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McGARRY: California’s Counterproductive, Unconstitutional Internet Law Has Been Enjoined

A federal district judge in California has enjoined the state’s Age-Appropriate Design Code Act (AADCA). Putatively to protect children from online harms, this sweeping 2022 law imposes a potpourri of duties and restrictions on websites’ collection and handling of children’s data. It further incentivizes websites to verify each user’s age — a gross privacy violation. However, these provisions and others likely violate the First Amendment, Judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled.

Although advocated to address the discrete issue of children’s online safety, the AADCA (if permitted to take effect) would essentially reshape the internet for all users. And it would threaten not just online privacy but free speech. “Self-censorship is (the AADCA’s) self-professed aim,” alleges NetChoice, a trade group representing tech companies, which brought the case.

The astoundingly broad AADCA regulates businesses (as defined by California statute) that host websites that are “likely to be accessed by children.” Legal minors are, of course, likely to access almost every type of website. The law provides websites two paths to avoid liability: extend to all users the law’s protections for children — which California self-admittedly designed to limit children’s access to certain content — or verify every user’s age.

Both options would likely chill speech. Applying speech-limiting children’s safety provisions to adults would “impermissibly ‘reduce the adult population … to reading only what is fit for children,’” Freeman reasoned. Alternatively, many websites implementing universal age verification would likely exclude children altogether to avoid further compliance costs. The judge writes that “the provision here would serve to chill a ‘substantially excessive’ amount of protected speech to the extent that content providers wish to reach children but choose not.”

Although she acknowledged the state’s interest in protecting children from online harm, Freeman correctly assessed that much of the AADCA likely cannot meet a moderately demanding level of scrutiny. California failed repeatedly to show that the law’s provisions would meaningfully protect children from online harms; in some instances, Freeman found that the law would, in fact, harm children and other users.

For example, the AADCA’s promotion of age verification impinges on all users’ privacy — directly contravening the law’s stated aims. To identify underage users reliably, websites must collect from all users either age-confirming documentation — e.g., a government-issued identification card — or biometric data such as a facial scan. (Some websites may outsource this to third parties.) “The … age estimation provision appears not only unlikely to materially alleviate the harm of insufficient data and privacy protections for children but actually likely to exacerbate the problem by inducing covered businesses to require consumers, including children, to divulge additional personal information,” Freeman wrote.

Likewise, provisions limiting websites from making certain targeted suggestions to minors fail to discriminate between protected and non-protected speech and would likely reduce young people’s access to beneficial content.

The law requires websites to document and report how their data practices could harm children and to create harm-mitigation strategies. It does not, however, require websites to act on those strategies. The reporting requirements “provide ‘only ineffective or remote support for the government’s purpose’ and do not ‘directly advance’ the government’s substantial interest,” Freeman concluded. Much else in the law fits this legally head-scratching mold.

Too many legislators in both major parties, although rightfully concerned for children’s safety, support astoundingly sweeping (and often unconstitutional)  regulatory schemes for the digital world. As with the AADCA, such proposals (when scrutinized) generally have little chance of achieving their objectives — at least not without also inflicting intolerable economic damage or constitutional violations. Over the past quarter century, courts have accordingly struck down several such laws.

More prudent policymakers would remember that noble intentions guarantee no good policy outcomes and that economic tradeoffs and constitutional norms apply as much in the digital world as in the physical one.

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Sen. Williams Has A Plan to Fix Philly’s Crime Problem: Spank Your Kids

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” may not actually be in the Bible, but it was on the mind of Delaware Valley state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) during a recent podcast interview with DVJournal.

The topic was crime- specifically the rise in violent crime- and as he often does, Williams pointed out that both sides offer incomplete solutions. Defunding the police isn’t a serious approach, he argued, but at the same time, the police aren’t perfect. He pointed to the death of 8-year-old Fanta Bility, unintentionally shot by Sharon Hill police officers, as an example of law enforcement’s need for better training and smarter strategy.

But there is one home-grown remedy, he told DVJournal, that he believes can help prevent crime before it occurs.

A spanking.

“With all due respect, I believe in corporal punishment,” said Williams. “Now, I don’t believe in beating to bleeding and breaking bones and abusing, but spanking somebody in the butt when Johnny’s acting a fool at a public place, and you want to say ‘time out.’ I don’t think it necessarily works,” said Williams.

He also called for parents to be held accountable for their children’s behavior.

“I mean, children driving those three-wheeler vehicles down the street around City Hall at midnight, I don’t know who thinks the police officer should be fixing that, right? That’s a parent problem. So, for me, fundamentally, a lot of stuff goes back to the parents, period.”

Inna Leiter, Psy.D., director of the Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Media, told DVJournal she believes spanking is counterproductive.

“Consistency with punishment is super important, and having firm boundaries. Having consistency with your kids is important, and being able to follow through on consequences. Hitting your kids, spanking, corporal punishment, that serves as a model for aggression and leads kids to be more aggressive,” said Leiter, a clinical psychologist specializing in pediatric behavioral problems.

While “being too lenient is not effective,” she said, neither is “hitting kids.” Parents need to make sure there are consequences, but those consequences should not include spanking.

