Distance Learning Means Digital Disadvantage for Some

All online classrooms are not created equal.

Distance learning has been extended to May 1st by Governor Mike DeWine but thousands of Ohio students lack the high-speed internet access necessary to participate.

This has long been a problem in Ohio, where about 300,000 homes lack adequate internet.

The so-called Honework Gap has taken on new dimensions now that closed school districts have been trying to maintain a semblance of instruction by putting teachers or course materials online.

Complicating matters is that the free wi-fi spots students once depended on like public libraries, McDonald’s and Starbucks have closed their doors.

Regina Hennen and her family have been dealing with poor internet access for years at their home near Steubenville. They pay $120 a month for satellite internet but still have inferior connection speeds.

The school system shifted to online learning after closing in early March.

“We live in the country and our service is horrible,” said Hennen. “It takes three to four times as long to watch videos and to get things to upload even from their phones,” she said. “We have to drive somewhere till it sends then head back home.”

Hennen, who is a teacher, said she doesn’t blame the schools. “I do think it’s unbelievable that I can go on a mission trip to Guatemala -be in a cornfield in a tiny village and my phone works – come here to the U.S. and nobody can get me good Wi-Fi and internet and they charge a ton for nothing.”

Ohio House Bill 13 is legislation that would expand residential broadband throughout the state, most importantly to unserved areas that cable providers currently don’t go. Unfortunately, it won’t come soon enough help during this current crisis.

Representative Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) said HB 13 is one of the priority bills in the Ohio House.

Rep. Rick Carfagna is the bill’s primary sponsor and numerous others are working behind the scenes to develop a strategic plan to address affordability issues and necessary incentives to bring private internet providers on board.

“This is a longtime priority bill in the house,” said Edwards, who serves the 94th House District and is the Majority Whip.

Edwards said that the objective is to obtain top of the line technical service that is affordable.

“We can learn from other states that have taken on this problem and spent large amounts of money, and still ended up with slow internet speeds and spotty service,” said Edwards. “Every effort is being made to do this right.”

As millions of students nationwide are left at a disadvantage for an indefinite period of time in their education, some say that the Federal Communications Commission should take action and allocate funding for schools to loan Wi-Fi hotspots to students lacking home broadband.

The FCC should dedicate a special allocation of USF funds to reimburse schools and libraries that purchase and loan out Wi-Fi hotspots to students who live in homes that lack adequate broadband access, as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworce and 16 U.S. Senators recently recommended.

Schools, libraries, and other community efforts can also use other strategies to extend broadband to the homes of unconnected students. For example, two school districts in southern Virginia use  TV Whitespace technology  – longrange Wi-Fi that uses the vacant television channels available in rural and small town areas—to extend the school’s internet connection with students at home.

Another option would be supporting and funding the use of school buses as Wi-Fi hotspots, as one district in Illinois has already adopted for the COVID-19 outbreak.

Opinion: The Good Outweighs the Bad

By Del Duduit

Anyone who follows me knows that 95 percent of my posts are inspirational and encouraging.

On occasion, I let my opinions be known about how I feel about current events. Most see my point of view and a few others don’t, and that’s okay.

But today, I want to focus on what’s going on in the world that’s positive.

In the midst of the pandemic that has affected all of us, stories of hope always emerge.

We hear many accounts of scared people hoarding toilet paper, and there is panic every time a truck pulls into Walmart with a delivery. But I like to hear about the good in people.

There are some supermarkets and department stores that have stepped up and reserved slots in the morning for elderly people to come in buy what they need.

Bravo.

Some banks are taking similar steps to make sure those who are at most risk are able to attend to their daily needs.

That’s teamwork.

The images of young people partying with no regard for anyone’s safety bothered me, and I hope it disturbs all who observed these selfish acts.

But when I heard about a McDonald’s franchise in Florida giving free combo meals to hospital workers, it restored my faith in people.

Any employee who shows a hospital badge will be fed for free.

That’s much like what happened during 9/11 when many businesses helped out our first responders.

A portion of a press release from the Florida McDonalds stated it wanted to “honor and give special thanks to all the men and women who dedicate their lives to work in the medical professions to serve those affected by this global pandemic.”

I have gained a new respect for those who work in the healthcare industry and who are now on the front lines.

