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Students Suspended for Racist Snapchats Sue Over Free Speech

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  • Students who were suspended over racist messages they sent in a Snapchat group are suing the school for violating their free speech.
  • The lawsuit claims that because the messages were made in private, on personal phones, and not on school grounds, the school does not have the authority to discipline the students.
  • The suit opens up a debate about free speech, digital speech, and the power of public schools to punish students.

Student File Lawsuit

Four students suspended after making racist remarks in a Snapchat group filed a lawsuit against the Saline Michigan School District Tuesday, alleging that their free speech rights were violated.

The lawsuit argues that public school officials did not have the power to discipline the students because the remarks were made in private, on the student’s personal phones, and on a Sunday when the students were not on school grounds.

“Defendants acted outside the scope of their authority and violated Plaintiffs’ rights by suspending all four of them and recommending the expulsion of two of them for the expression contained in the text messages,” it says.

Both white and African American students used offensive remarks, the lawyers said, including “terms like the ‘N’ word and various abbreviations of that word, ‘white power,’ and ‘the South will rise again,’” in addition to “inappropriate ‘memes’ or pictures.” 

“One of the African-American children jokingly suggested that everyone on the chat say the ‘N’ word at the same time to stop racism and many of the children did so,” they added.

After that, a number of African American students left the group. Another African American teenager later joined the chat, recorded a video of the racist messages, and publicly posted them.

The lawsuit notes that when a person leaves a Snapchat group everything they share is erased. It claims that the teen who joined later did not see the full context of the messages, and argues that the initial students in chat understood that it was “in the context of immature banter between friends and in a joking manner.”

The students never intended to make the conversation public, the plaintiffs claim.

On Jan. 27, the school suspended the four students who later filed the lawsuit, also recommending expulsion for two of them.

The students also allege that they were suspended without being given written notice of their rights to due process. They are seeking damages and asking that their disciplinary records be cleared.

Free Speech Debate

In a statement Tuesday, the students’ lawyer, David Kallman, argued that it is the parent and not the school who should discipline them for such behavior.

“This case boils down to a simple question: When a child misbehaves at home, who disciplines — the local public school or the parent?” he said. “If a child gets stopped for drunk driving on a Saturday night, does the school have the right to expel that student? The answer is obvious. No.” 

“The conversation of these children had nothing to do with the school. It has no authority to discipline students for out of school misbehavior,” he added.

With this case, there is also a question of digital privacy.

“Schools generally will happily let families referee off-campus disputes when it’s verbal. When it’s digitally memorialized, it somehow makes schools feel they are duty-bound to react,” media law professor Frank LoMonte told the Washington Post.

In general, LoMonte said, courts have ruled public schools can discipline students only for offensive remarks made at official events or using school equipment.

For example, in 2017, a cheerleader was disciplined over private messages she sent on the weekend using expletives about her coaches. A rights group filed a lawsuit and a federal judge ruled that the cheerleader’s messages were protected speech. 

Continued Issues

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, it is likely to stoke further divides in the small town.

The messages have provoked controversy since they were first brought to the public attention on Jan. 27 when Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden wrote a letter to parents denouncing “offensive and inappropriate racist comments” that were posted on social media by students at the local high school.

The district held a community meeting to talk about racism, which ended up making national headlines after a Latino father named Adrian Iraola described racism his now-grown children had experienced.

“When I went to his bedroom to say good night, and he was crying because of the abuse that he was enduring in this school system,” Iraola said. 

“So why didn’t you stay in Mexico?”  a white community-member responded, prompting gasps from the room.

That interaction produced both a viral video, even more tense community meetings, and an anti-racist rally that reportedly brought in more than 200 people.

With the new lawsuit, the tensions are unlikely to die down any time soon. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Detroit Free Press) (Ann Arbor News

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

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

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Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities

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The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.


Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”

Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.

Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.

The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone. 

During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program. 

“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”

Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.” 

“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference. 

“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”

Goals of the  Accountability for Congregate Care Act

Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act. 

“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.

“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.” 

Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.

Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change. 

“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”

While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children. 

Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (NBC News)

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Surgeons Successfully Test Pig Kidney Transplant on a Human

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The procedure has been hailed as a major scientific breakthrough that could eventually open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.


Groundbreaking Procedure

Surgeons at the NYU Langone Transplant Institute revealed Tuesday that they temporarily attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a human patient and found that it worked normally.

The operation was the first of its kind and could one day lead to a vast supply of organs for those who are in severe need. According to the Associated Press, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. are in line for a kidney transplant. Each day, an average of 12 die while waiting.

With the family’s consent, the groundbreaking procedure was performed on a brain-dead patient who was kept alive on a ventilator.

According to the surgeons, the pig used was genetically engineered to grow an organ that wouldn’t produce a sugar that the human immune system attacks, which would then trigger the body to reject the kidney. 

The organ was connected to blood vessels on the patient’s upper leg, outside the abdomen, and it was observed for over 54 hours, with doctors finding no signs of rejection.

Concerns and Hurdles Ahead

While the procedure was successful, this doesn’t mean it’ll be available to patients anytime soon. Several questions about long-term functionality remain, and it will still have to go through significant medical and regulatory hurdles. 

Details of the procedure haven’t even been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal yet, though there are plans for this. 

Experts are also considering the ethical implications of this type of animal-to-human transplant. For some, raising pigs to harvest their organs raises concerns about animal welfare and exploitation. Such medical procedures have already earned criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

“Pigs aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants,” PETA said in a statement, according to The New York Times.

On the other side of the debate are people like Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of the N.Y.U. Langone Transplant Institute who performed the breakthrough procedure in September.

“I certainly understand the concern and what I would say is that currently about 40% of patients who are waiting for a transplant die before they receive one,” he told BBC.

“We use pigs as a source of food, we use pigs for medicinal uses – for valves, for medication. I think it’s not that different.”

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

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