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Amtrak Backs Down From $25,000 Quote for Group Traveling With Wheelchairs

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  • When an advocacy group for people with disabilities planned to take a two-hour Amtrak train to a conference, the railroad service told them it would cost over $25,000 to accommodate two extra wheelchairs.
  • Amtrak cited a new policy in which they will no longer absorb the cost of refiguring train cars for accommodations, leaving the group members to cover the expense of making space for additional wheelchairs.
  • Many criticized Amtrak, including Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois who uses a wheelchair herself. 
  • Amtrak apologized and offered the group its normal $16 price on tickets, adding that it will review its policy and open discussions with Duckworth, who requested that it be eliminated.

Hefty Price of Train Tickets

Amtrak apologized and retreated on Monday from its $25,000 quote for two wheelchair users to take a short train ride. The railway operator had originally told the passengers they would have to pay this price to cover their disability accommodations — a large deviation from the normal $16 price of a one-way ticket. 

Members of Access Living, a Chicago-based advocacy group for people with disabilities, had planned weeks in advance to take a two-hour trip to Bloomington-Normal, Illinois for a conference on Jan. 22. Of the 10 members planning on going, five use wheelchairs. 

Access Living had traveled with Amtrak before and had been accommodated in the past when they gave advance notice of their members’ needs. The group wrote to the company to inform them of their need for wheelchair accommodations again on this trip.

The train Access Living members planned on taking had three cars, with one wheelchair seat per car—they were in need of additional space for two more wheelchairs. In late December, an Amtrak agent emailed back to let them know that the cost of their tickets will be over $25,000.

When the advocacy group members thought there must have been some kind of error, they wrote back questioning the price.

“I thought it was a mistake. That’s the price of a car,” Adam Ballard of Access Living told NPR, who first reported the story. “How can that be possible? I was sure it was a mistake.”

But sure enough, when Amtrak responded they were firm in their number. The agent informed Access Living that the spiked fee comes from covering the expense of removing seats from a rail car to fit the additional two wheelchairs, citing a new policy implemented in 2019 in which Amtrak would no longer absorb the costs for reconfiguring train cars.

Backlash and Amtrak’s Retreat

After NPR‘s report, Amtrak faced a slew of backlash from individuals including Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a veteran who lost both her legs in Iraq and uses a wheelchair herself. Duckworth tweeted her disappointment in the rail line on Sunday. 

“The Americans with Disabilities Act has been the law of the land for 30 years,” Duckworth wrote. “Yet in 2020, Amtrak believes it would be an unreasonable burden to remove architectural barriers that would enable a group with five wheelchair users to travel together.”

In the wake of the backlash, an Amtrak spokesperson told The New York Times that the new policy was meant for any group requesting that a train be reconfigured to fit passengers and not limited to those with disabilities. 

On Monday, Amtrak apologized to Access Living and said they could find space on the train for the two extra wheelchairs at the normal price. The advocacy group accepted the offer. 

Amtrak also said they would review the new policy and open talks with Duckworth, who requested a meeting with CEO Richard Anderson to discuss striking it down.

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

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Florida School Says Students Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Must Stay Home for 30 Days

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The school falsely claimed that people who have just been vaccinated risk “shedding” the coronavirus and could infect others.


Centner Academy Vaccination Policy

A private school in Florida is now requiring all students who get vaccinated against COVID-19 to quarantine for 30 days before returning to class.

According to the local Miami outlet WSVN, Centner Academy wrote a letter to parents last week describing COVID vaccines as “experimental” and citing anti-vaccine misinformation.

“If you are considering the vaccine for your Centner Academy student(s), we ask that you hold off until the Summer when there will be time for the potential transmission or shedding onto others to decrease,” the letter reportedly stated.

“Because of the potential impact on other students and our school community, vaccinated students will need to stay at home for 30 days post-vaccination for each dose and booster they receive and may return to school after 30 days as long as the student is healthy and symptom-free.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has debunked the false claim that those newly vaccinated against COVID-19 can “shed” the virus.

According to the agency’s COVID myths page, vaccine shedding “can only occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus,” but “none of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.”

In fact, early research has suggested that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus than unvaccinated people.

Beyond that, unvaccinated people are more likely to spread COVID in general because they are much more likely to get the virus than vaccinated people. According to recently published CDC data, as of August, unvaccinated people were six times more likely to get COVID than vaccinated people and 11 times more likely to die from the virus.

Centner Academy Continues Spread of Misinformation

In a statement to The Washington Post Monday, Centner Academy co-founder David Centner doubled down on the school’s new policy, which he described as a “precautionary measure” based on “numerous anecdotal cases that have been in circulation.”