When you think of the front line in wartime, I envision a battlefield, or in recent years, New York City or even New Orleans.

But I never considered emergency rooms as the front line in a fight. I do now. The “invisible enemy,” as President Trump calls it, will be defeated in a hospital.

There is hope.

I have read reports from chains like Applebee’s, Burger King, and others that are doing acts of kindness. Keep in mind, some of these owners might be risking their financial future to ensure that those putting their lives on the line are fed.

Bravo.

In a little town in Maryland, I was encouraged to read about a person who did the right thing.

A woman’s debit card was denied, and she had a buggy full of groceries. A woman named Dana was behind the lady, and instead of turning her head and ignoring the embarrassing situation, she chose to let her know that she would cover the expenses the lady needed in this time of crisis.

That’s awesome. Good people still exist.

In Baltimore, the organization Weekend Backpacks for Homeless Kids stepped up to the plate and made sure children and their families are still supplied with bags of food while schools are closed.

In Scioto County, Ohio, Steven’s Power Packs (backpacks full of food) are doing the same thing. Times are tough, but this brings out the best in some.

That’s tremendous.

In a time of crisis, the good deeds always outweigh the looting and negative news you read about and see.

But rest assured, there are good people doing the right thing.

I believe the United States will survive this crisis. I have the utmost confidence in our leaders and will respect those in authority as they work tirelessly to lead us to safety. And we should be ready to assist a neighbor in need. A helping hand outweighs selfishness.

The good that will come out of this might not be seen for weeks, but it will make each person stronger every day.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it is in your power to do so. (Proverbs 3: 27)

Keep the faith and do good.

Del Duduit is an award-winning writer and author who lives in Lucasville, Ohio with his wife, Angie. They attend Rubyville Community Church. Follow his blog at delduduit.com/blog and his Twitter @delduduit. He is represented by Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.

Porch Concerts are Music to the Ears

How do some musically inclined Belmont County band students pass the time during Ohio’s Stay-at-Home order? By holding Porch Concerts, of course.

These porch musicians have brought great joy and entertainment to folks residing in St. Clairsville, a small city located in East Ohio.

The concerts are a win-win. St. Clairsville High School band students keep their musical instruments in tune while entertaining the town. At the same time, everyone is keeping within the boundaries of social distancing.

Parents say it also gives the kids something to do that doesn’t involve electronics.

Even some band alumni have gotten in on it, playing instruments on the streets for people out exercising their legs or their dogs… and for passing motorists, of which there are very few these days.

The idea of holding porch concerts was put out online by St. Clairsville band director Justin Schwertfeger and his wife Becca, who leads the high school band’s color guard corps. The couple filmed their own routine and put on social media. This got the ball rolling and the music playing, as more and more people join in the fun.

“As a parent, I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Jill Caprita, whose son and daughter play in the high school band, Matthew and Andrea Horton. (pictured below)

The concerts officially perform on Thursday evenings at 7 pm, but with spring in the air, band students and alumni can be often be heard practicing outdoors.

Even some out of town residents say they can hear the music playing.

Videos and pictures are posted on the Facebook page #STCporchconcert

 

#STCporchconcert

Posted by Matthew Wood on Thursday, March 26, 2020

 

Alyssa playing the ukulele
This brother and sister trumpeting duo, a senior and a freshman at St. Clairsville High School, are Matthew Horton and Andrea Horton.
This husband and wife team posted the first online video to get students on board with the Porch Concerts idea. Band director Justin Schwertfeger and his wife Becca.
Concert on Main Street, St. Clairsville, Ohio
Mason Morgan, a junior at St. Clairsville High School, huffs out a tune on the tuba.
Jacob Thornton on the banjo. Jacob’s twin sister Sophie is in the school’s color guard.
Chloe on the sax
Juliana Turachak on the bass clarinet
Kimber plays out a tune from her front porch

Legislative Profile: Reggie Stoltzfus

State Representative Reggie Stoltzfus is currently serving his first term in the Ohio House. He represents the 50th House District, which includes the eastern portion of Stark County. Stoltzfus was born and raised in Hartville, a community of Stark County. He owns and operates several local businesses, employing around 40 people.
Stoltzfus is actively involved in various community organizations and attends Minerva First Christian Church. He is a member of the Minerva Rotary Club, Stark County Township Association, National Rifle Association, Stark County Farm Bureau and Right to Life (Stark County).
Stoltzfus attended Malone University where he studied Political Science. He resides in Paris Township with his wife and four children.