“The gold standard in behavioral treatment doesn’t include any kind of corporal punishment for kids,” she said.

“This old-school mentality does the opposite,” she said. “Hitting your kids will increase their aggressiveness in the short term.”

Williams said parents need to administer correction via a child’s backside when necessary, but parents also need the community to get their backs.

“Parenting needs to be supported much more significantly than it is,” said Williams. Parents should teach their kids the fundamentals, including respect.

“Let me be clear: when you’re 14, and no one told you that not every police officer is an enemy, but you look at them as such, guess what? You’re going to act accordingly,” said Williams.

“A lot of recklessness that I see today would never have happened in my neighborhood,” said Williams. He grew up in a predominately African American community with “working class folks who had some issues with the police officers, but they knew that, generally speaking, you respected the authority in place.

“Children going to school and acting up, and the teacher is the enemy, and the parent comes up to the teacher and says, ‘You did something to my child.’ When I went to school, If I did something, I was guilty as charged,” Williams said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also opposes spanking.

“Corporal punishment – or the use of spanking as a disciplinary tool –increases aggression in young children in the long run and is ineffective in teaching a child responsibility and self-control. In fact, new evidence suggests that it may cause harm to the child by affecting normal brain development. Other methods that teach children right from wrong are safer and more effective,” the AAP said in a statement.

Dr. Marion Mass, a Bucks County pediatrician, does not favor spanking but agrees with Williams that children need discipline and guidance and that parents need to step up to provide it. She listed some incidents.

“Somehow, we have gotten to a point where some are letting kids run the show,” Mass said.

“Kids are destructive in the most horrific of ways. Look at the case of slain police officer Fitzgerald at Temple.” Allegedly “gunned down by an 18-year-old carjacking with his younger brother.”

“Remember when 13 and 15-year-old girls carjacked and were responsible for the death of an Uber driver? It’s gone on for a long time,” she said. “In 1994, 10 and 11-year-old boys wouldn’t take ‘no ‘for an answer, and they dropped 5-year-old Eric Morse 14 stories to his death because he refused to steal candy for them.”

Mass added, “It’s in the schools. We saw a 6-year-old bring a gun to school intending to hurt his teacher in Virginia, and more and more teachers are reporting violence. In 2019, there was $1.3 million in damage done to a Central Bucks school. It looked as though it were arson and implications that a juvenile was responsible.”

And “the historic Perkasie covered bridge that was burned down by six young college students in 2004. Those young men tried to set an unsuccessful fire and came back later with a gas can,” said Mass.

“The Perkasie fire of 1988 caused $9 million in damage and destroyed buildings erected in the 1800s. How? Two 12-year-old boys were playing with a lighter, started a fire, then walked away. I think a fire truck melted,” Mass added.

The Rev. Dr. Jerome Coleman, pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Abington, also sees a lack of discipline as a problem and agrees with Williams that spanking is an effective remedy.

“I do agree that the problem with youth today is that parents are not disciplining their children. I don’t think discipline means that you have to spank your children. Discipline comes in many forms, like timeout, taking away cell phone privileges, withholding video games, not giving an allowance, sitting down and talking with your children, etc.,” he said.

“However, I’m not against spanking. What I am against is abuse. There is no factual data to support that spanking a child leads to an abusive child. We have made the mistake of raising our children off of theories and hypotheses, often by people who have never had children,” said Coleman.

“Many parents feel handcuffed by a government who they feel is undermining their authority and gives the benefit of the doubt to children instead of parents,” said Coleman. “A child can receive a spanking, and that child can accuse the parent of abuse, and the parent immediately comes under suspicion. I was in a meeting where a parent said she felt threatened by her teenage son, and the police said there was nothing they could do. But if a child makes the same accusation…”

“The core of why children appear to be so violent, angry, and depressed starts at home and the failure of parents to discipline their children. Discipline is not a curse word. It’s teaching children to obey rules and obey those in authority. It’s correcting misbehavior to improve moral character and ethics so that children can be positive, productive citizens and contribute positively to their families, communities, and society. It’s “training a child up in the way that they should go” (Proverbs 22:6). The National Institutes of Health still says that parents have the greatest influence on their children,” said Coleman.

“When you look at our children’s behavior currently, you can clearly see that at the core, it is a lack of discipline at home,” Coleman added.

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COLEMAN: Children Need a Father’s Love and Support

The National Institutes of Health extensively studied father absenteeism and its effects on children. It found compelling evidence that a father’s absence negatively affects children’s social-emotional development, increases adolescents’ risky behaviors, negatively affects educational attainment, and affects mental health, which often persist throughout life.

Since 2020, violence among children has increased across the nation. In the U.S., homicides committed by juveniles acting alone rose 30 percent from just a year earlier. Crimes committed by multiple youths increased by 66 percent. The number of killings committed by children under 14 was the highest in two decades. The number of juveniles killing other juveniles was the highest it has been in more than two decades. While there are certainly several factors for the previous statistics, part of the problem lies with the absence of fathers in the lives of children.