“The school is not opining as to whether unexplained phenomena have a basis in fact, however we prefer to err on the side of caution when making decisions that impact the health of the school community,” he added.

The new rule echoes similar efforts Centner Academy has made that run counter to public health guidance and scientific knowledge.

In April, the school made headlines when its leadership told vaccinated school employees that they were not allowed to be in contact with any students “until more information is known” and encouraged employees to wait until summer to get the jab.

According to The New York Times, the following week, a math and science teacher allegedly told students not to hug their vaccinated parents for more than five seconds.

The outlet also reported that the school’s other co-founder, Leila Centner, discouraged masking, but when state health officials came for routine inspections, teachers said they were directed in a WhatsApp group to put masks on.

See what others are saying: (WSVN) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)

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Katie Couric Says She Edited Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote About Athletes Kneeling During National Anthem

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Couric said she omitted part of a 2016 interview in order to “protect” the justice.


Kate Couric Edited Quote From Justice Ginsburg

In her upcoming book, journalist Katie Couric admitted to editing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2016 in order to “protect” Ginsberg from potential criticism. 

Couric interviewed the late justice for an article in Yahoo News. During their discussion, she asked Ginsburg about her thoughts on athletes like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem to protest racial inequality.

“I think it’s really dumb of them,” Ginsburg is quoted saying in the piece. “Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”

According to The Daily Mail and The New York Post, which obtained advance copies of Couric’s book “Going There,” there was more to Ginsburg’s response. Couric wrote that she omitted a portion where Ginsburg said the form of protest showed a “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life…Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from.

Couric Says She Lost Sleep Making Choice

“As they became older they realize that this was youthful folly,” Ginsberg reportedly continued. “And that’s why education is important.

According to The Daily Mail, Couric wrote that the Supreme Court’s head of public affairs sent an email asking to remove comments about kneeling because Ginsburg had misspoken. Couric reportedly added that she felt a need to “protect” the justice, thinking she may not have understood the question. Couric reached out to her friend, New York Times reporter David Brooks, regarding the matter and he allegedly likewise believed she may have been confused by the subject. 

Couric also wrote that she was a “big RBG fan” and felt her comments were “unworthy of a crusader for equality.” Because she knew the remarks could land Ginsburg in hot water, she said she “lost a lot of sleep” and felt “conflicted” about whether or not to edit them out. 

Couric was trending on Twitter Wednesday and Thursday as people questioned the ethics behind her choice to ultimately cut part of the quote. Some thought the move showed a lack of journalistic integrity while others thought revealing the story now harmed Ginsburg’s legacy.

See what others are saying: (New York Post) (The Daily Mail) (Insider)

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Biden Administration Orders ICE To Halt Workplace Raids

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The Department of Homeland Security will now focus on targeting employers who exploit undocumented workers, instead of carrying out raids that dissuade those workers from reporting labor violations.


DHS Reverses Worksite Raid Policy

The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it was ordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop workplace raids.

The move marks a reversal from Trump administration policies that have been strongly criticized by immigration activists who argue the efforts created fear in immigrant communities and dissuaded them from reporting labor violations or exploitative employment practices.

In addition to stopping the raids, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo that the administration will refocus enforcement efforts to instead target “employers who exploit unauthorized workers, conduct illegal activities or impose unsafe working conditions.” 

Mayorkas added that the immigration agencies housed in DHS will have the next 60 days to identify harmful existing policies and come up with new ones that provide better deportation protections for workers who report their employers.

In the Tuesday memo, the secretary argued that shift of focus will “reduce the demand for illegal employment by delivering more severe consequences to exploitative employers” and “increase the willingness of workers to report violations of law by exploitative employers and cooperate in employment and labor standards investigation.”

Labor Market Implications

The new policy comes at a time when the U.S. is experiencing a critical labor shortage, including in many sectors that rely on immigrant labor.

Some companies that use undocumented workers pay them wages that are far below the market rate, which is not only exploitative but also undercuts competitors.

According to Mayorkas, the pivot to employer-based enforcement will help protect American businesses.

“By exploiting undocumented workers and paying them substandard wages, the unscrupulous employers create an unfair labor market,” he said in the memo. “They also unfairly drive down their costs and disadvantage their business competitors who abide by the law.”

It is currently unclear how effective the new efforts will be, but historical precedent does not paint an optimistic picture.

The Biden administration’s efforts closely mirror a similar move by the Obama administration, which attempted to reverse workplace raids authorized under President George W. Bush by targetting those who employ undocumented workers rather than the workers themselves.

That effort, however, still led to thousands of undocumented workers being fired.

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

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