What are your legislative policy priorities or goals for the upcoming session?   My goals are to strengthen families by promoting policies that help families thrive. I am working on foster care/adoption reform so more children can transition into adoptive families.

What surprises/unexpected challenges did you encounter when you started? I am a get it done kind of person. This not the case with government. To be successful at making any policy changes it takes a lot of time and effort. It requires a great deal of collaboration with other members and interested parties to get anything done. This is something I am learning to be more patient with. It’s how our founders set things up so that legislation can be properly vetted. It’s a good thing.

If you could change one thing with the state system, what would it be?                    I would change adoption/foster care policy to make it more affordable and make it easier for solid families to participate.

How do you stay in touch with your district?  I have quarterly office hours in my district where I connect with my constituents. Also, anyone that emails or calls my office with an issue or problem I do my best to reach out to them on a personal level such as a phone call or meeting over coffee.

I also make an effort to attend and participate in events around the community so I know what’s happening around the district.

Early on I was told by a veteran legislator from my county to be responsive and accessible. I have taken that advice to heart and engage with my constituents.

What is the most interesting/unusual request from a constituent?   I had a constituent ask me what I was going to do about Goat milk law in Ohio. Evidently Goat milk is not allowed to be used for human consumption, except in certain cases, and this upset my constituent.

What are some of the attractions or hot spots in your district?  Hartville Marketplace, Hartville Hardware, and Hartville Kitchen is visited by more people annually than the NFL Hall of Fame so I consider it a big deal in the district. We have the Hart Mansion Restaurant in Minerva; People come from miles away to dine there. Maize Valley Winery attracts a lot of folks interested in tasting various beverages and fare.

Ohio is so diverse, what are the primary challenges you’re facing?  Economic development in the gas and oil corridor. Right now, we have an excellent opportunity to build infrastructure to bring industry to the 50th district by expanding Rt. 30 from a 2-lane road to a 4-lane highway. This would be a massive game changer for my district economically.

What have you done to help your district?  I helped Plain Twp. by placing an amendment in the operating budget that allows more than one fire district to serve a municipality. I have worked with the Ohio Department of Transportation District 4 on making our state routes safer through better signage. I also worked with ODOT to resolve drainage issues in the district.

How has your district benefitted from the budget?  In HB 166 we appropriated $675 million over the biennium for enhanced wrap around services which is designed to fund services that address non-academic barriers to student success. This includes mental health, family engagement and support services, and mentoring.

Increased funding for foster care in the budget is something my constituents will benefit from as they look to help our youth in need.

The budget provides $15 million per year for the new TechCred program and $2.5 million per year for regional industry sector partnerships grants. It also increases capital funding for workforce based training and equipment by $8 million.

 

Road Trip Offers Glimpse Into How Other States are Handling COVID-19

Police are having limited interactions with motorists and some trucking regulations have been lifted. Warning signs flash along highways and each state seems to have its own version of restrictions. Welcome to COVID-19.

An unexpected road trip from East Ohio to Atlanta last weekend gave me an opportunity to see first-hand how other states are handling the COVID-19 threat.

The 680-mile excursion took me through six states: Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia on some of the nation’s most-traveled highways.

There didn’t appear to be any shortage of motorists out, despite health officials’ recommendations to stay home.

… But there was something missing  – state troopers.

Ten hours on the road through six states and not a highway patrol in sight.

Police officers are reducing the number of traffic stops they make in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to a recent Car and Driver article.

Officially, though, police departments say that they will continue to enforce traffic laws.

“The patrol is encouraging everyone to do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” stated Sgt. Nathan E. Dennis of the Public Affairs Unit of the Ohio Highway Patrol.

“Ohio troopers are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines,” said Dennis. “This includes maintaining proper distance and proper hygiene.”

It’s not just law enforcement that has changed how things are done. The laws themselves have changed.

Replenishing stores and hospitals is on the shoulders of our nation’s trucking industry.