I grew up with a father whose alcoholism overwhelmed him by the time I was 12. My mother, sister, brother, and I fled the house after a particularly violent outburst from him, where he punched me in the face and left my nose bleeding. We went to live with my grandmother from that day forward. The trauma of the physical violence in our home, and later, my uncle’s betrayal of my trust in him, left me distrusting other older men who tried to mentor or become father-like figures to me. It is a distrust I have been overcoming all my life, reminding myself not to assume nefarious motives when an older man’s behavior or words remind me of my father’s or my uncles’ words and behaviors. My father was in and out of our lives from that day forward. It left me angry with him because I felt he had betrayed his family.

“Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). “Stir up anger” means to provoke, to irritate, to exasperate. Here is a summary of the California Department of Education’s page on the mindset of children ages 9-14:

“I may be eager to become an adult. But remember, I am still a child, so don’t expect me to act like an adult. I still need adult help. One day, I am as responsible and cooperative as an adult: the next day I’m more like a six-year-old. I think more like an adult, but there’s no simple answer. I like to talk about issues in the adult world. I like to think for myself, and though I often feel confused, my opinions are important to me, and I want others to respect them. But I still need reasonable rules set by adults.”

The English poet Samuel Coleridge talked with a man who did not believe children should be given any biblical or religious instruction. That man claimed a child’s mind should not be prejudiced in any direction, and when he became older, he should be permitted to choose for himself. Coleridge said nothing, but after a while, he asked the man if he would like to see his garden.

The man said he would, and Coleridge took him into the garden, where only weeds were growing. The man looked at Coleridge in surprise and said, “Why this is not a garden! There is nothing but weeds here!” “Well,” answered Coleridge, “I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden; I did not want to ‘prejudiced it in any direction,’ I just gave the garden permission to express itself in any way it saw fit, and here is the result.”

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go.” Fathers play a crucial role in children’s lives that others cannot fill. Studies show that when fathers are present and when they are affectionate and supportive, it positively affects a child’s mental, behavioral, and social development. Girls model their relationships with others and often look for husbands based on their father’s character. Boys model themselves after their father’s character and tend to be the husbands their fathers modeled.

I was determined to be the father who did not stir his children to anger. A father who would be present, supportive, affectionate, and loving to my own two girls. But also a loving and supportive husband to my wife, in part so that my girls could see what marriage is supposed to look like.

My father passed away nearly 20 years ago. I am grateful we were able to have a heart-to-heart talk a few years before he died. I learned that his mother was an alcoholic and that her father was an alcoholic. My dad’s father was in and out of his life. My father continued that tragic legacy. I am grateful that I am the one who broke it! It hurt my heart to hear my father’s story, and it made it easier for me to forgive him. I had the opportunity to take him to a Dodgers game (his favorite team), and I was the preacher when my father walked down the aisle and gave his life to Jesus Christ.

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‘There is No Research’: Speakers Decry ‘Dangerous’ Transgender Trend for Children

A panel of activists on Saturday warned against the growing trend of transgender-style medical procedures being performed on minors in the U.S.—a forum that was so controversial that event planners originally did not reveal its location to attendees until just 48 hours before it occurred.

At the event, sponsored by the conservative group No Left Turn in Education, speaker Chloe Cole, 18, told of starting the medical “transition” from a girl to a boy at 13 and of having her breasts removed at 15, only to realize at 16 that she had made a mistake.

Cole, who in recent months has appeared at multiple events and protests around the country sharing her story, told attendees that she started “transitioning” in public around age 12, wearing boys’ clothing and cutting her hair short.

At 13, doctors put her on puberty blockers and testosterone. At 15, she said she had the mastectomy procedure. A year later she realized she was a in fact a girl and wanted to “de-transition.”

Cole recently sued the doctors and hospitals that treated her. She still has problems from the treatment, including skin grafts on her chest that haven’t healed properly, she said. Her growth has also been stunted.

Forensic nurse Tammy Hartlaub also spoke to the group about the dangers of transgender surgery and medications given to children to attempt to switch them from one sex to another.

She noted the brain’s frontal lobe, which controls judgment, is the last part to mature when people are in their 20s. And the drugs used to block puberty “have significant side effects in adults.”

As to their long-term effects on children and teenagers: “We don’t know,” Hartlaub said. “There is no research.”

Elana Fishbein, Ph.D. founder of No Left Turn in Education

About 100 people came to the event.

The forum itself almost did not happen. Its location was kept a secret until just two days before it was scheduled. During a radio interview on the Dom Giordano Show on Friday, it was revealed it would be held at the Sheraton Great Valley in Frazer. The hotel reportedly began getting threatening phone calls. By 5 p.m. the event was canceled.

The radio station employee who accidentally gave the location on the air called the Rev. William Devlin of Widows and Orphans to see if he might know another meeting venue. Devlin contacted Pastor William Covelens of New Life Community Church in the village of Huntingdon Valley, who said was willing to host the panel discussion.

Stressing the growing spread of transgender ideology throughout the country, No Left Turn founder Elana Fishbein noted there are now at least 100 clinics nationwide that perform transgender surgery.

“In the last five years, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of minors who report some distress about their sex and the perception of their gender,” said Fishbein. “For minors between ages 6 and 17 between 2017 and 2020, there was an annual increase of 20 percent. Between 2020 and 2021, there was an 80 percent increase.”

