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Rhode Island School District Reverses Policy Labeled As Lunch Shaming

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  • A Rhode Island school district faced accusations of lunch shaming after it announced that students with unpaid lunch bills would only be served sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • The outrage increased when parents learned that the district had also refused a $4,000 donation from a local community member to help with the debt, over concerns of how to fairly distribute the funds.
  • The district later reversed the policy and said it will work with its legal team to ensure that donations are accepted and applied in an equitable manner.

New Policy Announced

A Rhode Island School District has reversed its policy of only serving students with lunch debt sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches after it was slammed with accusations of lunch shaming.

Warwick Public Schools announced original policy change on their Facebook page Sunday, saying: “Effective Monday, May 13, 2019, if money is owed on a paid, free, or reduced lunch account a sun butter and jelly sandwich will be given as the lunch choice until the balance owed is paid in full or a payment plan is set up through the food service office.

The post was met with a ton of backlash from angry parents calling the policy  “terrible” and “shameful.” In some responses, parents said they had been mailed letters notifying them of unpaid balances of just a few cents.

One parent wrote, “Just give the kids lunch. We already lost a janitor, science teacher, dont have air conditioning, we cant spring for a chicken patty for a hungry kid? What if this is their only meal of the day?”

Some commenters blamed the parents for not better managing their expenses. Meanwhile, others tried to understand the school’s position. “We need to look at both sides of this!” another user wrote.

“While it is inappropriate to embarrass a child over their parent’s failings — there’s also the argument that if we provide free lunches with no accountability, many parents will purposely choose not to bother paying at all.”

Rhode Island school are required to provide lunches to students under state law and those meals must also meet minimum federal nutrition standards. Low-income families can qualify for free or discounted lunches for their children. According to the state Department of Education, about 69 percent of school lunches are already served at a free or reduced price.

Donations Refused

The debate over the new school policy got escalated once parents learned that the school had also turned down a large donation from a community member.

According to CNN, West Warwick business owner Angelica Penta tried to make a $4,000 donation to Warwick Public Schools to help pay off lunch debts. However, Penta says her donation was refused.

Penta set up donation jars at her two area diners in March of last year and has already raised over $12,000.

“I gave $4000 to West Warwick Schools on January 8th, and then I tried to give additional money to Warwick Schools, but they denied the check,” Penta told CNN.

Jars that Penta set up to raise funds for student lunch debt. Source: CNN

Penta spoke to the Director of Finances for Warwick Public schools to ask why the donation was turned down. She said she was told that the school was concerned about parents being upset that their balance was paid and concerned about how to distribute the donation.

The district has since defended itself against criticism for refusing the funds. “The business owner has maintained a position that they want to make a single, large donation to the district while leaving the student selection process to the school department,” Warwick Public Schools told WPRI in a statement.

“This is a position that the school department cannot support given the school’s mission to treat all children equitably.”

Policy Reversed

By Wednesday the school posted a follow-up message on Facebook, addressing the backlash that had accrued over the week. In it, they said that 1653 Warwick students have a balance on their lunch accounts as of Friday, May 3. The balances rage from anywhere between $10 to over $500. In total, the district says the outstanding lunch debt currently sits at $77,000.

The district explained that the majority of the lunch debt comes from paying students, not students who are enrolled in the free/reduced lunch program. All students are able to purchase lunches or à la carte items and charge them to their account, even if the accounts have no money in them. However, if debts are not paid after repeated notices to guardians, then students are given the sandwich option.

“Please understand that no students are left without a meal under our current policy,” the district wrote. “Once the student’s access to à la carte items has been shut off, students are provided with a balanced lunch of a sunbutter and jelly sandwich (which is also a daily choice on the school lunch menu), vegetables, fruit, and milk.”

“However, after careful review and consideration the policy subcommittee is recommending that the Warwick School Committee allow the students their choice of lunch regardless of their account status.”

The school added that it is grateful for donations and will “work with our attorneys to ensure that we accept donations in compliance with the law and that the donations are applied in an equitable manner.”

Lunch Shaming

“Lunch shaming” is a term used to describe efforts to hold parents accountable for their schoolchildren’s unpaid lunch bills that may spark embarrassment or bullying. It’s a huge problem in public schools across the country.

“This is bigger than Warwick,” Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association told the New York Times. “Public schools across the country are really struggling with this issue.”

There is much debate over how to deal with managing this debt, while also not singling out students or parents with unpaid bills.

In this particular instance, some parents feel that the sunbutter and jelly sandwiches would have served as a marker for lunch debt and enabled bullying.

A 2014 report by the Department of Agriculture found that about 45 percent of school districts withheld a hot meal and instead provided a cold sandwich to such students. But the practice of swapping a hot meal for a cold sandwich is just one of the measures that schools often take to deal with the issue.

