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Obama hits Trump on virus
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DETROIT — Calling Joe Biden his “brother,” Barack Obama on Saturday accused Donald Trump of failing to take the coronavirus pandemic and the presidency seriously as Democrats leaned on America’s first Black president to energize Black voters in battleground Michigan on the final weekend of the 2020 campaign.

As Biden campaigned in Michigan, Trump made an aggressive play for pivotal Pennsylvania, focusing largely on his white, working-class base.

At an evening rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, Trump announced that he had issued a memorandum that calls on government agencies to determine fracking’s impact on the economy and trade and the costs of banning oil and gas extraction through fracking.

Obama, the 44th president, and Biden, his vice president who wants to be the 46th, held drive-in rallies in Flint and Detroit, predominantly Black cities where strong turnout will be essential to swing the longtime Democratic state to Biden’s column after Trump won it in 2016.

“Three days until the most important election of our lifetime — and that includes mine, which was pretty important,” said Obama, urging Democrats to get to the polls.

The memories of Trump’s win in Michigan and the rest of the Upper Midwest are still searing in the minds of many Democrats during this closing stretch before Tuesday’s election. That leaves Biden in the position of holding a consistent lead in the national polls and an advantage in most battlegrounds, including Michigan, yet still facing anxiety it could all slip away.

As of Saturday, nearly 92 million voters had already cast ballots nationwide, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Tens of millions more will vote by the time polls close on Tuesday night.

The former president hammered on Trump’s continued focus on the size of his campaign crowds.

“Did no one come to his birthday party when he was a kid? Was he traumatized?” Obama said in a mocking tone. “The country’s going through a pandemic. That’s not what you’re supposed to be worrying about.”

Throughout the day, Trump and Biden, both septuagenarians, threw stinging barbs at one another that at moments verged into schoolyard taunt territory.

Speaking in Flint, Biden joked of Trump, “When you were in high school, wouldn’t you have liked to take a shot?” He also mocked the president as a “macho man.”

Trump, too, on Saturday suggested he could beat up Biden if given the chance and suggested the former vice president wears sunglasses to cover up “surgery on the eyes.”

“He’s not a big guy,” Trump said of Biden. “A slight slap, you wouldn’t have to close your fist.”

Later in Detroit, Biden ridiculed Trump for calling himself a “perfect specimen,” called him Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “puppy,” and joked about a New York Times report that showed Trump had spent $70,000 on hair care.

The president has repeatedly charged that Biden will end fracking — a big industry in Pennsylvania and other states — even as the former vice president has said that he does not support a ban on fracking.

“In other words, if one of these maniacs come along and they say we’re gonna end fracking, we’re gonna destroy the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Trump said in announcing his memorandum.

Earlier in the day in a small town in Bucks County on the eastern edge of the state, Trump raised baseless concerns about election fraud, pointing specifically at Philadelphia, a city whose large African American population is key to Biden’s fate in the state.

“They say you have to be very, very careful — what happens in Philadelphia,” Trump charged. “Everybody has to watch.”

Republicans are betting that Trump can win a second term by driving up turnout among his strongest supporters — white, noncollege-educated men and rural voters — while limiting Biden’s advantage with Blacks and Latinos. Democrats in several swing states worry that voters of color may not be excited enough about Biden to show up in the numbers they need.

In Michigan, Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat who represents the Flint area, said he had been pressing for a couple of months for Biden or Obama to visit the majority Black city where a water crisis that began in 2014 sickened the city’s residents.

“Showing up matters,” Kildee said. “The message is important, no question about it. But there’s a message implicit in showing up, especially in Flint.”

Biden’s campaign announced it was sending Obama to Florida and Georgia on Monday. He is the campaign’s most valuable asset to help energize the nonwhite voters Democrats so badly need to defeat Trump. “Joe Biden is my brother. I love Joe Biden, and he will be a great president,” Obama said Saturday.

The press for Michigan’s Black voters comes after voting was down roughly 15% in Flint and Detroit four years ago — a combined 48,000-plus votes in a state Trump carried by about 10,700 votes. Overall, the Black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6% in 2016 after reaching a record-high 66.6% four years earlier, according to the Pew Research Center.