“This is a substantial increase,” she said. “This is not just minor.”

At the event on Saturday, speaker Sara Higdon warned against transgender activists who seek to target children for ideological exploitation.

“They simply believe there is no such thing as absolute truth,” said Higdon, a spokesperson for the group Trans Against Groomers. Higdon was born a male but now identifies as a woman.

Higdon indicated that there are considerable social justice incentives for men to begin identifying as women. “What way can an oppressor maybe become part of an oppressed class? They can transition,” said Higdon.

“And there are (upper-middle-class White) parents who think if they have a trans child they can say, ‘Look what a good parent I am.’

“And there’s a lot of eugenics at play,” Higdon added. “You are sterilizing an entire group of people. …They want to make your kids wards of the state. You can’t usher in Marxism without kids being wards of the state.”

Multiple school districts in Pennsylvania, including many in the Delaware Valley, are teaching the educational doctrine known as “Queer Theory,” deploying curriculum on gender for students as young as kindergarten.

Some districts, including the Great Valley School District, also tell teachers to hide from parents any information related to their children’s claims about transgender identities.

Though Higdon claims to have discovered an internal transgender identity at a young age, the speaker nevertheless criticized and dismissed major popular assertions about gender ideology at it applies to children.

“No child is born in the wrong body,” Higdon said, “It’s not the body that’s wrong. It’s the mind that’s wrong. My gender dysphoria went all the way to adulthood. At the age of 28, I had to tell somebody.”

Cole said that doctors “failed to address the fact that I might have had underlying issues” connected to identifying as a woman.

Cole said she “wasn’t forced into transition by my parents,” as critics often accuse some parents of doing. They took her to a therapist, she said, who allegedly told her parents that she would commit suicide if she wasn’t allowed to begin identifying as a boy. “[It] wasn’t true,” she said.

Cole said social media also played a large role in transmitting transgender ideology to her at a young age, particularly after she got her first mobile phone that allowed her unrestricted access to the Internet.

“I felt I would be better off as a boy,” she said.

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An Urgency of Normal is Still Needed for Children

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.

Not only are Covid-19 mask mandates unnecessary for children, but they can be quite harmful, according to the research of scientists and medical professionals who are part of a volunteer coalition  continuing their call for policy changes in elementary and secondary schools.

“Urgency of Normal” was founded in January 2022 in response to growing concerns about the impact Covid-19 policies on the mental and physical health of school age children. Most recently, the group has called for ending mask mandates as a rejoinder to the reintroduction of the policies in various school districts across the country. The Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey school districts, for instance, announced in December that they would require students to wear masks after returning from winter break this January. Both school districts are expected to lift the mandates this week. Paterson, New Jersey, lifted its mask mandate on Tuesday, January 17

“Children need to see faces and mouths to learn how to speak, and how to develop and regulate their emotions,” Natalya Murakhver, a New York City mother, and co-founder of Restore Childhood, a nationwide child advocacy group, said in an interview. “There’s evidence for increased speech delay for children who have been masked at school.”

Urgency of Normal’s toolkit and advocacy has challenged the findings of well-established agencies like Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, in addition to local government agencies.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends masking children who cannot even speak yet,” Murakhver said. “They have even claimed masking doesn’t impact speech delays, but the evidence is not on their side. Previously they communicated how important it is for children to see caregivers’ faces, but over the course of the pandemic, they scrubbed this from their website.”

Broad + Liberty contacted the Academy and asked for comment on its masking policy, but the Academy had not responded at the time this report went to press.

“I would like to see an end to all mandates, including Covid-19 vaccine mandates, as they apply to children,” Murakhver said. “Children and college students should also be able to participate in all school and extracurricular activities regardless of whether they have gotten the vaccination or any of the boosters.”

She continued:

“The real risks to children come not from Covid, but from the Covid response in blue areas of this country that have embraced so quickly and unscientifically,” she said. “It will take years to unravel all of these policies and their impacts, but children don’t have years because you have only one first grade and one high school graduation. These are precious moments that are finite.”

On January 6 of this year, the volunteer group issued a press release reaffirming its evidence-based opposition to school mask mandates. Their original “advocacy toolkit” was released in January 2022 and was entitled “Children, COVID and the Urgency of Normal.” The toolkit includes data for parents, students, teachers, and administrators, and is regularly updated.

“Since releasing our toolkit, we’ve seen many of those restrictions disappear and children return to varying degrees of normalcy in school and extracurricular activities,” the January release says. Urgency of Normal also cites evidence substantiating its concerns about mask mandates.

“Limited facial observation due to masking of teachers and peers should not be discounted as harmless, especially in young children and those with special needs,” the release says. “When faces are hidden, a child’s natural learning is compromised. Masking mandates in schools are anticipated to have the largest negative impacts on students learning English as a second language, with learning and/or mental health disorders and students with other special needs.” The release also links back to surveys that indicate masks make the learning process much more arduous for students than it has to be.

