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Student Expelled From Christian School After Rainbow-Filled Photo

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  • A 15-year old girl was expelled from a private Christian school after her mother, Kimberly Alford, shared a photo of her wearing a rainbow-striped sweater next to a colorful cake. 
  • Alford said the color scheme was a coincidence with no LGBTQ meaning, but the school interpreted the post that way and said it contradicts its beliefs.
  • The school later clarified that the teen was not expelled for the photo alone but also for repeated student conduct violations.
  • While Alford admitted her daughter had made previous violations, she still argued that the repercussions for the photo were unjust.

Teen’s Expulsion

A private Christian school in Louisville, Kentucky expelled a student last week after her mother posted a photo of the teenager wearing a rainbow shirt posing next to a colorful cake.

Fifteen-year-old Kayla Kenney celebrated her recent birthday with a small gathering out at a restaurant at the end of December. Her mom, Kimberly Alford, set up the event and posted a photo of Kenney to Facebook shortly after.

The image shows the girl grinning to the camera with a frosted rainbow birthday cake sitting before her. The cake’s decor matches the striped rainbow design on Kenney’s sweater.

Credit: Kimberly Alford.

On Jan. 6, Alford said she received an email from Bruce Jacobson, the head of Whitefield Academy where her daughter is a student. In it, Jacobson allegedly said that Kenney was being expelled over the post and attached the image in his message.

“The WA Administration has been made aware of a recent picture, posted on social media, which demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs,” Jacobson wrote, according to Alford.

“We made it clear that any further promotion, celebration or any other action and attitudes counter to Whitefield’s philosophy will not be tolerated.”

The school’s reaction to the birthday image baffled the family. Although a rainbow is widely recognized and used as a symbol of LGBTQ pride and support, Alford said the color scheme was just a coincidence with no deeper meaning for her daughter. 

“Rainbows don’t mean you’re a certain gender or certain sex or sexuality,” Alford told The Washington Post. “I’m not saying she’s this or that — she’s just Kayla to me… I ordered the cake, she didn’t.”

School’s Rationale

In a later statement, Whitefield Academy clarified that this was not Kenney’s first breach of their protocol. The school condemned “inaccurate media reports” for making it seem like the expulsion was solely based on the cake photo and said that the teenager had “unfortunately violated our student code of conduct numerous times over the past two years.”

Alford acknowledged that her daughter had misstepped in the past, and cited instances of Kenney being found with e-cigarette paraphernalia and ditching class one day after lunch. She said that in October, after an e-cigarette incident, her daughter had been put on probation. 

But the cake picture being the last straw made no sense to Alford or her daughter.

 “She was really hurt. She was very upset because she thought, ‘All my friends are going back to school in the morning, and I don’t have anywhere to go,’” Alford told The Washington Post

She added that her daughter told her, “‘Mom, I didn’t do anything wrong.’”

Whitefield Academy, which serves as a ministry of the Highview Baptist Church, disagreed. According to the school’s parent/student handbook, the Biblical role of the school is to work with families to “mold students to be Christ-like.”

“On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle the school teaches,” the handbook states. “This includes, but is not limited to, sexual immorality, homosexual orientation, or the inability to support Biblical standards of right and wrong.”

The handbook notes that the school reserves the right to refuse admission or discontinue enrollment of any students who may go against its religious beliefs. According to a local Kentucky news outlet, The Courier-Journal, exemptions for faith-based schools in Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance grant Whitefield Academy the authority to do this. 

Alford appealed her daughter’s expulsion but reported that she was denied. She said that administrators did agree to change the expulsion to a “voluntary withdrawal” as to not reflect poorly on Kenney’s record.

The mother said her daughter is now attending a public school and has received overwhelming support from friends at her former school, though she still thinks Kenney was treated “unjustly” and that is why she’s chosen to make the story known.

“I just want to defend her in a graceful way,” Alford told NBC. “I want to stand up for my child,” she said. “Just treat people with kindness and love, and don’t be judgmental.”

See what others are saying: (NBC) (WAVE3) (ABC)

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Trump Administration Shifts Control of Coronavirus Data Away From CDC

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  • Starting July 15, hospitals are to redirect their COVID-19 reporting away from the Centers for Disease Control and to the Department of Human and Health Services instead.
  • The decision is billed as a way to “streamline” data collection across multiple government agencies.
  • However, there are fears that the data won’t be completely transparent and available to the public now that it’s controlled by a Trump administration official.

The Trump administration ordered hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and send information about COVID-19 to a central database controlled by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), starting July 15.

The move came as a shock to many health experts as the CDC has long been the agency where pandemic data has been submitted. However, the administration issued the policy change after discussions with hospitals and government task forces highlighted how cumbersome current data-submission processes are.

