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Work already underway for inauguration of TBD president
WASHINGTON (AP) — While much of Washington is twisted in knots over the upcoming election, there’s another contingent already busy trying to figure out how to stage an inauguration for the to-be-determined next president during a pandemic.
Visitors to the U.S. Capitol and the White House can already see preparations underway for the Jan. 20 ceremony, a date set by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, for whoever emerges as the winner. And low-flying helicopters are swooping around town as part of beefed-up security precautions.
Construction work is taking place with the mindset that it is easier to scale down, if the coronavirus makes that necessary, than to scale up, said Paige Waltz, a spokesperson for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
The committee has voted to hold the inaugural ceremonies on the West Front of the Capitol, a tradition that began under Ronald Reagan. The Architect of the Capitol is busy constructing the inaugural platform from scratch. The platform traditionally holds more than 1,600 people, including the president and vice president, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, and the outgoing president and vice president. Bleachers above the platform hold 1,000 additional people. The view from the West Front stretches the length of the National Mall, where Americans from around the country gather to catch a glimpse of history.
But in recognition that life has changed as a result of COVID-19, lawmakers are leaving all options on the table when it comes to safety precautions that could be taken. Will attendees be required to wear a mask? Or have their temperatures taken? Or social distance to the extent possible? Such precautions are being discussed, though no final determinations have been made with the ceremony still about three months away.
Waltz said the six-member committee overseeing the inaugural ceremonies is “committed to traditional, inclusive, and safe ceremonies and will continue to monitor the situation and provide information as it comes available.”
After the ceremony, the president and vice president will attend a luncheon in National Statuary Hall that includes speeches, gifts and toasts. The format used today began in 1953 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife and 50 other guests of the joint committee dined on creamed chicken, baked ham and potato puffs in the Old Senate Chamber.
Then it’s on to the parade and inaugural balls. A Presidential Inaugural Committee, a nonprofit representing the president-elect, will be organized following the Nov. 3 election. The committee oversees inaugural events held away from the U.S. Capitol.
In the meantime, the National Park Service is preparing for the construction of the reviewing and media stands used by the president-elect, his staff and family for the Presidential Inaugural Parade. It has closed a portion of Lafayette Park and the White House sidewalk to allow construction to begin.
The Nuclear Security Administration, part of the Energy Department, has begun conducting low-altitude helicopter flights around the capital during the daytime. The department said the aircraft contain state-of-the art radiation-sensing technology, and the flights are part of standard preparations to protect public safety.
For the Washington, D.C., metro area, the inauguration has traditionally provided an economic boost as visitors fill local hotels and restaurants. The 2021 inauguration comes at a difficult time for the district. Visitor spending was down 80%, or $6.9 billion, from March 8 to October 10, compared to the same period last year, according to Tourism Economics. That translated to $313 million in lost tax revenue for the District of Columbia.
Many of the region’s restaurants are shuttered, while hotel room demand was down nearly 5 million rooms, or 83%, from the same time period in 2019, according to STR Inc., which tracks the hotel industry.
“Traditionally, a second-term inauguration is not as big as the first, and if we have a new president taking office, numbers are typically larger,” said Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, the district’s marketing organization. “However, visitation to Washington, D.C., during inauguration will depend on what people are able to do in the city based on COVID-19’s impact this winter, which remains to be seen.”
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
Author: PUBLISHED 12:48 AM ET Oct. 24, 2020
Thousands of Florida students lack online learning equipment
SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) – Tania Carrillo got a call at work in early March that one of her two kids might have been infected with COVID-19. The whole family may have been infected, she worried, and so they went into quarantine.
Little did Carrillo know that her family, like much of the United States, was about to enter a monthslong lockdown. One saving grace, she thought at the time, was that her two sons and nephew would be able to log on and not have to miss school.
What Carrillo couldn’t have guessed is that going to school online would threaten the children’s academic future.
Why? Because when one of her children logged on, there wasn’t enough bandwidth for the others to get online.
“No matter how much we wanted it to work, it just didn’t,” Carrillo said.
There’s a growing consensus amongst educators and parents that remote learning is harder on students than most people anticipated.
And it is more difficult for some than others.
In Sarasota and Manatee counties there are still hundreds, if not thousands, of students who don’t always have access to their classes because of slow or no internet or a lack technology.
