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School Calls Cops on 6-Year-Old With Down Syndrome Over Finger Guns

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  • In November, a six-year-old with down syndrome pointed a finger gun at her teacher and pretended to shoot.
  • A “threat assessment” team was assigned to review the incident, and even though no threat was determined, the police were called per the school district’s policy.
  • The child’s mother, Maggie Gaines, is now working to get the district to revise and clarify the policy so that this kind of incident doesn’t happen again.

Finger Gun Incident

A school district in Tredyffrin, Pennsylvania is reviewing a student discipline policy after the police were called on a six-year-old with down syndrome who pointed a finger gun at her teacher.

Margot Gaines is a kindergartner at Valley Forge Elementary School. In November 2019, the child grew frustrated and pretended to shoot her teacher with her finger, saying “I shoot you,”— an action that has launched the community into an ongoing discussion. 

Maggie Gaines, Margot’s mother, has noted that because of her mental disability, Margot often struggles with transitions between activities, and this is why she responded with the finger gun.

“I  imagine the utterance was not unlike the instances when I’ve told her it’s time for bed and she says, ‘I hate bed. I hate mommy.’ As most parents can attest, I have learned not to take offense,” Gaines said. “For I know that a short time later she is usually cuddled up to me, while we read bedtime stories and exchange kisses and cuddles before saying good-night.” 

Margot was sent to see the principal, and a “threat assessment” team comprised of school and district personnel intervened. It was quickly determined that there was no safety threat and even that no disciplinary action was needed. But district policy was reworked in 2018 in the wake of a middle school student receiving anti-Semitic threats and more national school shootings, according to local news outlet SAVVY Main Line. Because of this protocol, administrators said they still needed to alert law enforcement.

“I was fine with everything up until they said ‘and we have to call the police,’” Maggie Gaines, Margot’s mother, told CBS Philadelphia.And I said you absolutely do not have to call the police. You know, this is ridiculous.”

Local police wrote up an incident report, which differs from a criminal record and can’t be released to the public. But nevertheless, it still has Margot’s name on it in connection to a threat to shoot a teacher, and this worries her mother.

“I don’t know how that information will be used,” Maggie Gaines told SAVVY Main Line.  

Response from Family 

Maggie Gaines refused to let the incident go unaddressed, asserting that school officials misinterpreted their own policy with her daughter and took it a step too far. Gaines is now pushing for a revision and clarification of Policy 5401, which deals with threat assessment. 

On Jan. 21, at a Tredyffrin/Easttown School District Committee meeting, she offered a statement with her stance on the issue. 

“I am well aware that we live in a time when parents are concerned for their children’s safety in school. When I think of incidents at Parkland High School or Sandy Hook Elementary School, I too am haunted and disgusted,” Gaines said. “But I also think our society and our schools across the country have overreacted with respect to perceived threats, resulting in even finger guns wielded by kindergartners being viewed as cause to alert authorities.”   

“I find this application of the threat assessment policy to be out of line with its intended purpose, which is to identify and help troubled students who may harm others in the future and to prevent that from happening,” Gaines said. 

Gaines also pointed out that students with intellectual disabilities, like her daughter, are disproportionately disciplined in school, citing a 2018 report published by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.  

Reactions From Others

The Gaines family has managed to rally the community as well and even involve higher elected officials. 

At the January meeting, Kate Murphy, a former school board member and player in the creation of district policy, expressed her concern for the handling of the incident. 

“Many of our changes and revisions were driven by events that occurred in our middle schools or high school, not in our elementary schools,” Murphy said. “It wasn’t my intent to notify the police, or create a ‘record’ with local law enforcement when an elementary-aged child made what our trained threat assessment team determined to be a ‘transient threat.’”

The situation was also addressed by Pennsylvania Sen. Andrew Dinniman, who was contacted by the Gaines family. Dinniman wrote a letter to the Superintendent of the school district, which he also made public in a Facebook post

“As a state senator, an educator, and a parent, I am concerned when I hear that such important decisions appear to be guided blindly by written policy or legal interpretation without those in positions of authority using their judgment, experience, and commonsense to weigh in,” Dinniman wrote.

“Furthermore, I am alarmed that a school seems to be acting as an extension of the police department in promulgating data and records on children as young as kindergarteners,” he added.

The school district issued a statement to CBS Philadelphia, saying they have agreed to review the policy in question. Multiple meetings have been held in which the topic has been discussed, and more are scheduled in the coming weeks.  

“When developing the current practice, the District worked collaboratively with parents, law enforcement and private safety/mental health agencies and legal consultants to ensure our safety measures reflected considerable input from both our local community and experts in the field of school safety,” it said.