The government also hopes that by keeping the process streamlined, data will be more easily accessible to agencies other than just the CDC, including groups like the Coronavirus Task Force. That would allow the task force to better handle the pandemic and better allocate scarce resources like ventilators and remdesivir – a drug that is known to help reduce the recovery time of COVID-19.

The move to redirect which agency handles coronavirus information stemmed from a July 10 memo that laid out what Wednesday’s new rules would be. According to that HHS memo, back in late March, Vice-President Mike Pence sent a letter to hospitals across the U.S. asking them to send daily reports about the pandemic. It adds that since then, many government agencies have asked for similar information.

The administration claims that hospitals complained about how many different agencies were asking for information, adding that it was distracting administrators from actual hospital duties. Following these complaints, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, set up a call with hospital administrators and groups that represent hospitals to come up with a new plan.

Ultimately that call and other discussions led to the July 10 memo and Wednesday’s updates to how coronavirus data is collected.

Why Take the Data Away?

The move to switch COVID-19 data collection away from the semi-independent CDC and to the politically appointed HHS was a cause of concern for many. The largest complaint is that it’s moving the information away from experts who specialize in disease management and control.

Moving the information away from the experts has led to accusations that the administration is politicizing the science. Such an accusation was made on Tuesday in an open letter from the past heads of the CDC, both Democrat and Republican.

Dr. Nicole Lurie, former assistant secretary for preparedness and response during President Barack Obama’s administration, told The New York Times, “Centralizing control of all data under the umbrella of an inherently political apparatus is dangerous and breeds distrust,” adding, “It appears to cut off the ability of agencies like C.D.C. to do its basic job.”

This leads to another possible issue: that information won’t be made available. Like Dr. Lurie stated, there are fears the CDC and other groups will be blocked from the information. Jen Kates, Director of Global Health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation also raised concerns to The New York Times.

“Historically, C.D.C. has been the place where public health data has been sent, and this raises questions about not just access for researchers but access for reporters, access for the public to try to better understand what is happening with the outbreak,” Kates said.

“How will the data be protected? Will there be transparency, will there be access, and what is the role of the C.D.C. in understanding the data?”

Streamlining the Data

However, despite concerns there are experts who think the decision is a good idea.

The CDC’s system is called the National Healthcare Safety Network and it’s known for being cumbersome and slow. On top of that, the guidelines for what data and how to submit it constantly changes, frustrating hospital administrators who have to report the data over and over again to a ton of different agencies who have shifting guidelines.

The new system, which is managed by TeleTracking, a health data firm in Pittsburgh, is supposed to remove some of those redundancies, partly by using one standardized submission form. Additionally, If hospitals report to their state, and that state then sends the info to HHS, the hospital can get a waiver and skip sending it to HHS themselves. Officials within the administration, like Michael R. Caputo, the Health and Human Services spokesman, explained the problem like this: “Today, the C.D.C. still has at least a week lag in reporting hospital data. America requires it in real time.”

Critics still point to one possible issue with this explanation, both systems use push data. Push data means both databases require hospitals, states, and agencies to actually input the data themselves and send it to the HHS. However, the July 10 memo does state that there are plans to automate the process, something the CDC has struggled to do for years.

Caputo tried to calm fears that the information was going to be locked away from the CDC and the public, saying, “The new, faster and complete data system is what our nation needs to defeat the coronavirus, and the C.D.C., an operating division of H.H.S., will certainly participate in this streamlined all-of-government response. They will simply no longer control it.”

He also went on to specifically say that the data would be available to the public. That information was also backed up by Dr. Birx, who gave assurances to hospital administrators back when this whole system was being set up that the info would be public.

Some doctors took the assurance at face value, like Dr. Janis Orlowski, who told The New York Times, “We are comfortable with [the switch] as long as they continue to work with us, as long as they continue to make the information public, and as long as we’re able to continue to advise them and look at the data.”

She also believes the switch is “a sincere effort to streamline and improve data collection.’’

However, as of Wednesday afternoon, there’s no data coming out at all. The New York Times reports, “the Health and Human Services database that will receive new information is not open to the public, which could affect the work of scores of researchers, modelers and health officials who rely on C.D.C. data to make projections and crucial decisions.”

There’s a key distinction there; the difference between the information being made public down the line, and having direct access to the database itself. The lack of data could be because the HHS system just went online as of July 15 and hospitals have yet to begin submitting their information.

It remains to be seen if HHS will beat the CDC timeline of “at least a week” to get the data about COVID-19 out, and whether or not it’ll be available to the public.

