read here: Leading Yourself Down a Path. If you don’t want to listen to/read the whole thing, you can skip straight to that part (the paragraph that starts “One thing…”). -rc

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  9. I’m sitting here, shaking my damned head, wondering where the adults got their education, and if basic biology was not a mandated course for them. I’ve seen a statement (which I am NOT quoting, as I don’t remember it exactly) that said that for every person who refuses to isolate, having Covid-19, the risk of infection to those they come in contact with is between 3 and 4 persons out of every 10. 30 to 40% infection rate.

    Hanna’s first picture shows about 40 people in that hallway, and I could only see 4 with masks. And yet, the school officials say that masking is a personal choice? I’d like to know if any of those “officials” have school aged children, and if their children are enrolled and attending their parents’ schools? I will presume not, until further evidence is given.

    The inaction, or wrong action being taken by our schools, and our governments, is culpable (deserving blame. “sometimes you’re just as culpable when you watch something as when you actually participate”) and deserving of not only condemnation, but prosecution. And if there is a prosecution, as an article in this week’s TRUE stated, the insurance companies will not cover the loss, which means that those same “officials” put themselves, and their families, further at risk, not only from the pandemic but, if convicted, the loss of their jobs, and more.

    I wonder how many, like me, have already “convicted” these fools?

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    • The current transmission rate is about 3%, not 30%. Also, it seems this is primarily a disease of superspreaders. About 10% of those who have it account for about 80% of the infections.

      This is not to say that it’s nothing. It’s not to say don’t wear a mask. I never leave home without one, even if it’s just going down to get the mail. It’s primarily transmitted indoors in places with poor air circulation (which describes most schools) .But let’s deal with accurate information.

      Guy may be thinking of studies like this:

      Studies have increasingly examined transmission within households. Earlier studies on the infection rate for symptomatic household contacts in the United States reported 10.5% (95% CI 2.9%–31.4%), significantly higher than for nonhousehold contacts. Recent reports on COVID-19 transmission have estimated higher secondary attack rates among household than nonhousehold contacts. Compiled reports from China, France, and Hong Kong estimated the secondary attack rates for close contacts to be 35% (95% CI 27%–44%). (Source)

      Exposure in school is likely fairly similar. -rc

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      • Diane, I believe that is the gist of one of the studies I looked at. I also should have said “the risk of infection to those they come in CLOSE contact with is between 3 and 4 persons out of every 10. 30 to 40% infection rate.” The key word being “CLOSE.”

        When we looked at the aftermath of the AIDS/HIV epidemic, it was found that the spread of the disease was haphazard; a single intimate sexual contact was NOT a guarantee of transmission, and that any other, non-intimate contact transmission was thought to be anecdotal (i.e. probably NOT an actual cause of the transmission.)

        Although the scientists are learning about the disease and its transmission modes and vectors on a daily basis, there is still much remaining to be learned before the disease can be conquered.

        And until it can be conquered to a great extent, WEAR YOUR MASK!

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  10. COVID-19 is not a game and cannot be treated as such. What is the matter with school officials that feel they have the right to put children in harms way?

    The consequences of their inaction will mean that children will die.

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    • …and when that happens, as a rational outsider, I wonder whether they can be held accountable by law, e.g. with manslaughter charges?

      All of these people who are making choices to cause harm to so many should have a commensurate penalty applied to them — Mother Nature may yet do it with COVID-19, but if not, what legal remedies are there for their victims?

      I think the hardest part of the whole idea is proving that an infection is directly linked to someone else’s action. “Just because” they walked in that school hallway (for instance) and then got Covid doesn’t establish cause and effect. They “could have” gotten it at a grocery store, or a doctor’s office, or in a friend’s car, or…. -rc

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      • Ok, that’s a fair challenge — so if there are any families strictly observing shelter-in-place except for the kid(s) going to school, e.g. with staying at home, in their own bubble, contact-free deliveries for groceries etc., maybe they would have more of a case?

