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2 biggest California districts say school will start online

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2 biggest California districts say school will start online

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles and San Diego school districts, the two largest in California with a combined K-12 student population of about 720,000, announced Monday they won’t bring students back to classrooms next month because of rising coronavirus hospitalizations and infection rates.

School leaders said there is too much uncertainty surrounding the safety of students and staff to try to return pupils to classrooms right away so they will continue the distance learning that was employed for the final months of the spring semester.

“There’s a public health imperative to keep schools from becoming a petri dish,” said Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District — the second-largest public school district in the country. “The health and safety of all in the school community is not something we can compromise.”

In a letter to parents, Cindy Marten, superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, said nothing was decided beyond beginning the academic year online. An Aug. 10 update will address the possibility of returning to in-person instruction later on.

“We will get back there, but we just can’t start there,” she wrote.

The viewpoint wasn’t shared by the school board in nearby Orange County, which voted 4-1 Monday evening to approve a set of guidelines for reopening school campuses next month without students being required to wear masks or social distance.

Those guidelines conflicted with the county’s own Department of Education and aren’t binding on the county’s 27 school districts, which have their own leaders.

LA and San Diego are the latest in a growing number of California school districts choosing to start the new term with digital learning amid strong concerns from teachers unions and as local leaders push Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration for clearer guidelines on what classroom learning should look like.

Oakland and San Bernardino districts are among those that already have have said they’ll start off with distance learning. Some districts are considering a mix of distance learning and classroom instruction with few students in the room..

Newsom, a Democrat, applauded Los Angeles and San Diego but stressed that each district has unique needs. The power on whether to reopen rests with local districts and boards, but his administration has issued recommendations for schools.

Newsom said he approved more rules Friday on masks, sports, singing, busing and other school activities, but his administration did not immediately make them public.

“A few things are non-negotiable: Our children’s health and the absolute essential importance of educating our children,” Newsom said Monday.

Schools across California closed in March as the state was ramping up virus-related restrictions. The move to distance learning was rocky for teachers, parents and students, particularly those who lacked the right technology or internet access. Newsom noted the state budget includes more than $5 billion to help students suffering from learning losses due to not physically being at school.

Both the state Department of Education and Department of Public Health have released guidance for districts to follow when reopening, which include implementing temperature checks for students, remaking activities such as lunch and recess, and recommending cloth face coverings.

Still, teachers are calling on the state to put clearer guidelines and rules in place for reopening.

On Friday, leaders of the Los Angeles teachers union called for campuses to remain closed and for distance learning to continue due to the surging numbers of cases in Los Angeles County.

“We all want to physically open schools and be back with our students, but lives hang in the balance. Safety has to be the priority. We need to get this right for our communities” United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in a statement last week.

The state’s two largest teachers’ unions have expressed similar concerns.

The California Federation of Teachers, which represents 120,000 teachers and school employees, said Monday it sent a letter to Newsom and the Legislature asking state leaders to delay the physical reopening of schools and provide stronger direction to counties that “have been left on their own to make the difficult decision on whether it is safe to reopen schools.”

“We urge the Governor to take action and delay the reopening of schools until we can guarantee our schools are safe. The stakes are as high as it gets, and we have only one chance to get this right,” CFT President Jeff Freitas said in a statement.

The California Teachers’ Association, which represents 310,000 members, said pointedly on Friday: “We cannot reopen schools until it is safe.”

CTA President E. Tony Boyd listed some of the needs for schools to stay safe: increased testing for students and staff, rapid notification of tests and contact tracing, all of which requires more funding at a time of budget cuts.

In San Diego and Los Angeles, the districts said guidelines that have come out have been “vague and contradictory” and that California’s “skyrocketing infection rates of the past few weeks make it clear the pandemic is not under control.”

Virtual classes for the roughly 600,000 K-12 students in Los Angeles begin Aug. 18 and the approximately 120,000 students in San Diego return to remote learning Aug. 31.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.


By KATHLEEN RONAYNE AND JOCELYN GECKER Associated Press.
Gecker reported from San Francisco.

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Trump bans dealings with Chinese owners of TikTok, WeChat

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Trump bans dealings with Chinese owners of TikTok, WeChat

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump has ordered a sweeping but unspecified ban on dealings with the Chinese owners of consumer apps TikTok and WeChat, although it remains unclear if he has the legal authority to actually ban the apps from the U.S.