See What Others Are Saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (NBC News)

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Trump Administration Drops New Visa Rules for International Students

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  • In a rare reversal of an immigration policy, the Trump administration has rescinded a directive that would have prohibited international students from remaining in the U.S. if they are taking only online classes this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The announcement came at the top of a federal court hearing Tuesday for a lawsuit against the move filed by Harvard and MIT.
  • It also comes after what some called unprecedented bipartisan pushback from lawmakers, over a dozen tech companies, states, and hundreds of universities across the country.
  • However, many believe the fight isn’t over because the administration can still try to issue other changes that impose restrictions on international students. 

Background

The Trump administration rescinded a policy Tuesday that would have denied visas to international students who planned to take entirely online courses at universities this fall.  

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the policy on July 6 and was met with immediate backlash. Many felt it was an attempt by the Trump administration to pressure colleges into reopening this fall, despite concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. The consequences of such a policy could have been huge both for the U.S. economy and hundreds of thousands of foreign students. 

Before the pandemic, ICE had a longstanding policy that prohibited international students from taking only online courses to maintain a valid visa. However, ICE temporarily waved online course limits in March when schools were forced to suspended in-person classes. 

At the time, ICE said the limits would be waved “for the duration of the emergency,” so this bombshell change left students and universities scrambling. In response, just two days after the plan was announced, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology filed a lawsuit against the administration over the decision. 

That was just the beginning of the backlash that has snowballed since the announcement. According to the Associated Press, more than 200 universities backed the legal challenge, and at least seven other federal suits were filed by universities and states. 

The directive has also been condemned by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Nearly 99 Democratic Congress members demanded a withdrawal of the policy last week, and on Tuesday, 15 Republican members signed a letter urging the administration to restore its previous policy.  

On top of that, over a dozen technology companies came out in support of Harvard and MIT, including major tech giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others who said the policy would harm their businesses as well.

Policy Reversed 

All of those efforts seem to have been acknowledged Tuesday when the decision to drop the policy was announced at the start of a hearing for the Harvard and MIT case in Boston, Massachusetts. There, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs said the schools had reached an agreement with ICE and the Department of Homeland Security to “return to the status quo.” That means ICE will revert to its directive from March that waves online course limits during the pandemic.  

The announcement is a huge victory for the groups challenging the government and has brought relief to thousands of foreign students who were at risk of deportation and whose lives were suddenly turned upside down with the fall semester quickly approaching. 

Harvard’s president, Lawrence S. Bacow, said in a statement, “This is a significant victory.” 

“These students — our students — can now rest easier and focus on their education, which is all they ever wanted to do.”

MIT’s president L. Rafael Reif said the quick opposition was evidence of “the important role international students play in our education, research and innovation enterprises here in the United States. These students make us stronger, and we hurt ourselves when we alienate them.”

Still, others were frustrated that it took so much pushback for the administration to back down. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who had filed a separate lawsuit challenging the policy, said in a statement Tuesday, “The Trump Administration appears to have seen the harm of its July 6 directive, but it shouldn’t take lawsuits and widespread outcry for them to do their job.”

“In the midst of an economic and public health crisis, we don’t need the federal government alarming Americans or wasting everyone’s time and resources with dangerous policy decisions.”

Admin Could Still Pass Other Narrow Restrictions 

This news is huge because it’s one of the rare instances in which the Trump administration has retreated on a major immigration policy. Typically, the administration defends its controversial immigration directives, refusing to alter them unless forced to by a court.

The American Council on Education, which represents university presidents, applauded the move, tell the AP that the policy was “wrongheaded” and drew unprecedented opposition. 

Terry Hartle, the group’s senior vice president said, “There has never been a case where so many institutions sued the federal government.”

“In this case, the government didn’t even try to defend its policymaking,” he continued. 

Even with this reversal, many are still hesitant to call this case closed. That’s because the government can still try to issue a new policy that imposes other limits on international students. 

According to the Wall Street Journal’s sources, one option that the administration could still pursue would apply the more restrictive rules only to newly enrolling students.

Even so, the judge in Harvard and MIT’s case has announced that she intends to keep the case open, which means the Trump administration would likely have to defend any such changes before her court, according to Vox. 

As of now, the Trump administration has not commented on the reversal or whether or not new restrictions are in the works. In the meantime, schools like MIT have said they stand prepared “to protect our students from any further arbitrary policies.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (Associated Press

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US Carries Out First Federal Execution in 17 Years Following SCOTUS Ruling

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  • Early Tuesday morning, the United States went forward with its first federal execution since 2003.
  • The move comes after the Supreme Court rejected a last-minute injunction filed by a federal judge to stop the execution.
  • The judge argued that legal challenges needed to play out in court to determine if the federal lethal injections, which use a drug called pentobarbital, amount to cruel and unusual punishment, thus violating the Constitution.
  • According to the injunction, the evidence presented to the court showed pentobarbital injections risk causing the feeling of drowning or asphyxiation.

