Tag Archives: high school

Officials praise quick response to prom shooting

Officials in Wisconsin praised the quick actions of police and district staff to stop an 18-year-old gunman, saying they averted what could have been a much worse attack on a high school prom.

Two students were injured when the gunman — identified by police as Jakob E. Wagner — fired a rifle on them as they left Antigo High School on Saturday night. A police officer already at the scene fatally shot Wagner in the parking lot.

The Unified School District of Antigo said there will be a heightened police presence at the high school for the next several days and students will have support from counselors and others.

Investigators have not discussed a possible motive or said whether they believe the students were specifically targeted.

But a school administrator said it appeared Wagner intended to go into the dance and start shooting randomly. “We have no reason to believe at this point it was targeting anybody specifically,” interim district administrator Donald B. Childs told The Associated Press on Sunday, adding that the shooting at the entrance happened “from some distance.”

Wagner approached the school with a high-powered rifle and a large ammunition clip, school administrators said in a statement. The district said the “quick actions” taken by police and district staff to secure the building “prevented what might have otherwise been a disaster of unimaginable proportions.”

The two prom-goers who were wounded were shot as they exited the building, according to Eric Roller, the chief of police in Antigo, a community of about 8,000 people roughly 150 miles north of Milwaukee.

“Officers were in the parking lot patrolling the activities and heard the shots and an officer immediately fired upon the shooter, stopping the threat,” Roller said. He said the gunman was then taken into custody. Wagner died at a hospital.

Gov. Scott Walker joined in praising the police response, saying in a statement the actions of the Antigo Police Department “undoubtedly saved lives.”

The female victim was treated and released and the male victim was undergoing surgery for injuries that weren’t life-threatening, police said. Childs said the wounded boy, who was shot in the leg, attended the high school but that his date, who was grazed in the shooting, was from out of state.

Nikita Deep, a student at the school who attended the prom, told the Wausau Daily Herald that police officers came into the building and moved students to one corner. Students weren’t released until about 2 a.m. Sunday, three hours after the shooting.

“We heard there was a situation, but I thought it was some kind of drug bust,” Deep said. “Then they flipped the lights and then about 12 officers came in and are armored. We were all frightened.”

Friends said Wagner was a senior at Antigo High School in 2015, but Childs said he did not graduate with his classmates and was continuing to work on his diploma. He said the school of about 750 students will have counselors available when classes resumed Monday.

Friends expressed shock that Wagner was the suspect.

“For him to do that, something just isn’t right. He was a good kid,” said Dakotta Mills, who said he had known Wagner since sixth grade and considered him a “foster brother.”

Wagner was interested in guns and wanted to become a hunter, Mills said, but he wasn’t sure Wagner could afford a gun. He said Mills was raised by his mother and grandparents and was still living at home.

Wagner loved video games and music, particularly violin and cello, and had been in the school marching band, Mills said.

Dylan Dewey, who graduated from Antigo High last year, said Wagner had been dating a girl at the school who broke up with him last month. He described Wagner as an “all-around good guy” who enjoyed hanging out with friends.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation has been asked to lead an outside review of the officer-involved shooting, agency spokesman Johnny Koremenos said.

Pocan: For Every Student Succeeds Act

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, spoke Dec. 2 on the House floor in support of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The bipartisan bill passed the House this week by a vote of 359-64 and the Senate is expected to finalize it next week.

This is the first reauthorization of the ESEA since the expiration of No Child Left Behind in 2007.

The following is Pocan’s statement on the floor:

I rise in support of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Defending public education is one of the reasons I came to Congress.

For years, we’ve witnessed a negative impact on public education from underfunding our schools and to stripping teachers of their rights to collectively bargain for fair pay and conditions. At the same time, punitive policies which limit teachers’ and administrators’ abilities to manage their classrooms have further hampered student achievement. 

In my home state, attacks on public education are made on a regular basis. And nationally our dialogue surrounding K-12 education has lacked the input of local educators, parents and communities. It’s past time we renew the promise of an ESEA which has students’ best interests at heart.