In other cases nationwide, lunch shaming practices have included making students wear a sticker, stamp, or wristband to alert their parents of lunch debt.

Schools across the nation have taken steps to avoid lunch shaming, with laws passed in Washington State, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Oregon. Meanwhile, other schools have relied on private donations.

See what others are saying (CNN) (New York Times) (USA Today)


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Fire Officials Warn of Viral TikTok “Outlet Challenge”

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  • Massachusetts firefighters are warning of an electrical “outlet challenge” seen on Tiktok that can cause fires or electrocution. 
  • The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet and trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny. 
  • In two local schools, teens started a fire or torched outlets and are now facing charges of arson, attempted arson, and malicious damage to property. 

“Outlet Challenge” Warning

Massachusetts fire officials are warning of a dangerous electrical “outlet challenge” spreading across TikTok after at least three reported incidents raised concerns. 

The challenge involves partially inserting a cell phone charger into an outlet, then trying to produce a spark by touching the exposed prongs with a penny. 

Massachusetts Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey issued a letter to all of the state’s fire chiefs on Monday warning of the viral social media challenge that has lead to copycat behavior. In the memo, Ostroskey said that his office had already received reports of two instances where teens tried to recreate the stunt.

“The result is sparks, electrical system damage, and in some cases fire,” Ostroskey wrote. 

Image may contain: phone
Source: Holden Fire Department

He advised fire officials to reach out to local news outlets, school officials, and parent organizations to make them aware of this trend, writing, “Alert them to this challenge, advise them to, not only look for signs of fire play like scorched outlets, but to have conversations about fire and electrical safety with tweens and teenagers.”

Charges Against Teens Involved 

One of the incidents Ostroskey cited resulted in damage to an outlet inside a home. The other sparked a fire inside Westford Academy. The spark at Westford Academy created smoke that set off the school’s fire alarm, local authorities reported.

The student responsible for that incident is now facing charges, including arson and malicious damage to property, Westford Police Captain Victor Neal told CNN.

Meanwhile, NBC Boston reported that two students at Plymouth North High School were caught attempting the challenge twice in a matter of minutes inside a classroom on Tuesday. 

Firefighters found two scorched outlets and a phone charger with a penny fused to the prongs, according to Plymouth Fire Chief Edward Bradley. There were no injuries, but the school’s superintendent Gary Maestas said the students involved could face serious consequences. 

A penny and a phone-charger plug are fused together after a recent "outlet challenge" incident. (Plymouth Fire Department)
Source: Plymouth Fire Department

“We are working with the Plymouth Police and Fire Departments to fully understand the scope of this issue and pursue charges to the fullest extent of the law,” Maestas wrote in a statement. 

Plymouth police said the two 15-year-old male students face charges of attempted arson and malicious damage to property under $1,200. 

Dangers of the Stunt 

“I don’t think students comprehend the reality that they can be electrocuted and killed, or start a fire,” said Chief Bradley. 

Aside from starting fires or facing potential electrocution, Bradley said the challenge could also cause damage to electrical wiring behind walls, which could allow fires to burn within the walls undetected and endanger everyone in the building. 

“Social media elevates it,” Bradley added. “They see it online, they see someone do it, they start laughing, they run away and no one gets hurt and they assume the same will happen when they do it, so they think it’s funny to do it in a classroom.” 

“Parents need to talk to their children and tell them if you see this stuff, don’t try to imitate it.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Fox News) (Time)

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Virginia Senate Votes in Favor of ‘Red Flag’ Gun Bill

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  • Virginia’s Senate passed a “red flag” law, which allows law enforcement to temporarily take firearms away from an individual who is deemed a threat to themselves or others. 
  • The vote was close and fully along party lines, with 21 Democrats voting in favor and 19 Republicans voting against it. 
  • Democrats believe the law will prevent gun violence in the state, but Republicans see it as a threat to the Second Amendment. 
  • The vote happened just a few days after a large, and mainly peaceful, pro-gun rally was held in Virginia’s capital, Richmond.
  • The bill still has to go to the state’s House of Delegates, which has a slight Democratic majority.

Red Flag Law Passes Senate

Virginia’s State Senate narrowly passed a bill Wednesday allowing law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from someone deemed a threat, commonly referred to as a ‘red flag’ law. 

The tight vote was strictly along party lines, with all 21 Democrats in the Senate voting yes, and 19 Republicans voting no. The bill, SB 240 specifically states that a law-enforcement officer or attorney can apply for an emergency substantial risk order. This order would “prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm.”

If that order is issued, a judge or magistrate can issue a search warrant allowing for firearms to be temporarily removed from that person. Democrats in Virginia have long been fighting for gun-control measures to be passed. They stand behind SB 240 because they believe it will lead to fewer mass shootings and other forms of gun violence in general.