Federal Execution 

President Donald Trump’s administration officially carried out the first federal execution in 17 years on Tuesday after a day of legal whiplash.

The inmate who was put to death had been convicted of three counts of murder in aid of racketeering in 1999 after he and another man killed a family of three, including a child, in Arkansas. Court documents allege that the murders were part of a broader plan to create a white supremacist community in the Pacific Northwest.

The man, who has been on death row at a federal prison in Indiana for 20 years, was executed by lethal injection and pronounced dead just after 8 a.m. According to the pool report, shortly before his death, he insisted he was innocent. 

The execution marks the first time that the federal government has used the death penalty since Attorney General Bill Barr announced that the Trump administration would resume federal capital punishment last summer. 

In that decision, Barr also mandated that all the executions be conducted via a single-drug lethal injection known as pentobarbital. The Justice Department was initially set to execute the man who was killed Tuesday as well as four others in December and January, but that plan was blocked by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan of the District of Columbia.

In her injunction stopping the executions, Chutkan argued that using a single procedure for all federal executions violated the federal Death Penalty Act, which requires federal executions to be carried out in a way prescribed by the state where the prisoner was convicted. If that state does not have the death penalty, the prisoner can be moved to a death penalty state and will follow their execution orders.

Chutkan’s argument was that while lethal injection is the primary execution method in the U.S., the type and number of drugs used vary from state to state. However, in April, the D.C. Appeals Court struck down Chutkan’s ruling and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, thus allowing the executions to go forward.

Last-Minute Injunction

Following the Appeals Court ruling, the executions were rescheduled. On Monday, the day of the first planned injection, Chutkan filed another injunction seeking to block the execution of the man killed Tuesday as well as three others set to take place this week. 

In her ruling, Chutkan argued that before the inmates could be executed, legal challenges needed to play out in court to determine if pentobarbital injections can be considered cruel and unusual and thus violate the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

She explained that people injected with pentobarbital risk experience flash pulmonary edema, which is the rapid build-up of fluid in the lungs that causes the feeling of drowning or asphyxiation resulting in “extreme pain, terror and panic.”

Chukan also wrote that the scientific evidence provided to the court “overwhelmingly indicates” that pentobarbital “is very likely to cause Plaintiffs extreme pain and needless suffering during their executions.”

The evidence submitted by the plaintiff’s experts, she said, showed that the “majority of inmates” executed by pentobarbital injections “suffered flash pulmonary edema during the procedure.”

The Justice Department quickly responded to the injunction, appealing to both the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, and arguing that the preparations were already underway and that Chutkan’s order served “to scramble those plans with a meritless injunction.”

Supreme Court Decision

At around 2 a.m. Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued an unsigned, 5-4 opinion rejecting the last-minute legal bid and siding with the DOJ. 

In the order, the court said that the inmates had virtually no chance of winning their argument that pentobarbital injections were cruel and unusual. The court also noted that pentobarbital had been used in “over 100 executions, without incident,” and that its use had been upheld by the Supreme Court last year.

The court decision also noted that the inmates “have not made the showing required to justify last-minute intervention by a federal court.”

The court’s four liberal justices opposed the decision in two separate dissenting opinions. Leading the first dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer raised broader questions about the constitutionality of capital punishment. He wrote that the death penalty is “is often imposed arbitrarily,” noting that the other man involved in the murders— who was considered more culpable— had received a life sentence.

In the other dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor condemned the rush to execute the same man.

“The court forever deprives respondents of their ability to press a constitutional challenge to their lethal injections, and prevents lower courts from reviewing that challenge,” she wrote. “In its hurry to resolve the government’s emergency motions, I fear the court has overlooked not only its prior ruling, but also its role in safeguarding robust federal judicial review.”

Notably, the court also refused to consider a claim filed by the 81-year-old mother of one of victims of the man being put to death to have the execution delayed.

In her suit, the woman argued that that the decision to hold the execution during the pandemic forced her and others to choose between their health and attending. She also claimed that the federal Bureau of Prisons had not taken the necessary steps to protect her and other execution witnesses.

While the Supreme Court did not issue an opinion or dissent on that matter, that DOJ argued against it, writing in court filings that it took their accounts “seriously, in accordance with their terrible loss and distinctive perspective.” The department also said that it was not required to factor in “the availability and travel preferences of those attending the execution when scheduling it.”

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers, suspected mass murderers, or those planning to commit a crime of that nature and may have done so with the intent to seek attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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