In June 2022, Urgency of Normal sent an open letter addressed to Dr Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Dr. Rochelle Walansky, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Our nation’s children suffered tremendous learning loss as a result of prolonged school closures and are battling a well-documented mental health crisis, and ongoing Covid-19 testing and isolation periods are causing additional harm,” the letter says. “Time away from school is known to negatively impact students and contribute to long-term school absenteeism, as seen during the 2020-21 school year when attendance rates dropped significantly compared to pre-pandemic years.”

The letter was signed by a wide range of medical professionals and parental organizations who would like the CDC to update its current guidelines to reflect contemporary realities.

Murakhver, the New York parent, views Pennsylvania as an important player in potential policy changes that could work to the advantage of school age children.

“In the blue states like California and New York there’s still an effort to bring back Covid vaccine and mask mandates despite some serious pushback from parents,” she said. “It seems like these bureaucrats and elected officials in blue states want to keep the people in a perpetual state of emergency. That’s why we desperately need independent common-sense public health voices who follow data and question ‘the science,’ without bowing to the political science.”

While Urgency of Normal started with a primary focus on elementary and secondary education, they are now also collaborating with No College Mandates and student groups to support campaigns that highlight the challenges in higher education that stem from Covid policies.

FLOWERS: Lower Merion Scrooges Cancel Kids’ Halloween Wonder

I have a small Halloween Tree on my desk that my mother made over 20 years ago.  I pull it out every October 1, mostly because it reminds me of Lucy, but also because it’s a festive note in an otherwise dour professional office. Tiny goblins, witches, ghosts, and ghouls hang from its branches, and it’s been a useful distraction for little kids who are bored out of their October gourds sitting on their parent’s laps as we discuss immigration options.

Halloween is, after all, about the kids. It’s true that adults have hijacked the holiday with their sexy zombie costumes and their spiked beverages (bobbing for apples can lead to serious bobbing and weaving as parties progress,) the 31st of October will always be a time for childhood wonder.

At least, that’s how I grew up. Today, sadly, there are adults who want to ruin that wonder, and some of them live right here in Lower Merion. The school district recently announced it was canceling the Halloween parade this year, out of concern for those who “don’t celebrate.” They also mentioned that they were worried about the safety of kids. But that’s an old trope that’s been around since I was 5 over a half-century ago and we were told not to bite into that Hershey Bar without first checking for razors.

No, the real reason that Lower Merion has decided to destroy the happiness of countless elementary school children is that they want to promote “inclusivity.” According to an email sent to parents, they were worried about offending students who don’t participate in Halloween because of the dreaded “religious reasons.”

I’m trying to figure out what those might be. There are some Christian sects that seem to believe dressing up as ghosts and witches and begging for candy is akin to some satanic ritual, but they are few and far between. Frankly, there are a lot of things that are much more satanic than cute little kids trotting around politely asking for treats. Politicians canvassing for votes come to mind. So do those Fetterman signs on Delco lawns. But I digress.

Amy Buckman, who used to be with Channel 6 and is now the director of Lower Merion’s school and community relations, insists that there’s nothing nefarious about the move and that the district is truly concerned with the safety of the kids, noting that “just the thought of having an entire school population of young children in a field surrounded by adults that we couldn’t possibly screen was worrisome.” I’m wondering why, after decades, this is the year that they decided to squeeze the last drop of joy out of a treasured holiday, decades after the first missing child appeared on a milk carton. What makes today that much more dangerous for a little tot than yesterday?

The question answers itself. Adults have become overly cautious, overly triggered, and overly concerned with control. They monitor every move of their tots as if they were General Eisenhower and the kids were about to storm the beaches of Normandy. And they want to impose that iron-fisted control on other people’s children as well.

Add in the additional, rather suspicious concern about religious freedom and you know that this is all of a piece to train our kids to be afraid, timid, and apprehensive of offending others in this pristine society of pure tolerance. I find it rather laughable that we have a school district worrying about the religious concerns of some parents even while school districts across the country are punishing people for not using the correct pronouns, even when this violates someone else’s religious beliefs.

Eliminating this holiday parade is much scarier, in my opinion, than anything a child might encounter on a dark and chilly October evening.

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New Children First Report Paints Mixed Picture of Delco Kids’ Condition

It took Delaware County Council Chairwoman Monica Taylor Ph.D. a year to find childcare for her nearly 2-year-old-daughter.

“Last year we were on a waiting list for quite a while and she got in,” said Taylor. “We were going to start in September…And they had to close the baby room and the young toddler room because they did not have enough staff. And our daycare was not able to re-open that room. She did not get back into daycare until the end of May of this year.

“During that time we were on several other waiting lists and we were not able to get into any other daycare center,” said Taylor. She and her husband cobbled together childcare, relying on her mother, mother-in-law, other family members, and friends.

The problem is a dire shortage of childcare workers, according to Donna Cooper, Children First executive director, discussing the child advocacy organization’s new report about how Delaware County’s 123,94 children fared during the COVID-19 epidemic and its aftermath. There are 52 fewer childcare programs and 540 fewer staff members than before the pandemic.

Childcare workers typically make 23 percent less money than people employed in stores, such as Wawa, she said. And the lack of childcare is a factor keeping women from returning to the workforce.

