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Felicity Huffman Pleads Guilty; Prosecutors Recommend 4 Months in Prison

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  • As promised last month, actress Felicity Huffman has now pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
  • Huffman admitted to paying $15,000 to have her daughters SAT scores boosted and says her daughter knew nothing of the scheme.  
  • The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but prosecutors are recommending a four-month prison term, a $20,000 fine, and 12 months of supervised release.

Huffman Admits Guilt

Actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty in a Boston courtroom on Monday for her involvement in the massive college admissions scandal dubbed Operation Varsity Blues.

The “Desperate Housewives” star pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Huffman had previously promised to enter a guilty plea after admitting she paid admissions consultant William Rick Singer $15,000 to have a proctor correct her oldest daughter’s answers on the SAT. Huffman allegedly considered doing the same for her younger daughter, but later decided against it.

Huffman became emotional in court as she explained to the judge that her daughter knew nothing about the scam to improve her score. Huffman also claimed that her daughter’s accommodation for more time on the test was legitimate and assured the judge that her daughter’s neuropsychologist, who had treated her daughter since she was 8-year-old, was also not involved in the cheating scheme.

“Everything else” that prosecutors accused her of doing, she said, “I did.”

“I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions,” she said in a statement last month. “I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community,” she continued.

Experts believe that Huffman is hoping her plea and apology will help her earn a lenient sentence. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. However, prosecutors are recommending a four-month prison sentence. They are also recommending a $20,000 fine and 12 months of supervised release.

Huffman’s sentencing is scheduled to take place on September 13.

Others Involved

Huffman is one of 50 people charged in the bribery scam involving wealthy parents, test proctors, college coaches, and more.  At least 20 people, including Huffman, have now pleaded guilty or have announced that they intend to.

Previous coverage of the college admissions scandal.

Another parent, Los Angeles businessman Devin Sloane, also pleaded guilty on Monday during a joint court hearing, but he is likely facing a longer sentence. According to prosecutors, Sloane paid $250,000 in bribes, disguised charitable donations, to help get his son recruited as a student-athlete on the Waterpolo team and the University of Southern California. His son was never a competitive player.

Sloane even purchased water polo gear on Amazon, including a ball and a cap, and gave it to his son to wear during a photo shoot. He later had photos doctored to make it appear as if the student was in the water during a game.

Guidance counselors became suspicious, so arrangements were then made to have someone at USC tell the director of admissions that the student played in summer water polo tournaments abroad, in places like Greece, Serbia, and Portugal.

Prosecutors are recommending a year in prison and $75,000 in fines for Sloane.  

The person making the corrections on Huffman’s daughter’s test has also pleaded guilty.

Meanwhile, others involved in the corruption scandal have chosen to plead not guilty, including the exam proctor who allegedly allowed Huffman’s test score scam to happen.

The parents at the forefront of the scandal, actress Lori Loughlin and her husband fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are also fighting the charges. The parents are accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters, 19-year-old Olivia and 20-year-old Bella, admitted to the University of Southern California, as recruits for the crew team, even though neither of them participated in the sport.

After declining to enter a guilty plea, Loughlin and Giannuli were hit with a second count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. They could face up to 40 years in prison—a maximum of 20 years for each of the charges.

See what others are saying (NPR) (Fox News) (New York Times)

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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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