According to a Pew Research Center study last month, 59% of low-income parents fear their kids are not going to be able to finish their work, will have to work on a cellphone or will need to use public Wi-Fi because they lack a computer or don’t have reliable internet.
While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many children are struggling with access, Manatee County school administrators got a good, though unscientific, snapshot of the issue in a recent survey of parents.
Of the 12,539 parents or guardians who responded to the survey, 12% have either slow internet or no internet at all. 28% of kids either have no computer or tablet, or they have to share a computer or tablet with others in the home.
Among the comments the district heard was that there were families who had multiple children e-learning but only one computer.
Cynthia Saunders, Manatee school superintendent, said the survey allows the district to see how bad the problem is and to look for ways to fix it.
According to Saunders, the district has bought mobile hotspots for every student who needed one. But in a lot of cases students still have trouble logging on because the hotspots don’t provide fast enough service, or the signal isn’t strong enough in some of the farther reaches of the county.
Even when there is access, mobile hotspots are a Band-Aid.
“I think that too has been a hardship for some kids,” she said. “That’s the best you can do, so, other than that, you bring them back in.”
Manatee County began the process of allowing remote students back into schools this week.
Sarasota County schools has not done a districtwide survey about students’ access this school year, Kelsey Whealy, a spokeswoman for the district, wrote in an email.
Individual schools, though, are in regular contact with families and work with the departments within the district to get them help if they need it, she said. And when the district isn’t able to provide a solution, it connects students and families with local nonprofits that can help out.
“School administrators will always attempt to work with families to provide students with what they need – devices and internet access,” Whealy wrote in an email. “Ultimately, families have been, and are, responsible for ensuring they have access to the required resources to be successful in remote learning.”
One way the county is trying to assist families is by using federal money earmarked for COVID-19 relief to help get internet service.
The county will use money from the CARES Act to pay for as many as 18,000 low-income families to get service through Comcast’s Internet Essentials program. The program offers two free months of service to new customers and a monthly bill capped at $9.95.
To participate, parents have to live in an area where the service is available and qualify for the national school lunch program, housing assistance or other needs-based assistance.
A county spokesman said this week that the final cost of the program has still not been determined, but it will be fully funded.
But, like in Manatee where the hotspots don’t work for everyone, even the best possible solutions don’t always solve a family’s problems.
Shakeeta McKenzie is a Comcast customer who qualified for the Essentials program. When she signed up two months ago, she thought having internet service would take the pressure off sending her three kids back to school, but instead she’s faced with a new set of problems.
Her three kids, who attend Fruitville Elementary School in Sarasota, have trouble getting online sometimes, which means they miss classes and can’t do assignments. She said this happens when all three of them have to be in class at same time.
While she says teachers and the school have done a good job staying in contact and helping, she worries her children will miss classes and fail.
Comcast spokeswoman Cynthia Arco said the provider increased its speeds for the Essentials program to 25/3 Mbps in March in response to the pandemic. That is the slowest speed that qualifies as “broadband” according to the Federal Communications Commission.
Arco said that bandwidth is strong enough to handle a heavy load and allows multiple people to be on at once and to stream high-definition videos.
That’s not the case at McKenzie’s home, though.
“One of them will do it, then other one will do it,” she said of her kids logging into class. “Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.”
BACK TO SCHOOL?
Even for families and kids who don’t have technical or connectivity issues, e-learning is not easy and might not be the right fit.
Saunders said in order for students to succeed at e-learning, they need to be very self-disciplined. A student sitting at a computer at home is more likely to struggle with distractions than a student in a classroom with a teacher providing structure and support.
“I think they miss it,” she said. E-learning “has served a purpose. It has helped us to have a semblance of education continuing, even though it’s not ideal for everybody. But what I think we’re seeing more and more is that people feel more comfortable coming back into the building. And that’s a good thing. That’s what we do best anyway.”
In Carrillo’s case, she did everything right. She got laptops from the schools, she set up a workspace and she paid extra to boost the internet speed at home. Yet, despite her best efforts, there were still problems.
“There were times when I was doing homework at 10 o’clock at night with Alan,” she said, referring to her 11-year-old son. “At that hour, the internet was a little bit faster, but, you know, at that time of night a child is already exhausted.”
So, in order to keep their grades from falling, Carrillo found a way to solve the problem.
She packed them off to school.
Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.
Author: The Washington Times http://www.washingtontimes.com
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