To facilitate trucks in delivering medical supplies, food and essentials where they are needed, the Trump administration lifted Hours-of-Service Regulations.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released an Emergency Declaration so that truck drivers who are moving goods “in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks” can temporarily work longer hours.

COVID-19 public service messages on lighted flashing signs was another apparent change on interstate highways. A sign in North Carolina on I-85 displayed a web address for COVID-19 news.

Highway sign on a North Carolina interstate

Similar signs in South Carolina stated “Stay Home, Limit Travel, Save Lives, COVID-19,” while other signs reminded the traveling public to avoid gatherings.

Photo Credit: Dailysabah.com

In addition to signs, coronavirus warnings somehow flashed on my display console between songs on the radio, “Be Safe! Wash Your Hands…”

Making it to Atlanta required three fill-ups along the way. I wore gloves when using gas pumps, but I was the only one.

Maybe others were using hand sanitizer afterward because there was none to be found.  I finally broke down and purchased a small container of bleach for $6.99 at a fuel stop. That would have to do.

Incidentally, gasoline was going for $1.69 a gallon through most states, the lowest it’s been in over a decade.

As I drove, I wondered how many of my fellow travelers were on the road because of the coronavirus.

With the possibility of future travel restrictions, I needed to get my college-age son home to Ohio. He was in Atlanta at a flight school and had no way of renting a car because of his age and I didn’t particularly want him traveling through crowded international airports.

How many motorists were on similar missions, rushing to beat upcoming COVID-19 restrictions?

Georgia has multiple times the number of deaths attributed to the virus than Ohio does but that state had no restrictions in place. Making important decisions with so many unknowns seemed like a guessing game.

On the drive back to Ohio with my son, a news station announced that airline departures from several cities were halted. JFK, LGA and EWR cancelled future flights due to a positive COVID-19 test. Other regional airspace sectors halted  key “gates” through NY air traffic areas.

After hearing this, I felt we had done the right thing.

There wasn’t as much road construction as one might expect to see on the interstates, which meant fewer delays.

According to Construction Dive  some have states have shut down all nonessential roadway and bridge construction. In areas, some contractors have voluntarily suspended work out of concern for their workers.

Questions for Ohio Health Director Amy Acton

Photo Credit: Cleveland.com

Questions We Would Like to Ask Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton

1. Since November, numerous Ohioans, ourselves included, have experienced a significant Covid-19 like virus that tested negative for both flu and pneumonia. Is it possible that this disease was here earlier and a number of us have already experienced and recovered from it?

2. If the answer to question number one is yes, then is it possible that a significant number of Ohioans have developed a “herd immunity” to this virus?

3. If the answer to questions one and two are yes, then aren’t the underlying assumptions about the spread of the virus fundamentally flawed?

4. At what point will we know whether the assumptions about this virus are correct or not?

5. If the assumptions about the virus are wrong, then how quickly can we begin to reopen Ohio?

Here is What the Ohio Highway Patrol has to Say About “Essential Travel” in Ohio

If you’re wondering how the Stay at Home order from the Ohio Department of Health will be enforced on Ohio highways, you’re not alone.

Ohio Statehouse News reached out to the Ohio State Highway Patrol for answers.

“The current directive issued still allows motorists essential travel from within and through Ohio in order to reach your residence,” according to Sergeant Nathan E. Dennis, Ohio State Highway Patrol Office of the Superintendent Public Affairs Unit.

Dennis did not respond to questions of whether the order would be enforced on Ohio highways or how that would be accomplished.

Dennis stated that individuals are strongly encouraged to verify that their transportation out of the State remains available and functional prior to commencing such travel.

Below are the guidelines from the Ohio Department of Health’s order regarding essential travel:

For the purposes of this Order, Essential Travel includes travel for any of the following purposes. Individuals engaged in any Essential Travel must comply with all Social Distancing Requirements as defined in this Section.

Any travel related to the provision of or access to Essential Activities, Essential Governmental Functions, Essential Businesses and Operations, or Minimum Basic Operations.

Travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons.

Travel to or from educational institutions for purposes of receiving materials for distance learning, for receiving meals, and any other related services.

Travel to return to a place of residence from outside the jurisdiction.

Travel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement.

Travel required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the State.