The report found that while 1,900 adults succumbed to COVID in the county, no children there died of COVID. And many families took advantage of the federal child tax credit and other government funds so that more than 3,000 children were no longer in poverty. Some 29,000 Delaware County families received over $50 million because of the child tax credit.

However, many students fell behind or further behind in school, more are suffering from mental health issues such as suicide and anxiety, and fewer children are vaccinated against communicable diseases.

”Pennsylvania’s statewide Safe2Say hotline fielded more suicide-related calls from students across the state during COVID, yet the number of these calls from youth in Delaware County jumped by 43 percent,” the report said.

“The children faced extraordinary anxiety,” Cooper explained. The closure of the Crozer-Chester Health System left a big hole in mental health services, she said, “so entirely new networks have to be built in the county. Estimates are that 14,000 teenagers in Delaware County still are suffering from some remnants of the stress, the anxiety, and the isolation and depression that COVID imposed on their lives.”

Students in some school districts fared better than others, the report said. But some 38 percent of the kids were not testing at grade level before the pandemic.

“The higher a school district’s poverty level is, the more the kids were behind,” Cooper said. “As your poverty rate goes up your assessment score goes down. Not because the children aren’t smart enough. But they are the same school districts that have the least amount to spend per child, so they have swollen class sizes, they have less instructional support…We have a gap of $150,000 per classroom between Radnor and Upper Darby or between Radnor and William Penn.”

Schools that have the greatest risk of children falling behind are the schools that were closed the longest, she said.

“They were also the schools that had the least resources,” Cooper said.

Critics of the extended closed-classroom policies say these numbers add to the evidence that the approach taken by many public schools in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. was flawed. A report released earlier this year by the left-leaning Brookings Institute found nationwide “test-score gaps between students in low-poverty and high-poverty elementary schools grew by approximately 20 percent in math and 15 percent in reading primarily during the 2020-21 school year. Further, achievement tended to drop more between fall 2020 and 2021 than between fall 2019 and 2020, indicating that disruptions to learning have continued to negatively impact students well past the initial hits following the spring 2020 school closures.”

The Delaware County report recommends the county prepare for a future public health emergency by having a person whose job is to think about kids and to create a manual of lessons learned from the COVID pandemic. County districts received substantial federal support in pandemic funding and the state also put $1.1 billion toward education this year, according to Cooper. But they need to do more to make sure the kids caught up.

To make sure there is not a spike in poverty, the Senate needs to reapprove the child tax credit, she said.

Upper Darby High School student Tanveer Kaur said many of her friends had trouble with mental health problems. She joined a support and affinity group at her school and also volunteers as an assistant teacher at one of the elementary schools.

Those students have “missed out on crucial learning blocks that build up,” Kaur said. “And that missing of crucial education has really impacted them.”

“Because class sizes are so big even at the elementary level, it’s hard to have that one-on-one time,” Kaur said, even with two adults and a teenager in the classroom.

Seda Gok, a middle school counselor in the William Penn School District, said she supported students online during the pandemic. They felt isolated, had trouble with the virtual curriculum, and were falling behind, leading to anxiety. Some students were helping younger siblings with their schoolwork. And they worried about their parents getting sick.

“Now we’re in our first semi-normal school year…They’re so behind now. They’re just now starting to play catch-up. There was that anxiety of (taking the) PSSAs (standardized tests) that was a big concern, too.”

She said it was hard for them to learn math in virtual learning.

The students need access to more mental health support staff, she said. She is responsible for 355 8th grade students “so it’s really hard to give each student that time.”

There are also “huge waiting lists” to see an outside therapist.

While William Penn has 25 to 30 students in a class, for kids to need remedial help, class sizes should be no more than 17 to 30 percent, said Cooper.


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DILLMUTH-MILLER: Speech and Language Delays? It Could Be the Masks!

The damage done to our children due to the pandemic, or our response to it, has been rearing its sick head. Approaching the two-year anniversary of the March 2020 shutdown and mask-wearing, speech-language pathologists have been reporting sudden surges in speech and language referrals, with some reporting over a 300 percent overall increase,  especially in the infant and toddler age group. Meanwhile, scientists at Brown University found that children born during the pandemic had a 23 percent significant drop in their early learning composite score which includes measures in expressive and receptive language. Could masks have anything to do with the significant uptick in young children needing services.

Considering information known about mask acoustics, frequent ear infections in very young children, and speech and language development, the possibility that masks present harm to the speech and language learning process should be considered, especially for those children who spend significant portions of their day with masked caregivers. After all, parents should be informed of risks so that they can consider the pros and cons and make the best decision for their children.

Infants arrive into the world primed to learn spoken speech and language. Rapid development occurs during this critical language-learning period typically defined between birth to three years of age when they develop from quiet, active observers to a sentence-speaking preschoolers. During the critical language-learning period, the brain is especially primed to learn language, but it’s also vulnerable if deprivation occurs. Developing clear, spoken speech necessitates clear, consistent auditory input day in and day out.