I meet with teachers and administrators from Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District regularly and was stunned when I was told one third of a school’s staff turned over last year because schools lack the financial support and autonomy they need to give students the educational experience they deserve. Teachers are being asked to do more with less and it’s coming at the expense of our kids’ education.

A 2014 Alliance for Excellent Education student demonstrated that 13% of the nation’s 3.4 million teachers move schools or leave the profession every year. Close to 40-50% of teachers leave the job entirely within 5 years of starting.

And while this bill is far from perfect, I am pleased that we are finally discussing a bill today that aims to put students first and trusts the teachers who dedicate their careers to education.

This bill trusts and empowers teachers to ensure their voices are heard on the federal, state, and local level while increasing teacher quality and professional development, and reducing the burden of testing in schools.

Those are good improvements, Mr. Speaker, good for our nation’s children, and that’s why I support this bill.

Transgender student in Illinois wins landmark ruling from Education Dept.

The U.S. Department of Education this week issued a landmark ruling recognizing that Palatine High School District 211 in Illinois is discriminating against a transgender student on the basis of her sex.

The department issued its findings after a lengthy investigation concluding that the suburban district is in violation of federal law for denying a student access to a gender-appropriate locker room for changing clothes, simply because the student is transgender.

Despite protestations from the district over the past two weeks, the department made clear that the school is engaging in harmful discrimination, according to the ACLU of Illinois.

“What our client wants is not hard to understand. She wants to be accepted for who she is and to be treated with dignity and respect – like any other student,” stated John Knight, director of the LGBT & HIV Project of the ACLU of Illinois. “The district’s insistence on separating my client from other students is blatant discrimination. Rather than approaching this issue with sensitivity and dignity, the district has attempted to justify its conduct by challenging my client’s identity as a girl.” 

The written decision, released by the department’s Office of Civil Rights today, finds the district in violation of Title IX for denying a student access to the locker room facilities used by other students solely because the student is transgender. The decision places school districts all across the nation on notice that Title IX requires making such facilities available for students who are transgender. It is the first such decision issued by the department, building on legal briefs and policy statements of the federal government interpreting federal laws prohibiting discrimination.

“This decision makes me extremely happy — because of what it means for me, personally, and for countless others,” said the student, who has not been identified. “The district’s policy stigmatized me, often making me feel like I was not a ‘normal person.’”

“The Department of Education’s decision makes clear that what my school did was wrong. I hope no other student, anywhere, is forced to confront this indignity.  It is a good day for all students, but especially those who are transgender all across the nation.” 

In an effort to pre-empt the Department of Education’s ruling — and frame their discrimination as “reasonable” and “sensible” —District 211 has engaged in what the ACLU called “a comprehensive public relations campaign over the past two weeks.

The ACLU said the school district has mischaracterized the facts in the case and engaged in disparaging remarks, including statements indicating their belief that the young girl is not “really” a girl.

Although the district delayed the release of the findings in an effort to reach an agreement, the department has apparently recognized that the district does not intend to begin complying with the law.

Meanwhile, a student-led petition gathered hundreds of signatures from students and community members supporting the student’s access to the locker room. 

The Education Department concluded that forcing a student to dress in a separate restroom for changing, which in this case was down a long hallway from the locker room, violated Title IX because it separated and stigmatized that student solely because she is transgender. The investigation made clear that the district’s claims about any problems resulting from ending the discrimination were unsupported both because other students were not concerned about the issue and because, in general, girls do not fully undress when getting ready for gym or many sporting activities. And to the extent that any girl wanted extra privacy, the District should offer them private areas to dress rather than isolating students who are transgender.  

“The District’s position is wrong as a matter of science and harmful to all the students of District 211,” Knight said, “Trying to misinform students and tell them that discrimination is acceptable isn’t the kind of conduct we expect from school administrators – and isn’t a message that students are likely to accept.”

Today’s decision is the result of a complaint to the Department of Education in December 2013 on behalf of the young woman. She has identified as a female since a very early age and shared this information with her family several years ago. She transitioned to living full-time as a female and has been doing so ever since.  She and her parents have legally changed her name and obtained a passport listing her gender as female. 