Maggie Gaines also clarified that she in no way meant to attack the administrators at her daughter’s school, calling them “amazing professionals” who she “respect[s] tremendously.” 

“They were told to follow a policy and a protocol, which they did,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “The real issue here is a bad policy that unnecessarily escalates even the most minor childhood issues to the police to create an incident report.”

“And my community needs to stand up and make sure the TESD School Board and Administration changes it to ensure it doesn’t happen again to my daughter or any other children in our district again,” Gaines added. 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (CBS Philadelphia) (Washington Post)

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Trump Signs Order Allowing Former Troops to Be Called Upon for Coronavirus Fight

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  • President Trump signed an executive order that allows for former troops to be brought back to active duty to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
  • This is not an immediate order to call former service members back, but it is typically used when the military is in need of specific skill sets, like persons with high demand medical capabilities. 
  • Officials are still reviewing who might be activated.
  • The order comes just days after the Army called upon former service members to voluntarily rejoin and help in the military’s response efforts. Over 14,000 have expressed interest as of Friday. 

Trump Signs Executive Order

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday that allows the Pentagon to bring former U.S. troops and members of the National Gaurd and reserve back to active duty to help those already battling the county’s coronavirus outbreaks.

During his press conference Friday night, Trump said the decision allows the federal government “to mobilize medical, disaster and emergency response personnel to help wage our battle against the virus by activating thousands of experienced service members including retirees.”

“We have a lot of people, retirees, great military people — they’re coming back in,” Trump added.

What This Means

The executive order released by the White House states that anyone recalled can remain on active duty for up to 24 months straight. It provides the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security the authority to order as many as 1 million individuals at one time, however, it is not an order to do so. 

According to Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman, the order applies to units and individual members in the National Guard and Reserves and certain Individual Ready Reserve members who are normally in an inactive status.

Hoffman said that decisions about who may be activated are still being reviewed, but he added, “Generally, these members will be persons in Headquarters units and persons with high demand medical capabilities whose call-up would not adversely affect their civilian communities.” 

As of now, the Individual Ready Reserve contains 224,841 members, according to the Department of Defense, and nearly 11,000 of those members “have medical capabilities.”

“This is a dynamic situation, we do not currently have a projected number of expected activations, but the Department is now fully authorized to make activations as needed,” Hoffman said. 

He also stressed that the departments would consult with state officials before using any National Gaurd Reserve Component units under the executive order.

Earlier this week, the Army called upon former service members to voluntarily rejoin and help in the military’s pandemic response efforts. The Army said the initial response has been positive, with at least 14,6000 people expressing interest as of Friday.

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

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FDA Authorizes Portable Test Kit That Can Detect COVID-19 in 5 Minutes

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  • The FDA has approved the use of a new coronavirus test kit that can give positive results in as little as 5 minutes and negative results in 13, leaps faster than the hours and sometimes days laboratory tests normally take. 
  • The tests are run on a lightweight and small portable device that can be used in emergency rooms, urgent care clinics, and even outside hospital walls.
  • Abbott, the medical device company that makes the kits, plans to send out 50,000 tests a day starting next week.

New Test Approved

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave Emergency Use Authorization to the medical device company Abbott for a new coronavirus test kit that gives results within minutes.

Abbott announced the news in a Friday press release, saying it plans to start delivering 50,000 tests a day beginning next week. The tests run on the company’s ID NOW platform, a portable device about the size of a small toaster than weights only 6.6 pounds.

Its portability means it can be used directly in an emergency room or urgent care clinic and even, “outside the traditional four walls of a hospital in outbreak hotspots.”

The company called it “the fastest available molecular point-of-care test for the detection of novel coronavirus(COVID-19), delivering positive results in as little as five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes.”

Second Rapid Test to Be Approved by FDA 

The approval from federal health officials means that regulators were satisfied with the test’s validation data and are confident that its benefits outweigh any risk, like false positives or negatives. 

The FDA’s approval marks the seconds time it has green-lit a fast working test that could accelerate testing across the country.  Last week, it approved a 45-minute rapid point of care test by the molecular diagnostics company Cepheid. However, that test is primarily intended for emergency rooms and hospitals, not doctors’ officers or urgent care clinics.  

Still, those turnaround times are leaps faster than the hours to days it takes most laboratory tests to bring results. 

Medical Shortages Still Cause Concern 

The approval of the Abbott test comes as cities across the nation battle with numbers of potential patients that surpass available tests and resources. Even with insufficient testing, the United States became the country with the largest number of reported cases of coronavirus on Thursday, exceeding China and Italy. By Friday, the U.S. hit more than 100,000 cases. 

