Editorial Roundup: Alabama

December 18, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Dec. 16

Dothan Eagle on the outcome for three teachers in Alabama who were suspended over text messages leaked online:

Many local residents waited with great anticipation to see what the Houston Board of Education would do about several teachers involved in a group text that discussed the intelligence and sex lives of some students, including a racial slur used to describe one student.

The exchange was meant to be private, but a student gained access to a teacher’s smartphone and screen-recorded the text thread, which was later posted on social media. The school board suspended several teachers with pay Nov. 18, and took three weeks to determine what to do next.

Last week, the board voted to suspend three teachers without pay for 10 days. The decision did not satisfy a group of protesters that included relatives of the students discussed in the thread. That’s no surprise; many expected the teachers to be terminated.

It’s a delicate matter that deserved deft handling, which the board lacked. Board member Chris Lasseter, whose wife, Julee, was among the teachers involved, abstained from voting on the issue, but joined the board in executive session to discuss the fate of the teachers. His presence in those deliberations may well have prevented frank discussion from other members and derailed more appropriate repercussions.

The teachers disciplined over the incident — Lasseter, Tambria McCardle and Kim Worsham — will presumably return to the classroom after their suspension and the holiday break, but will almost certainly have lost the ability to teach effectively. With their private discussion made public, those teachers have surely lost the confidence of students and parents at Ashford High School.

Whether the teachers involved should have been terminated is debatable. But returning them to the same school may well be the worst decision the board could make for the teachers and the students.

Online: https://www.dothaneagle.com/


Dec. 15

Decatur Daily and TimesDaily (Florence) on data about the opioid crisis in Alabama:

Throughout the years law enforcement and rehabilitation officials have had to deal with the latest drug addiction. In the 1960s and 1970s, heroin was the scourge. The drug of choice in the 1980s was cocaine powder, which gave way to crack cocaine. The crack epidemic continued through the 1990s and it remains popular.

But today, the focus is on opioids, a class of drugs that are derivatives of heroin, among other drugs. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, as are other familiar painkillers like OxyContin, hydrocodone, morphine and others.

No community is immune from the devastating effects of the opioid crisis. It cuts through all demographics, races and socioeconomic statuses. It is considered by many to be the most pressing health care crisis of this generation.

And rightfully so; just look at the numbers.

- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 lives are lost to opioid addiction every day. In 2017, more than 47,600 people died from opioid overdoses.

- Economically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that opioid misuse in the United States cost more than $78 billion each year.

- And in the one-year period from Aug. 22, 2018 to Aug. 22, 2019, at least 540 Alabamians died of opioid drug overdoses, according to information from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences and the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office.

State officials don’t believe those statistics truly represent the extent of the problem in Alabama.

“Whatever numbers we have, we’re pretty sure they’re low,” said State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.

Dr. Sherrie Squyers, director of the Huntsville Hospital Emergency Department, said the statistics reported are “gross underestimates.”

State officials, therefore, believe more data must be collected. One of the main goals of the Alabama Opioid Overdose Addiction Council is the creation of a centralized data repository to track reports of opioid drug abuse in real time, including calls to poison control or emergency room visits.

Having such information will enable state health, public service and law enforcement leaders to spot developing trends, and enact policies to deal with them.

State Attorney General Steve Marshall, who co-chairs the opioid council, believes the state has made progress in the fight against opioid addiction.

“We’re not where we need to be, but we’re a long way from where we were,” Marshall said recently in reference to what’s been done since the council’s first meeting in 2017.

There’s certainly much work still to be done. Having more complete, real-time information on opioid drug abuse will make it easier to plan the next stages of this challenging battle.

Online: https://www.decaturdaily.com/ and https://www.timesdaily.com/


Dec. 15

The Gadsden Times on a buyout for hundreds of workers at an Alabama plant:

No one can say he or she was caught by surprise. We certainly weren’t. The offer had been on the table for close to three months, the signs were there, the buzz too loud for it to be simply smoke without flames.

However, the actual confirmation last week that 740 employees at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in Gadsden — more than half the current workforce there according to numbers at the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority website (an email to corporate headquarters seeking an exact number proved fruitless) — are taking a buyout and exiting the plant on Friday was jarring.

A corporate spokesperson said Goodyear would continue operations at the plant “on a reduced level.” That’s a “well, duh” assessment given the scope of the reduction, and of no reassurance to the employees who chose to stick it out despite the plant’s uncertain future.

And its future definitely is uncertain, even with the plant carrying protected status through 2022.

That’s not spreading doom and gloom, trying to rush the inevitable or stirring the pot. It’s simply an acknowledgement of reality and the facts in evidence.

Goodyear at present is a struggling company that has pledged, according to its CEO, “to reduce low-value, high-cost capacity in the U.S.” in an effort to turn that dynamic around. The company also has opened a $500 million plant in San Luis de Potosi, Mexico, that can produce 6 million tires a year with lower employee costs than U.S. plants.

We know significant efforts have been made on all levels to protect the Gadsden plant. We salute the folks who have tried, openly or behind the scenes, to do this.

This will sound odd given that we’re in the business of disseminating information and ensuring the public’s right to know, but those efforts rightfully belonged off the radar. (We concede that’s an anomaly in the social media age where everyone feels entitled to kibbitz or offer an opinion.)

But again pointing out reality, the bull’s eye probably was on this 90-year-old facility before those words about “low-value high-cost capacity” left the CEO’s mouth. Translation: Goodyear was going to do what it was going to do, regardless of any efforts to convince it otherwise.

Perhaps that’s why so many employees took the buyout; we wonder if the company was surprised by the number, although it shouldn’t have been caught by surprise either since it made the offer.

We figure those folks simply weighed the options and did what they thought was best for themselves and their families. We’re not going to criticize them for that; we do hope they seek counsel for what to do with or how to invest their buyout money.

Moving forward, we’re interested in how “on a reduced level” works in real life for the Goodyear plant, and how long it lasts. Our hope, of course, is that it will sustain for a while. Pardon us for not being filled with optimism, and for contemplating a future for Gadsden and Etowah County that in the long (and possibly short) run might not include Goodyear.

We understand that would be a psychological as much as an economic blow to this area, which for more than a century has seen its identity defined by old-school, large-plant manufacturing (with Goodyear a constant in people’s lives).

The only way it would be “the end of Gadsden,” as so many are proclaiming, is if that identity is permanently frozen in time, like a prehistoric insect caught in amber, and this city and county cannot be anything other than what they’ve always been, and no one can make a decent salary or receive decent benefits other than at an old-school manufacturing plant.

We’ve pointed out repeatedly — some folks probably thought we were being passive aggressive — that old-school manufacturing is not this country’s future, and no political candidate or official of any party or philosophy can change that.

It’s why we’ve been so excited about landing high-tech, smaller-scale plants like Motus, which are the future of manufacturing in the U.S. even if they don’t have the sheer employment numbers of a place like Goodyear.

The key will be landing more of those plants and filling the employee rolls.

The recipe for doing that is prioritizing the things those plants want in a workforce, education being No. 1.

The situation at Goodyear is a blow to this area — a massive one; we’re not downplaying the impact of disruptions at a place that circulates a massive amount of money in the local economy.

However, curling up in a fetal position and waiting for the end isn’t conducive to preparing that recipe.

Online: https://www.gadsdentimes.com/