Clean Energy “Watchdog” Appears to be Phony Organization

Energy and Policy Institute: Clean Energy oversight group or political operatives?

Who Watches the Self-Proclaimed Watchdogs?  What Exactly is the Energy and Policy Institute?

Throughout the debate over Ohio House Bill 6, Ohio news media and clean energy groups frequently cited the work of an innocuous sounding organization called the Energy and Policy Institute. As recently as March 5, 2020 Dave Anderson, the policy and communications manager for the Institute, was the primary source of research for an article on FirstEnergy contributions to organizations supporting the bill.

“Powerful corporations, and utilities in particular, often fund groups to do their dirty work in an attempt to avoid accountability,” Anderson said. But research into the Energy and Policy Institute have borne out their own abject hypocrisy.

In fact, a well-sourced report from the nonprofit Campaign for Accountability  reveals that the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI) is just as secretive as the organizations it exposes. EPI is a dark money group: it does not appear to have nonprofit status, it is not registered with any relevant secretary of state, and no one admits to funding it. It appears that EPI may be simply the creation of a public relations firm. Nevertheless, journalists treat EPI as they would any other watchdog organization. 1

According to the Facebook Page for EPI, they were founded in October 2013. But the trail gets murkier from there. Neither their Facebook Page nor their website lists a physical address nor a telephone number. The only address reported is a Post Office Box for San Francisco.

Furthermore, the organization does not appear to be registered as either a nonprofit or for-profit company with any relevant state secretary of state. As part of their research into EPI, the nonprofit Campaign for Accountability searched corporation databases in California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia.

Researchers for Ohio Statehouse News searched corporate databases in Delaware, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. Additionally, we utilized LexisAdvance business search tools and the Tax Exempt Organization search for the Internal Revenue Service. We found no record of this entity.

According to a  response sent to the Washington Examiner, EPI claims to be funded solely by environmental foundations. But here’s the problem. Environmental foundations have to report the grants they make to other groups on their IRS 990 tax returns. And a multitude of searches both by the Campaign for Accountability and Ohio Statehouse News have not found a single recorded grant. Additionally, charitable organizations are usually not able to make donations to organizations that are not recognized as tax exempt by the IRS and EPI is not on that list.

Here’s what we think is really going on.

In November 2011, a 501(c)4 dark money nonprofit group called Renew American Prosperity, Inc. was formed in Washington, DC. As a 501(c)4 organization Renew American Prosperity, Inc. is not required to list its contributors.

Renew American Prosperity, Inc. has shared the same address over the years with a for profit limited liability company named Tigercomm LLC. In return most of the funds spent by Renew American Prosperity, Inc. are paid to Tigercomm LLC on an annual basis for management fees, according to their  990 IRS tax returns.

The founder of EPI, Gabe Elsner, first worked as a social media associate with Tigercomm before becoming deputy director for the Checks and Balances Project. The Checks and Balances Project is a similar group to EPI that is funded by Renew American Prosperity, Inc. and is serviced by Tigercomm LLC. 2

In 2015, the Checks and Balances Project was caught red handed when it was confirmed that they were funded by SolarCity, the leading residential solar installer. The public disclosure of this hypocrisy led to SolarCity cutting ties to the group.3

EPI would like Ohio legislators and the news media to believe that they are simply a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog that is exposing fossil fuel interests. But what the facts reveal is that they are simply political operatives, being funded by solar energy and other vested interests, utilizing even more duplicity than the groups that they supposedly expose.

 

Ohio House Mourns the Loss of Representative Don Manning

The Ohio House of Representatives is mourning the loss of a respected and beloved legislator today. Representative Don Manning (R-New Middletown) died Friday at the age of 54, Speaker Larry Householder announced.

Householder released a statement on Twitter after midnight Friday, stating “The Mahoning Valley and the State of Ohio lost one of their biggest fans and advocates yesterday. RIP Don.

“It is with a heavy heart that I regret to inform you that one of our fellow members has passed away. Representative Don Manning was a good friend and a good legislator, Don loved the Mahoning Valley and his work in the legislature,” Householder said.

The Speaker said he had very few details, other than that Manning was experiencing chest pains and was taken to a local hospital where he passed away.

Manning was serving his first term in the Ohio House. He represented the 59th District, which includes most of Mahoning County.