Trump isn’t ceding Michigan to Biden. He visited Waterford Township, near Detroit, on Friday and held a rally in the state capital, Lansing, this past week, though the surging coronavirus cases are clouding his presidency.

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Early and absentee voting shattering records in Cedar Valley
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It’s not even Election Day, but 2020 has already broken records for absentee and early voting in the Cedar Valley.

As of Friday evening, Black Hawk County Auditor Grant Veeder said out of 40,715 absentee ballots requested or cast at early voting sites, 38,409 — or 94.3% — had been returned to his office. That’s the highest percentage of absentee ballots that have been returned since at least 2012.

That’s not counting “a few people still in line, and probably some ballots from the drop box not entered yet,” and there is still time to return more before Tuesday evening’s deadline, Veeder said.

Those numbers shatter the previous high-water mark for absentee voting in 2012, when 31,981 absentee ballots were requested and 29,809 were returned.

As of 4:50 p.m. Friday, Democrats had requested the most ballots in Black Hawk County, at 21,176, and returned 20,189 of them, a 95.3% return rate. That’s 56.5% of registered Democrats who have already voted, Veeder noted, ahead of 2012’s 42.9%.

Republicans requested 11,303 ballots and had so far returned 10,588, a 93.7% return percentage. That’s 43.8% of all registered Republicans, compared with just 31.6% in 2012.

Those not registered with either major party requested 8,236 ballots and have returned 7,632 of them, a return rate of 92.7%.

A total of 2,306 requested absentee ballots had not yet been received in Black Hawk County. Those not using the drop box at the courthouse can still mail ballots, which will be counted as long as they’re postmarked by Nov. 3.

In Buchanan County as of 5 p.m. Thursday, a total of 6,228 ballots had been cast either by absentee or by early voting, said auditor Cindy Gosse. That shatters the previous record, also in 2012, of 4,380 votes cast early or by absentee ballot.

Most of the total — 4,578 ballots — were absentee, Gosse noted, a big jump from 2012’s total of 2,984.

Though Black Hawk County is traditionally Democratic leaning, Buchanan County is what’s known as a “pivot county,” or one that voted for a Democrat, President Barack Obama, twice and then voted for a Republican, President Donald Trump, in 2016.


Photos: Election night 2018

Hudson's Addison Grady competes Saturday at the Iowa Cross Country State Championships at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge. Grady and her Pirate teammates captured the 1A state title. 

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WATCH NOW: Full-time return to East, West buildings considered by Waterloo Schools for in-person students
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WATERLOO — After months of making student health their main concern, Waterloo Community Schools’ officials want to shift the balance back toward academics.

As part of the push, Superintendent Jane Lindaman told the Board of Education recently that the district is exploring its options for returning East and West high school students to the buildings five days per week.

Currently, students are divided into two groups that physically attend classes every other day, for a total of five days every two weeks. East and West are the only district schools that don’t have their in-person students in class every day.

Families would still be allowed to have their children do all their learning online from home. At the beginning of the year, about 2,200 students were participating in the virtual option districtwide, or over 20% of the total enrolled.

Waterloo Schools has contacted families with children at the two high schools to get their input about potentially making the change for second semester, which starts Jan. 19. The district is asking, “What would it look like if we could come back at semester?” said Lindaman.

“We’re still looking at that. That is not an announcement,” she emphasized. “I’m not ready to declare, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing,’ but that’s what we shared with our families,” as a possible option.

One parent, board member Stacie Mills, expressed reservations about what that would look like for a slice of the day, the lunch period.

“If we have all the A-B (day) kids together, they’re going to have their masks off for that 15 minutes off continuous time,” said Mills, while in close contact.

If the decision is made to go forward with the high school change, it would help the district with the larger shift already underway towards prioritizing academics over minimizing the potential for exposure to COVID-19.

“At the very beginning of the year ... we really weighted health and safety very heavily,” said Lindaman. “The student achievement and the learning was super important, but we knew we needed to keep our kids safe. And because we were operating in quite unfamiliar territory, we really felt like we needed to put a lot of focus on that.”

School administrators have been able to assess the dangers to students and staff in the buildings as well as how to minimize them since classes started in August, though.


“We really do feel like we have some routines really laid out,” Lindaman explained. “We feel like it’s time to really tip those scales and really work on prioritizing the instruction.