State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32) tweeted that she believes this bill will prevent crime. 

Sen. George Barker (D-39) first introduced the bill. According to the Washington Post, he said it moved the state in “a positive direction” and the law could “protect lives and reduce violence in Virginia.”

State Democrats are not alone in supporting this measure. Nationally, red flag laws generally have a lot of support from the public. According to an August 2019 study from APM Research Lab, Americans are generally in favor of these kinds of legislation. 

The study found that 77% support family initiated orders and 70% support police initiated orders. Even when it comes to political parties, both a majority of Republicans and Democrats support it. Gun owners also support it, though by a lesser margin, with 67% of the demographic supporting family initiated orders and 60% supporting police initiated ones. 

Still, Virginia’s Senate Republicans were strongly opposed to the measure. They believed it was a heavy infringement on peoples’ right to bear arms. 

“Each legislator that votes in favor of this bill in my opinion is a traitor to Virginia, a traitor to the Second Amendment and a traitor to our constitutional freedoms,” said Republican Sen. Amanda Chase (D-11). 

The NRA called SB 240 an “unnecessary attack on Second Amendment rights.”

Pro-Gun Rally and What Happens Next

SB 240 is one of many gun control laws Virginia is working on passing. This Senate vote came just a few days after a major pro-gun rights rally happened in Richmond, Virginia’s capital city.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency ahead of Monday’s event, and guns were not allowed at the rally, largely over fears that there could be a repeat of what happened in Charlottesville in 2017.

According to reports, about 22,000 people attended the rally, which remained largely peaceful. No violence was reported, though some extremist groups were present.

At the rally, several of the gun-rights activists spoke out against the gun control legislation floating through Virginia. One clip from the rally, shared by BuzzFeed News reporter Andrew Kimmel went viral. In it, Richard Vaughan, Sheriff of Grayson County in Virginia, said he and his county would not enforce enacted gun control legislation. 

“If the bills go through as proposed, they will not be enforced,” he said. “They are unconstitutional. We support and uphold the constitution of the United States and the constitution of Virginia. And that’s what we’ll do.” 

SB 240 is not set in stone yet, though. The bill still has to go to Virginia’s House of Delegates, which has a Democratic majority but only by a slim margin.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (WRIC ABC 8)

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Michelle Carter, Who Encouraged Her Boyfriend’s Suicide, Released From Prison Early

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  • Michelle Carter was released early from prison for good behavior after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
  • Carter was charged in 2017 after encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself through text messages and phone calls as he contemplated suicide. 
  • Her release comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to overturn her conviction.

Who is Michelle Carter? 

Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts woman who encouraged her boyfriend’s suicide when she was 17-year-old, was released from prison Thursday, months ahead of schedule.

The now 23-year-old was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 after making a series of texts and calls to 18-year-old Conrad Roy III, convincing him to carry out plans to take his own life. Roy died by suicide in 2014 when he poised himself with carbon monoxide inside of his pickup truck. 

According to investigators, Carter suggested multiple ways for Roy to end his life and at one point even pushed him to return to his car when he was having second thoughts. 

Carter was released from the women’s center at the Bristol County House of Corrections after serving 11 months of her 15-month sentence. She had previously been denied parole in September but according to the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, she has now earned enough credit for good behavior and attending jail programs to qualify for an early exit.

“Ms. Carter has been a model inmate in Bristol County,” a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “She has attended programs, had a job inside the jail, has been polite to our staff and volunteers, has gotten along with other inmates, and we’ve had no discipline issues with her whatsoever.”

Conviction Stands

Carter’s released comes about a week after the US Supreme Court said it would not hear her appeal to vacate her conviction. 

During her 2017 sentencing, the judge ruled that her “virtual presence” made her responsible for Roy’s death. Her legal team fought against the verdict, but Carter ultimately began serving her prison sentence last February after Massachusetts’ highest court refused to overturn her conviction.

Carter’s lawyers then filed a petition to the Supreme Court last July, arguing that it was against her First Amendment rights to free speech to convict her “based on words alone.” Her lawyers also questioned whether the conviction was constitutional in regard to the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause. 

The Supreme Court’s refusal to see Carter’s case left her conviction intact and while she has now completed her time behind bars, Carter still has five years of probation to serve. 

In response to the news of her release, Roy’s family said, “news of the Supreme Court denying to hear her case far out shadowed the news of her early release. Her time in jail, no matter how long or short, will not change the outcome of a guilty verdict which is thankfully being upheld.”

“July 12, 2014, our lives were forever changed, and the world lost a beautiful soul. Michelle Carter is the reason for that,” the statement continued. “She was the only person who could have saved him. She didn’t, in fact she was on the line with him as he was dying, moaning in pain, gasping for last breaths. Who could do that?”

“She did, and we’ll never really know why.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Fox News) (CNN)


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