Good morning, RVA: 690↗️ • 24↗️; gotta have teachers; and sneaky park ordinance continued

 
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Good morning, RVA! It’s 59 °F, and today looks like a repeat of yesterday but maybe a bit warmer. Expect highs near 80 °F, some early fog, but otherwise a pretty pleasant day.

Water cooler

As of this morning, the Virginia Department of Health reports 690↗️ new positive cases of the coronavirus in the Commonwealth and 24↗️ new deaths as a result of the virus. VDH reports 33↗️ new cases in and around Richmond (Chesterfield: 16, Henrico: 8, and Richmond: 9). Since this pandemic began, 387 people have died in the Richmond region. I think it’s really interesting how our local institutions of higher learning are planning for the upcoming spring semester. Virginia Tech just announced their planswhich include four fully-online days to kick things off, and then they’ll move in to a mix of virtual and in-person instruction. The university will also split up spring break into five separate one-day breaks to prevent travel. Sounds smart, but definitely less of a recharge for students.

I keep meaning to mention this story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch by Jessica Nocera about Chesterfield’s return to in-person instruction. I’ve been pretty open about how I think returning our littlest learners to in-person instruction is worth doing. However, this is an impossible thing for me to communicate empathetically since I’m not one of the teachers who’d be back in a classroom surrounded by a gaggle of snotty kids. Teachers, obviously, have a real, practical, on-the-ground impact on a school or school district’s ability to reopen. If teachers don’t feel safe—whether that feeling is science-and-studies-based or otherwise—it’s tough to do school. I mean, look at these grim stats from the RTD article: 611 employees have resigned or retired in Chesterfield and nearly 400 of those are coronarelated, the County cut food distribution from 170 sites to 65 because of transportation issues, and “the district is getting by with having school administration employees who have teaching degrees step in and teach in-person classes.” All of that is yikes. If we want some sort of return to in-person instruction, we can’t do it without getting the schools, the teachers, the parents, and the students all on the same page. That’s a major duh, but, at the same time, an incredibly complicated challenge.

Related, and also in the RTD, Kenya Hunter reports that an RPS official said “the city’s increase in daytime crime would explain many student absences at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, which reported that more than one-fourth of its students are on track to be chronically absent.” I don’t really know what those words mean, exactly, but I think it highlights that, for some families, fully-virtual learning is more complicated than just “sitting in front of the computer all day is terrible.”

Yesterday, the Planning Commission continued ORD. 2020–217 until December. That ordinance which would convert the public right-of-way medians on Monument and Allen Avenues surrounding Marcus David-Peters Circle into parks. I’ve said I was skeptical about this ordinance since Councilmember Gray introduced it because it seemed like a sneaky way to selectively enforce who has access to the area around MDP circle—parks close after sunset and, thanks to recently passed legislation, firearms are prohibited. I’ve also said that I’m willing to be convinced that this ordinance exists for some actual parks-related reasons. Unfortunately that’s not the case, and Councilmember Gray’s liaison said as much at yesterday’s meeting. When questioned by the Commission, he admitted that the ordinance was drafted specifically to prevent loitering, camping, and firearms near the circle. Creating new parks as a way to exclude people from public spaces is shameful, and I’m embarrassed by this ordinance—an ordinance that the Mayor has signed on as co-patron. This is bad, lazy legislation. It does nothing to keep firearms out of the area, which, because Virginia, are allowed basically everywhere—including on the sidewalks in front of homes. It does nothing to keep firearms out of areas where armed white supremacists gather, like in front of the VMFA and Daughters of the Confederacy building. It does nothing to incorporate these medians into a larger, community-driven engagement process to reimagine Monument Avenue. It sets a bad precedent and highlights how some folks and some parts of town can quickly escalate their concerns into ill-considered legislation—legislation that takes everyone’s time and attention away from the actual work of citybuilding.

Thanks to the Shockoe Examiner for pointing me towards this collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of Richmondon the Library of Congress website. Old maps are rad! Here’s a great one of pre-annexation, pre-highway Southside.

Henrico County small business owners! I think I’ve written about this before, but if you’ve got five or fewer employees, you can apply for these pandemic microgrants through LISC’s Henrico County Microenterprise Relief Fund. They’ve got $300,000 to divvy up into $3,000–$10,000 grants that can be used for payroll, rent, utilities, bills, and coronavirus-related expenses. These are grants, not loans, so if you’re running a small business in the county and looking for a month or two of rent relief, consider filling out the application. First come, first serve!

The Richmond and Henrico Health Districts will host a COVID-19 community testing event today at Diversity Richmond (1407 Sherwood Ave) from 4:00–6:00 PM. Walk, roll, or ride by and get yourself tested! If you have any questions, as always, you can call the COVID-19 hotline (804.205.3501).

This morning’s patron longread

As Local News Dies, a Pay-for-Play Network Rises in Its Place

Submitted by Patron Alix. Clearly I think that the line between what’s real, trustworthy news and fakenews (as originally defined) has blurred over the last decade and a half. But, that said, these Republican-run, news-lookalike websites will do a lot of harm in our current algorithm-based news enviornment. We’ve got one locally, the Virginia Star, that you should probably be aware of—just so you can avoid it.

Maine Business Daily is part of a fast-growing network of nearly 1,300 websites that aim to fill a void left by vanishing local newspapers across the country. Yet the network, now in all 50 states, is built not on traditional journalism but on propaganda ordered up by dozens of conservative think tanks, political operatives, corporate executives and public-relations professionals, a Times investigation found. The sites appear as ordinary local-news outlets, with names like Des Moines Sun, Ann Arbor Times and Empire State Today. They employ simple layouts and articles about local politics, community happenings and sometimes national issues, much like any local newspaper. But behind the scenes, many of the stories are directed by political groups and corporate P.R. firms to promote a Republican candidate or a company, or to smear their rivals.

If you’d like your longread to show up here, go chip in a couple bucks on the ol’ Patreon.

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