The twin executive orders issued Thursday — one for each app — take effect in 45 days. They say they are necessary because the China-owned apps “threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” and call on the Commerce Secretary to define the banned dealings by that time. While the wording of the orders is vague and appears to have been rushed out, some experts said it appears intended to bar the popular apps from the Apple and Google app stores, which could effectively remove them from distribution in the U.S.

“This is an unprecedented use of presidential authority,” Eurasia Group analyst Paul Triolo said in an email. At a minimum, he said, the orders appear to “constitute a ban on the ability of U.S. app stores run by Apple and Google to include either mobile app after 45 days.”

Triolo said the orders may face legal challenges and warned that Beijing is likely to “react harshly, at least rhetorically.” Trump’s orders cited legal authority from the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act.

The action is the Trump administration’s latest attempt to hobble China, a rising economic superpower. Over the past several years, it has waged a trade war with China, blocked mergers involving Chinese companies and stifled the business of Chinese firms like Huawei, a maker of phones and telecom equipment. China-backed hackers, meanwhile, have been blamed for data breaches of U.S. federal databases and the credit agency Equifax, and the Chinese government strictly limits what U.S. tech companies can do in China.

Election-year politics in the U.S. are fanning the flames, as Trump appears to be using friction with China to drum up voter support.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers share concerns about TikTok running from its vulnerability to censorship and misinformation campaigns to the safety of user data and children’s privacy. But the administration has provided no specific evidence that TikTok has made U.S. users’ data available to the Chinese government. Instead, officials point to the hypothetical threat that lies in the Chinese government’s ability to demand cooperation from Chinese companies. 

Earlier in the week, Trump threatened a deadline of Sept. 15 to “close down” TikTok unless Microsoft or another company acquires it, a threat the new executive order appears to formalize. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced an expansion of the U.S. crackdown on Chinese technology to include barring Chinese apps from U.S. app stores, citing alleged security threats and calling out TikTok and WeChat by name.

TikTok did not reply to queries. Tencent and Microsoft declined to comment.

“The U.S. thinking is that anything that is Chinese is suspect,” said Andy Mok, a senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing. “They’re being targeted not because of what they’ve done, but who they are.” 

Leading mobile security experts say TikTok is no more intrusive in its harvesting of user data and monitoring of user activity than U.S. apps owned by Facebook and Google.

“I am the first to yell from the rooftops when there is a glaring privacy issue somewhere. But we just have not found anything we could call a smoking gun in TikTok,” mobile security expert Will Strafach told The Associated Press last month after examining the app. Strafach is CEO of Guardian, which provides a firewall for Apple devices.

The order doesn’t seem to ban Americans from using TikTok, said Kirsten Martin, a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. She added that such an order would be nearly impossible to enforce in the first place.

“If goal is to get teenagers to stop using TikTok, I’m not sure an executive order will stop them,” she said. “Every teenager knows how to use a VPN (a virtual private network). They will just pretend they are in Canada.”

And it would be difficult to prohibit people from using the apps if they already have them, even if an app-store ban went into effect, said Vanderbilt University law professor Timothy Meyer. 

TikTok, known for its short, catchy videos, is widely popular among young people in the U.S. and elsewhere. It is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, which operates a separate version for the Chinese market. TikTok insists it does not store U.S. user information in China, instead caching it in the U.S. and Singapore, and says it would not share it with the Chinese government.

TikTok says it has 100 million U.S. users and hundreds of millions globally. According to research firm App Annie, TikTok saw 50 million weekly active users in the U.S. during the week of July 19, the latest available figure. That’s up 75% from the first week of the year.

WeChat and its sister app Weixin in China are hugely popular apps that incorporate messaging, financial transfers and an array of other services, and claim more than one billion users. Around the world, many people of Chinese descent use WeChat to stay in touch with friends and family and to conduct business in mainland China. 

Within China, WeChat is censored and expected to adhere to content restrictions set by authorities. The Chinese government Citizen Lab internet watchdog group has said WeChat monitors files and images shared abroad to aid its censorship in China.

The order against Tencent could have ramifications for users beyond WeChat, which is crucial for personal communications and organizations that do business with China. Tencent also owns parts or all of major game companies like Epic Games, publisher of Fortnite, a major video game hit, and Riot Games, which is behind League of Legends.