        More of, probably. But it would be hard to prove they were that careful. -rc

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        • The lawyers in the group are free to correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe there is a thing called “preponderance of evidence” that would come into play. I.e. The family says that they have followed strict masking and social distancing for “x” amount of time before the kids returned to school, and within a week of returning one of the kids has a tested positive result of Covid-19 infection. Within a week of that event, the entire family is stricken.

          IF I were on a jury hearing such a case, and having to suppose the family to be honest and truthful, the “preponderance of evidence” would lead me, and I believe most of us who read these articles, to find that the school is responsible.

          Because the law is written in such a way as to give a time limit to the plaintiff in adding respondents to the suit, lawyers tend to “sue” the entire list. When I had a motorcycle accident due to negligence on the part of a local repair shop, the lawyer sued the repair shop, the American distributor of the bike, the Japanese manufacturer, the Indonesian tire manufacturer and the Malaysian inner tube manufacturer. That, even though the later three were of foreign origin and would have to be taken to an International court, and no one, other than the local bike shop, was responsible, all were sued and then had to respond to show why they were not responsible. In the end, the American distributor balked and refused to show, and then had to negotiate a settlement with me (my lawyer) to be dropped from the case, and that added to the amount I was awarded.

          Given the above, I believe the lawyer would file suit against any teacher of the child, the administration of the school, the district administration, possibly the school board, the state school board, the legislature and the governor, even though none of them beyond the local administration were culpable, they would have to “prove” they were not a part of the case. That means they would have to hire lawyers, and the whole then becomes more expensive.

          In the end, I believe a good lawyer would prevail.

          Yes, the standard is preponderance of evidence, and I assume all/most states follow that. Many states (such as Colorado, where I live) have “qualified immunity” for government agencies, which is another roadblock against lawsuits. Not saying impossible, but it’s a significant hurdle to overcome. My main caution: what works in one state may not work in another. The overriding principle: it’s much better not to cause damage than have to defend yourself in court! -rc

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  11. This is also the result of the Current Administration refusing to listen to medical experts and refusing to take serious action to control the pandemic!!

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  12. And yet I encounter people *EVERY DAY* who argue there is “no evidence” that masks slow the transmission rate, nor that (and it gets a little hazy here) slowing the transmission rate saves lives (yeah, I know).

    But try point out the obvious, like, doesn’t it just make sense that an airborne respiratory virus would obviously be slowed or stopped by masks; or stories like this (and the other one this week, about the state of Kansas) and you are told “no evidence” and “anecdotal evidence doesn’t count”.

    All I want to know is, how does mandatory mask wearing infringe anyone’s “rights”? And how can anyone get so totally incensed about it that they are prepared not only to risk other people’s health by not wearing a mask, but also go completely postal on people after being asked to wear one. Sounds like the actions of a spoiled 5-year-old to me.

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    • The government is mandating that you perform a positive action. The test is what is considered “significant” danger. It falls under the same wanton endangerment test as drunk driving. At some point you are so impaired that you pose a significant enough threat to others if you drive a 2 ton killing machine with over x% of alcohol in your blood. Personally, I think that the danger from COVID is sufficient to be called significant in many cases. Others differ.

      I have to accept that someone living in rural Montana doesn’t have the same risk that someone living in Manhattan does. The decisions have to go as local as reasonable. The states shouldn’t try to override local decisions. A school as crowded as shown in the pictures *is* unquestionably (to me) as risky or riskier than someone living in Manhattan. So masks, yes. Absolutely.

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  13. What I know of viruses and their transmission is a mixture of what I picked up from my mother’s degree course (through the “Open University”, whose lectures at that time were delivered on one of the British TV channels) and what I have learned from reading “New Scientist” magazine when I was a pre-teen and teenager in the sixties and seventies, and then again in the last ten years or so. I like to think of myself as a calm, rational being (even though I know my Asperger’s makes me not always behave in that way or makes me behave in a way that is not perceived as being in that way). But all I can say about that school board is “What the naughty-word-deleted are they thinking, if anything at all?”

    Wear a mask. Or risk killing people in a quite unpleasant and drawn-out way. It really doesn’t seem a hard choice to me. But what do I know?

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