When the young woman entered high school, she and her parents met with school officials to request that she be treated as a female in all ways, including sports, and bathroom and locker room access. She was allowed to use the restroom designated for females, wear the female uniform during physical education class and sports, but was denied use the female locker room when changing. Instead, she was directed to a separate bathroom for changing, a bathroom located down a long hallway from the gym.

Being separated from her classmates and teammates in this way has made her feel stigmatized and different. More than two years ago, her parents began to advocate, urging school officials to reverse this decision. After those efforts were unsuccessful, the parents reached out to the ACLU of Illinois, who wrote to the school explaining why the district was violating Title IX and the Illinois Human Rights Act. Because the district refused to budge, lawyers for the ACLU filed a complaint for the parents with the Department of Education in December of that same year.

Principal blocks lesbian student from wearing tux to prom

A gay student in Louisiana says she is going to skip her prom because the school principal won’t let her wear a tuxedo.

Claudettia Love, a senior and one of the top students at Carroll High in Monroe, said she was planning on going to the prom with a group of friends, but now they are staying away.

“I told my mom, `They’re using me. They put me in all these honors and advanced placement classes so I can take all of these tests and get good grades and better the school, but when it’s time for me to celebrate the fact that I’ve accomplished what I need to accomplish and I’m about to graduate, they don’t want to let me do it, the way I want to,'” she told The News-Star.

The decision is part of the school’s dress code and not anything personal, principal Patrick Taylor told The News-Star.

Monroe City School Board president Rodney McFarland disagreed.

“Banning her from her prom just because of what she wants to wear – that’s discrimination,” he said. “As far as I know there is no Monroe City School Board policy saying what someone has to wear to attend the prom. You can’t just go making up policies.”

He said he planned to ask Superintendent Brent Vidrine to talk to Taylor.

Love’s mother, Geraldine Jackson, said Taylor told her faculty members said they wouldn’t supervise the April 24 prom if girls wore tuxes. “That’s his exact words. `Girls wear dresses and boys wear tuxes, and that’s the way it is,'” she said.

Last year, Love was one of a group of students presented in a Monroe City School Board meeting as part of the school’s high achieving medical magnet program. She will represent the school at the annual Scholars’ Banquet, an event for the top students in Ouachita Parish, and has a full scholarship to Jackson State University.

Pennsylvania Catholic school teacher fired for gay wedding

A gay teacher at a Catholic high school was fired late last week after he applied for a marriage license.

Michael Griffin was fired from Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bensalem, Pa., after administrators said his obtaining a license to marry his same-sex partner was a violation of his contract.

Father James McCloskey, the school’s headmaster, said in a statement that faculty at the school are required to follow church teachings, NBC Philadelphia reported.

He said in the statement that Griffin’s decision “contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment. In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony.”

Griffin, who graduated from the school and has taught French and Spanish there for 12 years, said that his relationship with his partner of 12 years wasn’t a secret from the school and that his partner had even been to McCloskey’s house.

Griffin lives in New Jersey, which became the 14th state to recognize same-sex marriage in October.

The following is the letter McCloskey released on Dec. 9:

In recent days, our school has been the subject of news stories arising from the decision to terminate the employment of Mr. Michael Griffin as a teacher at Holy Ghost Prep.  We acknowledge that this decision has been difficult for everyone involved – for Mr. Griffin certainly, but also for students, families, faculty and staff, our alumni and all who are a part of the Holy Ghost community.  We regret the pain that this has caused to any and all involved.

In response to press questions about this matter, the school issued the following statement on Saturday, December 7th. The statement is as follows:

 “At a meeting in my office yesterday (December 6th), teacher Michael Griffin made clear that he intends to obtain a license to marry his same sex partner.  Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment.  In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision in his contract, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony.  Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately.”

I have included the statement in an effort to keep everyone in our school community fully informed about this matter, and we will continue to do so as we move forward.  

Sincerely,

Fr. James McCloskey, C.S.Sp.

