Apodaca: Things are looking about the same in 2023
As 2022 drew to a close many people were publicly expressing a sense of weariness. Instead of celebrating they seemed to be simply relieved that they made it through the year. Whew, maybe 2023 will be better.
Sure enough, as the first month of the new year draws to a close there are some signs that things have taken a turn. For the worse.
To be sure, there are many positive indicators. Inflation appears to be easing. COVID-19, though still a serious public health threat, no long dominates our lives. Science continues to make mind-boggling progress toward the development of clean technologies and even, one day, a cancer vaccine.
Plus, in a little more than a month comes a new season of “The Mandalorian,” which means more Baby Yoda. I just love that little guy.
But this month has also brought us more of the same divisiveness, disinformation and dangerous nonsense that caused so much gloominess and stressed-out nerves last year.
Take the fighting over schools, which continues to escalate across the country and throughout Orange County.
To recap, for the past few years school boards have become unlikely battlegrounds in our nation’s increasingly vitriolic culture wars. Often incited by, and sometimes even supported by, outside organizations, some critics of school policies and practices have turned once staid board meetings into attack zones.
There have been showdowns over pandemic measures such as masking and school closures, shouting matches and overheated rhetoric aimed at attempts to make campuses more inclusive for LGBTQ students, and conflict over the teaching of any curriculum that critics slap with the misunderstood Critical Race Theory label.
This turn of events has made life exceedingly difficult for those trying to run our schools. Also for those who are merely attempting to teach. Indeed, the hostility increasingly directed at educators has been identified as a contributing factor behind teacher shortages in some communities.
Daily Pilot columnist Patrice Apodaca writes the scam led by William “Rick” Singer to help rich parents get their kids into top schools wasn’t a surprise and won’t end with his recent prison sentence.
If anyone thought that the new year would bring some relief to this trend, they have now been shown otherwise.
Consider the drama playing out at Orange Unified School District. A few days into the new year, the new conservative majority on the school board abruptly fired the district’s well-regarded superintendent, Gunn Marie Hansen, with no explanation after a closed-door meeting. The dismissal came despite impassioned pleas from many parents, teachers and community members to retain Hansen.
The controversial move — similar to one taken by Capistrano Unified’s board shortly before Christmas — reflected sharp divisions in the community that continue to widen. As the vote was being taken by the Orange Unified board, parents were already circulating recall petitions.
So no, the animosity isn’t abating.
More worrisome news came to us this month from government data showing that the U.S. vaccination rate for kindergartners dropped again last year. This is the rate for the standard roster of vaccines required by public schools, such as those that prevent polio, measles and hepatitis B.
Before the pandemic, the rate for these childhood vaccines typically held at about 94 percent to 95 percent nationwide. In the 2020-21 school year, it dropped below 94 percent, and now we know that last year it declined again, to 93 percent.
That might not seem like much of a difference, but every percentage point loss in vaccination rates weakens our ability to contain the spread of terrible diseases.
A closer look at the data reveals sharp differences in vaccination rates from district to district, and school to school. Indeed, some campuses in Orange County have rates at levels considered unsafe and vulnerable to outbreak.
Authorities have cited the pandemic as a key reason for the declining childhood vaccination rates, as families fell behind with medical checkups during the past few years. The conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19 immunizations may have also fueled greater skepticism over vaccines generally.
Before the start of the current school year, more than one in eight California students age 4 to 6 did not have the full slate of vaccinations required by the state. In Orange County, some parents reportedly submitted homeopathic “vaccine records” to schools as proof of vaccination, although such treatments don’t meet the state’s standards.
Will this year see vaccination rates rebound? I certainly hope so. But the forces behind the disinformation regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccines remain strong, vocal and adept at utilizing the media to promote their agenda. Public health officials and school administrators aren’t likely to get a much needed respite in the coming months.
I hate to start off the year in such a depressive state of mind. But if the recent hysteria over gas ranges is any indication, there’s good reason to be concerned that even the smallest issue can turn into a giant controversy. It’s telling that some among us are so easily triggered they actually fear that government agents are going to confiscate their household appliances.
I would suggest that we all need to calm down, stop shouting, start listening and look for ways to heal the divisiveness and distrust that permeates our society. But that would probably feel like trying to reason with an atmospheric river.
Welcome to 2023. The deluge still threatens to submerge us.
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