“The future ain’t what it used to be.” The immortal words of Yogi Berra seem particularly apropos as I reflect on the first days of 2021. Between the toxic politics of division and the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all anxious to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and look forward to a brighter 2021. The sad truth is I am not so sure.
It all started on Jan. 1 when a local columnist praised President Trump and Mitch McConnell for championing stimulus checks for the American people. It was the Democratic House of Representatives that passed the coronavirus stimulus package. Sen. Mitch McConnell blocked votes on a relief bill time and time again, calling it “socialism.” He only allowed a vote on the Senate bill after the House had adjourned, knowing it would be impossible to become law. This writer continued by regurgitating a lie that over 200,000 more votes were cast in Pennsylvania than the total number of people who actually voted. This claim, which was spread on a number of right-wing websites, was quickly dismissed by the Pennsylvania Department of State as “obvious misinformation” based on incomplete data.
I only bring these up as examples of how bias permeates our culture and falsehoods damage our community. The bogus drumbeat of election fraud undermines the very foundation of our democratic system of government. Trump’s refusal to accept the peaceful transfer of power puts us in peril, both domestically and from foreign adversaries. Instead of being concerned for our national security, some seem more worried about whether Jill Biden uses the title “Dr.” or not. Others ridicule basic tenets of who we are as a people. “No man is above the law” is not a trite aphorism that only applies to some; it is a founding principle of our judicial system. Some on the radical right are rejecting calls for national unity in a time when that is exactly what we need.
Another troubling trend that has carried over from last year is a willingness to ignore public health experts. Mask wearing and social distancing are not political statements. COVID-19 cases are spiking nationwide, exacerbated by a mutated strain that makes it more transmissible. The distribution of vaccines has been agonizingly slow, and too many people will refuse the vaccine for a variety of inane reasons. Well over 350,000 Americans have died from the virus. Here in Carroll we have lost 192 of our neighbors and friends. Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer declared that “we are in the worst spot we have ever been in during the pandemic.” Garrett Hoover, the head of Carroll Hospital, described to the Board of Education how the hospital is being stretched to the breaking point.
Despite these disturbing trends, the Board of Education voted to return Carroll County Public Schools to the in-person hybrid learning model on Jan. 7. Bus drivers and custodians are worried for their safety. Educators feel betrayed by a BOE that doesn’t seem to listen. Even Superintendent of Schools Steve Lockard cautioned against returning too soon.
During Monday’s Board meeting we heard a lot of false equivalencies presented as reasons to re-open schools, but as Commissioner Frazier pointed out, private schools have the ability to test everyone for infection, and many require it before a student may attend. Can CCPS do this? The comparison to Pennsylvania does not hold up either. Unlike Maryland, Pennsylvania has 500 localized school districts with fewer students and schools in each. Many Pennsylvania schools are virtual only. Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine reports there have been 9,500 new COVID-19 cases in school age children in just the last two weeks, including 30 elementary kids in Central York. I know that the BOE members are good people who care deeply for their community; however, I strongly disagree with their decision to rush prematurely into a hybrid model when all the metrics indicate otherwise.
I had intended to close this column with another humorous Berraism, but the events of this week make that seem inappropriate. A member of the CCPS family just succumbed to COVID-19 this week. The sitting president incited rioters to attack and vandalize the Capitol. I worry that the well has been poisoned to the point of no return. My hope for 2021 is that it is not, that we can turn the corner and begin to redeem ourselves before it is too late.
Tom Scanlan writes from Westminster. He is a former employee of CCPS who taught for 33 years.
For any member of the community who would like to submit a guest community voices column for publication consideration, it should be approximately 700 words and sent to email@example.com.