President


Teacher to pay $1 for violating free speech of anti-gay student

A Michigan teacher who kicked a student out of class after the teen made a comment against homosexuality during a high school anti-bullying day was ordered to pay $1 for violating his free speech rights.

Daniel Glowacki told economics teacher Johnson “Jay” McDowell during the Oct. 20, 2010, anti-bullying observation at Howell High School that “his religion does not accept homosexuality and that he could not condone that behavior,” according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Glowacki in federal court in Detroit.

The student and his family are Catholic.

Glowacki’s statement followed a question from McDowell on whether the student “supported” or “accepted gays.”

The lawsuit states that Glowacki was ordered to leave the classroom or face suspension.

Federal Judge Patrick Duggan ruled this week that Glowacki’s comment was protected by the First Amendment.

McDowell was reprimanded by the Howell district, northwest of Detroit. Glowacki graduated in 2012.

“This had nothing to do with Mr. Glowacki’s religious beliefs,” McDowell’s attorney, Suzanne Bartos, told The Associated Press. “(McDowell) did not believe Mr. Glowacki’s comments were appropriate and believed them to be against the school’s anti-bullying policy. Mr. McDowell was acting in a responsible fashion, trying to protect other students in the classroom from the bullying.”

Glowacki missed 20 minutes of class, Bartos added.

The Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center, which filed the lawsuit in December 2012 against the teacher and district, said in a statement that McDowell claimed Glowacki caused a disturbance in class.

“The teacher’s claims were wholly unsupported by all of the other evidence in the case, including affidavits of students in the classroom and the teacher’s own earlier statements,” the law center said. “The teacher also tried to argue that Daniel’s religious statement was tantamount to bullying. The court dismissed that claim as well, holding that Daniel’s speech could not be silenced because the teacher did not like Daniel’s religious beliefs and viewpoint.”

The court dismissed claims against Howell Schools.

“The purpose of our lawsuit was to protect students’ constitutional rights to free speech, defend religious liberty and stop public schools from becoming indoctrination centers for the homosexual agenda,” said Richard Thompson, Thomas More’s president and chief counsel.

Judge: Texas high school cheerleaders can display Bible verses at football games

A judge ruled on May 8 that cheerleaders at a Southeast Texas high school can display banners emblazoned with Bible verses at football games.

But the ruling might not have settled the issue of whether the banners are protected free speech, according to an attorney for the cheerleaders’ school district.

State District Judge Steven Thomas determined the Kountze High School cheerleaders’ banners are constitutionally permissible. In the ruling, Thomas determined that no law “prohibits cheerleaders from using religious-themed banners at school sporting events.”

The Kountze school district had initially said the banners could not be displayed after receiving a complaint about them in September from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The foundation argued the banners violated the so-called First Amendment Establishment Clause that bars government – or publicly funded school districts in this case – from establishing or endorsing a religion.

Thomas ruled that the establishment clause does not prohibit the use of such religious-themed banners at school sporting events.

“This is a great victory for the cheerleaders and now they’re going to be able to have their banners,” said Hiram Sasser, a lead attorney for the Liberty Institute, a Plano, Texas-based nonprofit law firm that represented the cheerleaders.

But Thomas Brandt, the school district’s attorney, argued that Judge Thomas also granted a school district motion in his ruling that says the district can permit the banners under the establishment clause but is not required to do so. Brandt said the motion also says the banners are the speech of the school, not private speech, so the school has a right to have editorial control of the banners.

Initially, the school district ruled the banners could not be displayed. But after a public meeting in February, the school board of trustees issued a resolution in which it wrote that the district was not required to prohibit messages on school banners that displayed “fleeting expressions of community sentiment solely because the source or origin of such messages is religious.” But the trustees said the district retained the right to restrict the content of school banners.

Brandt said while he has yet to talk to the school district about whether or not it will appeal, it may seek some clarification from the judge on his ruling.

But Sasser said there is no ambiguity in the ruling and that the banners are the cheerleaders’ protected private speech.

“We won and they didn’t,” he said, adding that he expects the school district to appeal.