“This is a pretty broad and pretty quick expansion of the technology Cold War between the U.S. and China,” said Steven Weber, faculty director for the Berkeley Center for Long Term Cybersecurity. Weber added that “there is a plausible national security rationale” for the orders.

As president, Trump has frequently taken the unusual step of provoking confrontations, often of a personal nature, with specific companies, both American and foreign.

___

By TALI ARBEL AP Technology Writer

AP reporters Barbara Ortutay in Oakland, Calif., Mae Anderson in New York, Frank Bajak in Boston and Zen Soo in Hong Kong contributed to this article.

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Facebook, citing virus misinformation, deletes Trump post

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Facebook, citing virus misinformation, deletes Trump post

Facebook has deleted a post by President Donald Trump for violating its policy against spreading misinformation about the coronavirus.

The post in question featured a link to a Fox News video in which Trump says children are “virtually immune” to the virus.

Facebook said Wednesday that the “video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation.”

A few hours later, Twitter temporarily blocked the Trump campaign from tweeting from its account, until it removed a post with the same video. Trump’s account retweeted the video. The company said in a statement late Wednesday that the tweet violated its rules against COVID misinformation. When a tweet breaks its rules, Twitter asks users to remove the tweet in questions and bans them from posting anything else until they do.

Twitter has generally been quicker than Facebook in recent months to label posts from the president that violate its policies against misinformation and abuse.

This is not the first time that Facebook has removed a post from Trump, Facebook said, but it’s the first time it has done so because it was spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. The company has also labeled his posts.

Several studies suggest, but don’t prove, that children are less likely to become infected than adults and more likely to have only mild symptoms. But this is not the same as being “virtually immune” to the virus.

A CDC study involving 2,500 children published in April found that about 1 in 5 infected children were hospitalized versus 1 in 3 adults; three children died. The study lacks complete data on all the cases, but it also suggests that many infected children have no symptoms, which could allow them to spread the virus to others.


By BARBARA ORTUTAY AP Technology Writer.
Associated Press Writer Amanda Seitz contributed to this story.

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Google unveils budget Pixel phone as pandemic curbs spending

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Google unveils budget Pixel phone as pandemic curbs spending

SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) — Google has started selling a long-delayed budget smartphone boasting the same high-quality camera and several other features available in fancier Pixel models that cost hundreds of dollars more.

The Pixel 4a unveiled Monday will be available Aug. 20 after months of delay caused by supply problems triggered by the pandemic.

It will cost $349, a $50 discount from a cheap Pixel released last year. It’s also a major markdown from other higher-end models in the existing product line-up that start at $799. The next versions of Google’s top-of-the-line Pixel phones will be released sometime this fall, Google said, without revealing their their price.

The budget-minded Pixel 4a is coming out four months after Apple released a discount iPhone, the SE, priced at $399. The low price helped spur iPhone sales at a time of soaring unemployment, as the economy plunged into a deep recession that is causing millions of households to curb their spending so they can pay rent and buy food.

The availability of a lower-priced model was one of the big reasons Apple’s iPhone shipments during the April-June period climbed 11% from the same time, according to research firm Internal Data Corp. That was in stark contrast to the overall smartphone market, which registered a 16% decline in shipments from last year during the same three months, the steepest drop in the industry’s history, IDC said.

Apple CEO Tim Cook also cited the iPhone SE’s popularity as a major factor in the company’s unexpectedly strong performance during the April-June period. The stellar results have helped Apple’s stock rise 13% to new highs since Apple announced the numbers last week.

It’s doubtful the Pixel 4a will reel in as many consumers as the iPhone SE, based on Google’s inability to make significant inroads as a device maker so far, despite generally positive reviews for the devices, especially their cameras.

Google so far has been selling fewer than 10 million Pixel phones a year since rolling out the product line in 2016, barely making a dent a market where more than 1 billion phones are shipped annually, according to IDC.

The Pixel phones primarily serve as a showcase for Google’s Android operating system, which includes its search engine and other services, such as digital maps, that help sell the ads that generate most of the company’s revenue. Google gives away Android to other smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung, which is expected to show off its next Galaxy phones in a virtual event scheduled for Wednesday.

The new Galaxy phone is expected to cost around $1,000.

By MICHAEL LIEDTKE AP Technology Writer

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