“If you are in the buildings, our principals are doing a lot of walk-throughs right now, they’re in the classrooms,” she said. “They’re giving feedback on instruction.” By contrast, that classroom feedback was about “the safety of the kids” at the beginning of the year.

School staff are deep into analysis of results from the Formative Assessment System for Teachers, which is given multiple times per year to kindergarten through sixth-grade students across the state. It is designed to evaluate a student’s achievement and skills. They are also analyzing the first round of district-based student assessments.

While Lindaman didn’t have specifics available at the meeting, she said district educators have already “learned a lot” from achievement data this year.

“We are definitely noticing some gaps,” she said. “We are learning some about where things stand – where we need to target, where we need to focus our efforts.”

Collection of photos from Waterloo West’s first playoff victory since 1991

Collection of photos from Waterloo West's first playoff victory since 1991

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WATCH NOW: Cedar Valley students may miss snow days this winter for virtual learning
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WATERLOO — Like so many things these days, Cedar Valley students may miss out on school closures in the coming months for blustery, snowy weather because of special pandemic rules.

As they look ahead to winter, local school administrators are considering remote learning on what would otherwise be snow days, which is allowed for the first time under a proclamation Gov. Kim Reynolds issued earlier this year.

On July 17, she announced a number of actions to advance Iowa’s return to learn strategy, including when a school may move to primarily remote education. Among other changes, it authorized temporary online learning due to severe weather rather than giving students and teachers a day off.

In Iowa, switching to virtual learning when weather conditions keep people away from school “has never been permissible or legal,” Superintendent Jane Lindaman told the Board of Education last week. In other words, it wouldn’t count toward their required minimum of 180 days or 1,080 hours of instruction per year.

But when Reynolds gave permission for students to learn remotely if parents chose that or if it was warranted by COVID-19 infection rates, she also allowed it because of inclement weather. Schools can move learning online for a maximum of five consecutive days in a two-week period when their communities are hit with extreme cold, piles of snow or blizzard conditions.

“The governor and the Iowa Department of Education gave schools some latitude on how to make up their school days,” said Lindaman. “So this year is the first year in history that we have the opportunity to do that.

“What we’re looking at right now is what would our plan be. What should our plan look like?”

She noted that Waterloo Community Schools’ builds two snow make-up days into its calendar in April and May. One option would be to do what has already been planned: allow students two days off if needed and shift school to those make-up days.

But if more days are needed, Lindaman said, “What happens then? Would we keep tacking on or would we employ virtual learning?” She isn’t ready yet to unveil a plan.

The Cedar Falls and Waverly-Shell Rock community schools are also looking at the possibility of virtual learning instead of snow days.


“We have not made any final decisions at this time,” Superintendent Andy Pattee said in an email. “The (Department of Education) waiver allows districts to use snow days as a virtual learning day, however, we are still trying to determine how best to do that and if that is in the best interest of student learning.”

Ed Klamfoth, Waverly-Shell Rock superintendent, said in an email that “we don’t yet have the details worked out, but hope to make some information available to staff and families within a couple of weeks or so.”

Pattee told the Cedar Falls Board of Education in September that “we want to make sure we ... do it the right way” if students move online when winter weather keeps them away from school. The key, he said, is that “everybody has kind of the same expectations” for engagement and enhanced learning.

“Our hope is that we can do that as an educational impact and (as) a very positive aspect for student learning,” Pattee noted.

“The ability to do that and the ability to do it well are two different things,” he said. “We want to make sure we do it well and not do it just for the sake of having a day.”

Jesup Community Schools, citing the disruption of the pandemic, currently has no plans to use virtual learning on what would otherwise be a snow day.

Superintendent Nathan Marting, in a weekly update posted on the district’s website Friday, laid out his reasoning.

“There is a bit of magic through a child’s eyes (and even some adults) on that first snow day cancellation,” he wrote. “With so many changes, losses, and disruptions in these past seven months, we feel there is a value in not taking away this bit of magic.”

Contacted by phone, Marting said he is not recommending virtual learning on those days for the time being.

“At this point, we’re not going to change our past policy,” he noted. Administrators and Board of Education members have “talked about it informally. ... Our conversation so far has been let them enjoy the snow(fall), at least the first couple.”

Administrators could re-evaluate the matter later, depending on how many snow days there are.

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