The dispute began during the last football season when the district barred cheerleaders from using run-through banners that displayed religious messages, such as “If God is for us, who can be against us.”

In October, Thomas temporarily allowed the cheerleaders to continue displaying the banners pending the lawsuit’s outcome. Thomas at the time said the school district’s ban on the practice appeared to violate the students’ free speech rights. The Liberty Institute had argued the banners’ messages were not asking anyone to believe in Christianity or accept the faith.

The cheerleaders in Kountze, located about 95 miles northeast of Houston, were supported by various state officials, including Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who filed court papers seeking to intervene on their behalf. A Facebook group created after the ban, Support Kountze Kids Faith, has more than 45,000 members.

Abbott praised the court’s ruling on Wednesday, calling it a “victory for religious liberties.”

Perry in a statement said the cheerleaders “showed great resolve and maturity beyond their years in standing up for their beliefs and constitutional rights.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation’s co-president, Annie Laurie Gaylor, was disappointed with the ruling, saying the banners “carry the appearance of school endorsement and favoritism, turning Christians into insiders and non-Christians and nonbelievers into outsiders.”

The Anti-Defamation League also criticized the ruling, calling it “misguided” and saying it “flies in the face of clear U.S. Supreme Court and other rulings.”

Attorneys for the Kountze school district, in initially advising the superintendent to ban the religious statements on the cheerleaders’ banners, argued there have been several precedent-setting rulings by the Supreme Court.

In one of the more well-known cases, the court ruled in 2000 that a practice of allowing student-led prayer ahead of high school football games in Texas’ Santa Fe Independent School District violated the Constitution. In 1992, the Supreme Court made a similar ruling in a Rhode Island case that argued a rabbi’s prayer at a middle school graduation ceremony also violated the Constitution.

Lesbian teacher to fight firing from Catholic school

A lesbian teacher who said she was fired by an Ohio Catholic school after her mother’s published obituary included the name of her partner is fighting to get her job back.

Carla Hale, 57, said she was told she was being let go because her relationship is against teachings of the church.

She planned to file a complaint this week with the city of Columbus, which prohibits firings based on sexual orientation, her attorney said Monday. She already filed a grievance that is now in the hands of a union representing teachers in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus.

Some current and former students have rallied behind the physical education teacher, staging a protest outside the diocese headquarters and starting an online petition that has collected about 100,000 supporters.

Hale said she was fired during Holy Week in March after an anonymous letter sent to school administrators drew attention to the obituary published in The Columbus Dispatch.

A copy of the letter provided by her attorney was signed “a concerned parent.”

“My daughter came home and told me that one of the gym teacher’s mother had died,” the letter said. “She asked me to pray for her. When we looked in the obituaries, I was shocked by what I saw. It had her teacher’s name and that of her `spouse’ listed. It was two females!”

Hale, who is Methodist, was informed about two weeks after her mother’s death that the school was investigating, but she never had a chance to discuss it with school leaders, said attorney Thomas Tootle.

Hale, who had spent 19 years teaching at Bishop Watterson High School, said the decision to acknowledge her partner was not immoral.

“It’s kind of baffling that someone would take an obituary and use it, to me, in such a mean-spirited manner,” Hale said at a news conference last week.

The Diocese of Columbus would not comment directly about the firing, but it said school employees can’t go against teachings of the church.

“All Catholic school personnel at the outset of their employment agree that they will abide by the rules, regulations and policies of the Catholic Diocese, including respecting the moral values advanced by the teachings of Christ,” the diocese said in a statement.

Hale’s attorney said he will file a complaint on April 30 with a Columbus community relations board, arguing that the firing violates the city ordinance on employers discriminating based on sexual orientation. Another option is a wrongful termination lawsuit, Tootle said.

He said some courts have allowed religious groups exemptions to similar discrimination laws, but he thinks the case is similar to one in Cincinnati where a teacher challenged her firing by the archdiocese over her use of artificial insemination to become pregnant. A federal judge has allowed that lawsuit to continue.

