As we head into the last couple of weeks of 2020 (good riddance!), some random thoughts on recent news of note.
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Prince William County’s hiring of Peter Newsham as its new police chief has drawn lots of criticism, especially from progressives. Newsham’s record as chief in the District of Columbia was checkered at best, exacerbated by antagonistic relations with city council and the civil rights protests of this spring and summer.
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors could have taken the easy way out by deciding that Newsham brings too much baggage and choosing another candidate. The fact that the board did not, that seven of its eight members were willing to stick their necks out and vote to hire Newsham – a move they had to know would draw criticism – tells us they believe the positives outweigh the negatives.
We believe in giving people a chance, and we’d encourage those who are upset about the hiring of Newsham to do the same. At the same time, Newsham will have no honeymoon after he starts here in February. Prince William doesn’t need more incidents that scar the county’s reputation. Longtime chief Charlie Deane and his successor, Barry Barnard, both set high standards – particularly in terms of their relations with all parts of our diverse community – and the onus will be on Newsham to do the same, and then some.
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Speaking of walking a fine line, that’s exactly what the Prince William public school system is doing with its return-to-school plan. While we were critical of the school system’s early on-again, off-again efforts, including a lack of appropriate communication between Superintendent Steve Walts and the school board, we applaud the school system for sticking to its schedule.
The slow return of some students into classrooms – first-graders joined the list last week – has thus far been uneventful. Only students who want to return to hybrid learning are doing so, and precautions against the spread of COVID-19 generally seem to be working.
More tests are yet to come – this week, for example, as winter sports teams begin practices, although many private athletic facilities and teams have been practicing and playing for months. But the real test will begin in mid-January, when the pace of returning students is scheduled to pick up. If the current trend of cases and test positivity rates continues, it would be hard to blame the school system for pausing its plan. But for now, it deserves credit for sticking to its guns. In a time of uncertainty, certainty is appreciated.
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Speaking of COVID-19, we understand that the drumbeat of caseloads, test positivity rates and similar reports can be mind-numbing. But the numbers in our region – and in Prince William – are troubling. They are at their highest levels since the pandemic began, and if the trends continue, our hospitals will be overwhelmed with patients.
Whether or not you agree with his COVID restrictions, Gov. Ralph Northam is right about one thing: Just because a vaccine is around the corner does not mean this is time to let our guards down, especially over the holidays.
Masks work. Social distancing works. Avoiding large gatherings works. Yes this won’t be a normal holiday season, but nothing about 2020 has been normal. We need to follow the guidelines this year so we can all enjoy the holiday season in 2021.