After observing the increased difficulties people, especially those with hearing loss, are having understanding conversation when masked, researchers, such as Ryan Corey, measured mask acoustics in different mask types. He found that all masks muffle high-frequency speech sounds, mostly some of the quiet consonants which are more difficult to hear to begin with. Imagine not being able to hear /s/, /t/, /f/, /ch/, /sh/ or word endings. Consonants enable the listener to determine what is said while vowels being more intense, gives speech power.

In addition to some sounds inaudible through a mask, add to the mix, the elimination of the ability of speechreading, the more accurate term for lipreading, and difficulties understanding speech is not surprising even in those with normal hearing. To allow the listener to speech read, some started using masks with clear, plastic windows, but these presented their own issues. Corey found that these clear mask types block the most sound. Plus, the clear masks fog up limiting visibility anyway. The masks filter sound giving us all what is equivalent to a mild hearing loss. Even mild hearing lossis known to cause speech and language delays, reading struggles, and academic difficulties.

Children are not immune to hearing loss either, and in fact, temporary loss is quite common. Children aged 6 months to 4 years, which happens to be within that critical language-learning period, are particularly vulnerable to middle ear fluid, or Otitis Media with Effusion (OME), due to their inefficient and immature Eustachian Tubes.

In fact, 80-90 percent of children will have experienced middle-ear fluidby the time they enter school, and two thirds of them will have experienced a recurring episode. OME decreases the ability of the eardrum to conduct sound resulting in hearing loss, albeit temporary, but the fluid can last 2-4 weeks at a time and reoccur resulting in periods of auditory deprivation. Hearing loss at a young age is associated with speech and language delays. Hearing loss in addition to the sound reduction caused by masks would have an additive effect.

Through studying faces, listening to sounds, and practicing through babble, babies learn how to speak. Patricia Kuhl, a researcher internationally known for her work on early language and brain development, found that babies as young as 4.5 months old could hear a vowel sound and match the corresponding face pronouncing the heard vowel sound.

Often, the babies would make the mouth movement themselves. These findings suggest not only do babies connect the auditory and visual modalities, but also a connection is made with the mouth movements when learning speech.

The fact that blind babies can develop speech does not mean seeing the face is not important. Rather, this fact shows support that hearing is the most important sense for learning spoken speech and language and seeing takes a supportive role. Hearing consistently is integral to developing speech and language and can be limited by temporary hearing loss and mask acoustics without visual cues to compensate.

Professionals should be arming parents with information so that they can make educated decisions regarding the health and well-being of their children. For example, if masks will be worn, a clear mask while wearing a microphone to enhance speech loudness may be a viable solution to address the above concerns. Parents may also decide to send their children to a daycare that does not institute a mask mandate. When given the facts, parents can weigh the pros and cons and make an educated decision regarding their children’s interactions.

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Are Masks Helping or Hurting Our Children?

With the back and forth from the CDC on which masks are truly helpful in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it’s easy to worry about the safety of our children. Pennsylvania has 500 school districts, and some still require students to wear their masks indoors while others move to make masks optional.

Some fear that continued masking mandates might spark mental health conditions for students. Still, Inna Leiter, Psy.D., child and adolescent psychologist and director of the Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy told Delaware Valley Journal that isn’t necessarily the case.

Inna Leiter

“I think that since we’ve had to start masking we have undoubtedly seen an increase in anxiety,” Leiter said. “But so many other changes have come along with that, including parents being more stressed and intermittent quarantines, that it’s really hard to point to a causal relationship between masking and any specific mental health issues.”

Leiter mentions many contributing factors are causing students stress and anxiety during the pandemic. One is the uncertainty surrounding guidelines.

“What I have seen anxiety about specifically in my clinical practice is that it’s really unclear what the guidelines are regarding safety and how to apply them consistently,” Leiter said. “Some parents are more strict, some parents are less strict, and so sometimes it can cause anxiety in kids trying to fit in if their parents are really strict. If they’re hanging out with their friends and their friends aren’t wearing a mask but their mom won’t let them go anywhere unless they’re wearing a mask. Sometimes they’re the only ones wearing a mask. That can cause some stress. I don’t know if that’ll turn into an anxiety disorder but it’s just an added social stressor of navigating when to wear the mask.”

Nicole Lombardi, the owner of Speech Matters, LLC, told DVJ it is also difficult to say if masks harm children’s ability to speak.

“While we cannot say definitively whether masks are inhibiting kids from learning to talk, we can absolutely see some negative impacts of masking,” Lombardi said. “Masking makes it difficult for our little ones acquiring language to see our faces, so they’re limited to only hearing sounds and words, which sometimes isn’t enough in isolation. Additionally, masking has impacted not only young ones learning language but also those who have already acquired language and are addressing the nuances of language in everyday communications.”

Nicole Lombardi

In addition to language skills, Lombardi has noticed masking impacts children’s social skills.

“Masking has negatively impacted children addressing social skills due to the inability to read a person’s facial expressions and nonverbal cues,” Lombardi explained. “Do I have a valid answer to this? No. But, I can say that the number of 1-2-year-olds who have joined our Speech Matters community since the implementation of masking has more than doubled from years prior to 2020.”

Lombardi said masking is n0t much of an issue when it comes to older students unless they are already seeing a speech therapist.