ACLU defends student quest for gay-straight club in Pennsylvania

The American Civil Liberties Union is threatening legal action against a central Pennsylvania school board that denied students’ request to form a Gay-Straight Alliance club at their high school.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania contends the Chambersburg Area School Board’s vote is a violation of the federal Equal Access Act. Congress originally passed the law in 1984 to address what lawmakers had called
“perceived widespread discrimination” against religious speech in public schools but has since been applied to organizations including Gay-Straight Alliance clubs.

In a recent letter sent to school officials on behalf of the students, the ACLU said the board has until March 15 to reverse its decision or face legal action. Federal courts have consistently upheld the law’s protection for students who want to establish Gay-Student Alliance groups, ACLU attorney Molly Tack-Hooper said.

“Schools need to understand that they cannot pick and choose which clubs to allow,” she said. “The same law that ensures the right of GSAs to exist also protects the existence of a variety of clubs, from scrapbooking to religious clubs.”

The ACLU noted that previously approved Chambersburg Senior High School extracurricular groups include the Bible Club, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Ping Pong Club.

Without approval, groups can’t use the school’s public-address system, post fliers, participate as a group in school events or hold fundraisers.

Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin urged the school board to reconsider and “do the right thing” for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and their supporters.

“Given the lack of an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying law in Pennsylvania, local school districts are left on their own to ensure safe environments for LGBT students to learn and to be themselves,” he said.

About two dozen Chambersburg students first proposed the Gay-Student Alliance at the January school board meeting and were told their bylaws needed revisions. When they returned Feb. 27, the board voted 5-4 against approving the group.

Nearly 6,000 people have signed an online petition at Change.org started by 2010 Chambersburg graduate Thomas McCalmont, who said he was bullied daily at the school because of his sexual orientation and was driven to thoughts of suicide by his senior year.

The school district superintendent’s office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Gay-Student Alliances have existed in high schools nationwide for decades to provide a supportive environment for LGBT students, educate others about minority sexual orientations and discourage discrimination and bullying. They operate much like other clubs, meeting regularly and conducting community service projects within school rules.

North Dakota school investigating fans in KKK-style hoods

A North Dakota high school principal says appropriate action is being taken after three students briefly donned Ku Klux Klan-style white robes and hoods during a state hockey semifinal game.

The photo caused an uproar on Twitter when it was posted by 19-year-old Shane Schuster, who was seated with some friends at Ralph Engelstad Arena when something in the student section across the rink caught his eye.

“I thought, ‘Are those KKK hoods?’ I couldn’t believe it,” Schuster said. “I was shocked.”

Schuster said he focused his camera phone and snapped a photo, later uploading it to Twitter.

Kristopher Arason, Red River’s principal, said the school’s investigation determined that the students put on the attire just after Red River’s first goal and wore it for about 30 seconds to a minute. The teens removed the outfits after students in the section told them it was offensive, he said.

“We, as a school, are extremely disappointed with the behavior of these three students,” Arason said in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Saturday. “This behavior is not a representation of our school or student body.”

Arason said administrators were notified of the incident at the completion of the game. The students and their parents have been contacted and “appropriate action is being taken,” he said.

Arason did not indicate what disciplinary action, if any, the three unidentified students could face.

Red River topped Fargo’s Davies High School 2-0 to advance to Saturday night’s North Dakota Boys State Hockey Tournament title game against Grafton-Park River.

Davies High School is named in honor of Ronald Davies, the former federal judge from Fargo whose 1957 rulings integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. – a pivotal event in the civil rights movement.

The photo that Schuster posted on the social media site shows the three hooded fans in the middle of the Red River Roughriders section, in which everyone is dressed in white as part of a “whiteout.”

The hockey tradition of encouraging fans to all wear all white was started more than 25 years ago by the original Winnipeg Jets – which currently are the Phoenix Coyotes. In 1987, Jets fans donning white shirts and jerseys packed Winnipeg Arena to watch the team take on the Calgary Flames in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The practice has since spread to the college and high school levels.

Arason said Red River has a tradition of wearing a different color for each of the three days of the state tournament in accordance with the team’s colors. Roughrider fans wore black for the first day, white for the second and red for the final day.