Many fear that shortages of other critical medical equipment, like masks and swabs, could stifle the new rapid test’s impact. That’s because the kit requires a swab sample collected from patients, and many health care facilities are running desperately low on the tools needed to safely collect those samples.

The Center for Disease Control issued guidance Tuesday that allows some patients to collect their own nasal swabs in health care facilities, in an effort to reduce the amount of protective equipment needed for health care workers. 

On the opposite end, however, others note that fast and efficient testing can help medical professionals determine how much protective equipment they actually need to wear when interacting with a patient, as well as what kind of care to provide. Since this test can be done in a doctor’s office, it could even potentially help diagnose patients with mild or asymptomatic cases of the virus and help stop them from unknowingly spreading it. 

Experts also say drastically increasing testing capacity can help get the economy back on track sooner. With increased testing, measures like keeping everyone at home could be replaced with more targeted identification and isolation of those infected. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (CNBC) (CNN

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EPA Limits Environmental Regulations During Coronavirus Crisis

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  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it is scaling back its enforcement of environmental rules during the coronavirus emergency as businesses face challenges like layoffs and accessibility issues.
  • The temporary policy allows companies to monitor their own compliance with environmental laws, and the EPA said it will not issue penalties for violations of certain reporting requirements.
  • Many critics slammed the move, arguing that it opens doors to excess pollution and does not prioritize the health and safety of people and wildlife.   
  • The EPA defended the policy, saying it has reserved its authorities for situations other than routine monitoring and reporting and will consider the pandemic’s impacts on a “case-to-case basis.”

Temporary Policy 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says it will limit the enforcement of certain regulations as the coronavirus pandemic continues, leaving companies in charge of monitoring their own compliance with environmental laws. 

The agency unveiled the temporary policy on Thursday, arguing that businesses are running into obstacles like layoffs and accessibility issues as the virus alters normal life across the nation.

“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.  

Under normal circumstances, companies must report when their facilities release a certain amount of pollution into the air or water. Now, that requirement will be put on hold for the time being. 

“In general, the EPA does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the EPA agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the EPA upon request,” the policy states.

The agency also said it would exercise “discretion” in enforcing other environmental rules. It noted that the policy does not apply to criminal violations or hundreds of the country’s most toxic waste sites that fall under the Superfund act. The EPA also said it expects public water systems to maintain high standards. 

“Public water systems have a heightened responsibility to protect public health because unsafe drinking water can lead to serious illnesses and access to clean water for drinking and handwashing is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the policy says.

The memo said that the changes will apply retroactively beginning on March 13, with no set end date indicated. 

Criticism of New Policy

Some, including people in the oil industry, had been asking for these regulations to be loosened, but others slammed the EPA’s choice, claiming it is too broad and lax. 

Gina McCarthy, who headed the EPA under the Obama administration and is now president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the policy an “open license to pollute.” 

Some called the changes “outrageous” and “evil,” accusing the EPA of prioritizing businesses over the health of individuals and wildlife.

Prominent figures in the climate change fight slammed the move as well.

“The EPA uses this global pandemic to create loopholes for destroying the environment,” teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted. “This is a schoolbook example for what we need to start looking out for.”

Others pointed out the irony of suspending rules that preserve air quality while a respiratory disease makes its rounds across the country. 

“What part of, ‘air pollution increases our vulnerability to respiratory diseases LIKE CORONAVIRUS,’ is not clear, EPA?” one Twitter user wrote.

Defense of Policy

The EPA stood behind their move and did not agree with its classification as a dismissal of regulations. 

“It is not a nationwide waiver of environmental rules,” Andrea Woods, an E.P.A. spokeswoman, told The New York Times. “For situations outside of routine monitoring and reporting, the agency has reserved its authorities and will take the pandemic into account on a case-by-case basis.”

Susan Parker Bodine, the EPA official who issued the policy, said that it does not excuse organizations from consequences if they do committ environmental violations.

“If you do have violations of your permit, you’re still obligated to meet your permit limits, you’re supposed to do everything possible,” Bodine told ABC. “And after the fact the agency will take that all into consideration but there isn’t a promise of no penalties in those kinds of situations.”

“If you have an acute risk, if you have an imminent threat … the facility has to come in and talk to their regulator, their authorized state or come into the agency,” she added. “And the reason for that is that we want to, we want to put all of our resources into keeping these facilities safe keeping communities safe.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (The Guardian) (CNN)

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