“From my purview, I do not see masking for older students learning new terms as an issue,” Lombardi said. “I do see it as an issue for older kids who are (a) working on speech sound production skills (perhaps they make an F for a TH sound, like “bad” for “bath”). As I mentioned, I have seen great impact of masks on older students working on their social language skills, particularly in reading nonverbal social cues (facial expressions are often key to reading a social situation).”

Lombardi added rapport is a big part of therapy in any specialty, and masks can have a negative impact on children building that rapport with their speech therapists.

“Masks make it difficult to feel that you truly know a child, their families and caregivers, and vice versa,” Lombardi said. “It’s not immediately obvious, but it is rather jarring to think that you could show a picture of three women without masks to a child who has been working with one of them for several months and the child would not be able to choose which woman was his or her therapist. It is both sad and concerning, thinking about the impact masks have had on rapport building.”

When asked if there was anything parents could do to help their children, Lombardi’s answer was simple.

“Model, model, model,” she said. “Parents are the face of therapy when with their child in a private and maskless setting. We as therapists will need to rely on you to model speech sounds, language skills, and social interpretation/use of language at home and in the community. While therapists and children can wear clear masks or masks with windows, there is still a barrier to the child’s direct access to facial cues. It is also helpful to monitor your child’s progress at home and report back. Share videos of your child working on their speech and language skills at home, maskless, so therapists are able to see what is occurring behind the mask and provide helpful feedback for practice and improvements.”

It is difficult to say how masks will impact children long-term, and that uncertainty can add to the growing list of stressors for parents and their children.

“Uncertainty is really hard for people,” Leiter said. “For people with anxiety, uncertainty is like an Achilles heel. Uncertainty is the thing that anxiety latches onto. So, in this era of uncertainty, it makes sense that people are struggling with anxiety. Is it caused by masks? I can’t say that but the uncertainty about masks is likely to contribute to the pool of uncertainty that we’re all facing.”

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ROSICA: Will Parents Tip the Elections in 2022?

One day after winning the gubernatorial race in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin stated “We’re going to embrace our parents, not ignore them.”  Youngkin understood that angry and frustrated parents were essential to his successful bid to become governor.

All over the country, parents are dissatisfied with their local schools and school boards and concerned about their children’s future.  Extended school closures, hybrid classrooms, and overly conservative quarantine policies have harmed students academically, emotionally, and behaviorally.  Transitioning back and forth between remote, hybrid, and in-person creates continued stress for both parents and students, particularly the neediest children.

In Pennsylvania, Back to School PA PAC helped to mobilize and organize these distraught parents to recruit, train, and support potential school board candidates who put the students first. Supporting school board races in 17 diverse counties and well over 200 bi-partisan candidates, Back to School PA achieved a 60 percent success rate in its first endeavor. However, Back to School PA believes that 2021 was just the beginning for parent involvement in school board races and politics in general.

With no school board races in 2022 in Pennsylvania, these same advocates who formed Political Action Committees (PAC) to support school board candidates are trying to determine how they can influence and/or support other key races across the state. Parents have been activated, and most are now committed to remaining engaged in local and state government.

More parents may come out to vote in Pennsylvania in 2022 than any other election in recent history. Regardless of political affiliation, parents are exhausted and concerned about the future for their children and for the commonwealth.  If schools do not stay open reliably, it is difficult for parents to work.  Mothers bore the brunt of the school closures, as 33 percent of women left the workforce to support their children during virtual school. Single mothers and low-income families suffered the most during school closures. Domestic violence and child abuse increased. Pediatric hospitals are being overrun with mental health concerns, and suicide attempts have increased exponentially. More children are being hospitalized for eating disorders and depression.  Parents have watched their children falling apart literally before their eyes.

Parents have spent almost two years witnessing how local government works and how it failed our children. Many parents participated in their local school board meetings for the first time.  These parents would spend hours preparing their statement, and then they were dismissed as being selfish for wanting their children in school. In some districts, parent comments were actually censored or not included during virtual meetings. For the most part, parents have not been welcome at school board meetings and many have felt disrespected, while some have been escorted out of meetings by police.  Parents want transparency about what is happening in the classroom, and they want to be engaged and respected, not dismissed or labeled domestic terrorists.

The National School Boards Association labeled upset parents as “domestic terrorists” who should be considered dangerous and treated as such.  Instead of encouraging and modeling civil discourse, local, state and national government leaders have repeatedly shown that differing opinions and simply asking questions are not welcome.

These issues are likely to bring out more parents to vote in 2022. Parents want candidates who are not beholden to special interest groups, like the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA). They want candidates who will place the importance of children and their future first. Most parents want a balanced approach to government, diversity of thought, and transparency around decision-making.  Every parent wants to be respected as the person who knows what is best for their child.

Respect of parental rights may be the single biggest issue for the 2022 elections.  Parents have never felt as demoralized and hopeless as they have over the last 22 months.  Watching their children struggle academically, emotionally, and behaviorally and feeling helpless to support them has changed the game for many parents.  And those parents who were also forced out of the workforce or had to choose between work and supporting their children during virtual learning, will not soon forget the impact of these draconian measures on their children.

2022 may be the year when parents reclaim their rights at the polls.

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