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Saugerties High School Teacher Reassigned After Handing Out Divisive Writing Assignment about George Floyd

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The Saugerties Central School District reassigned Saugerties High School’s ninth-grade English teacher Hope Antonelli while they investigate a writing assignment that spread false information about George Floyd‘s death.

What We Know:

  • Antonelli asked her students to create a paragraph with bold “thematic” statements in the Regents exam format and use phrases like “it is evident,” “it is clear,” and “it is obvious.” She told her class to defend one of two prompts through their writing.
  • The first example claimed that Floyd died of a heart attack and drug overdose, not because Derek Chauvin put his knee on Floyd’s neck. The second example focused on juror Brandon Mitchell and whether or not Chauvin should get a new trial; she wrote that new “evidence” showed that Mitchell could not have been communicating how he really felt about police officers and may have lied about his participation in Black Lives Matter rallies. Although Antonelli eventually revised the prompt, it still showed evident racial bias, declared Saugerties Central School District Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt.
  • One mother, Sakinah Irizarry, posted a screenshot of the instructions on Facebook. “Saugerties continues to make a name for itself with teachers like this,” she captioned. “Who wants to take bets on it making the national news?”

  • Reinhardt and other district officials learned of the task when a student brought it to their attention because she felt uncomfortable. The school district quickly took initiative in punishing Antonelli. In a May 12 statement to the community, Reinhardt announced the district would investigate the prompt. In addition, he ensured the Saugerties citizens the district takes allegations like Antonelli’s “very seriously.” He also reminded readers of the existing procedures under the Dignity for All Students Act (“DASA”) policy.
  • Alongside reassuring parents, Reinhardt immediately reassigned Antonelli to a different school while the district reviews the case. He let the public know the school was “within the district” and she will continue working in her “tenured area.” However, he did not inform anyone of her new institution or how long the investigation would take.
  • The reassignment garnered mixed reviews from Saugerties parents. For example, Town Board member John Schoonmaker, two candidates for Town Board, and some parents demanded the school district fire Antonelli. Justine Gauckler, a mother of three and two-year member of the diversity committee, told the Times Herald-Record that even though she wanted Antonelli suspended and immediate racial bias training, she was happy the teacher was out of the classroom. Justine Tomkiell, another mother of three told Daily Freeman she believes the reassignment will carve a path toward correcting discrimination in the education system.

Antonelli’s fate in the Saugerties Central School District is currently unknown. Reinhardt declared he would not discuss that subject to avoid controversy. He also noted that he does not know how difficult it is to remove any tenured unionized member. “I’m sure there’s due process and protocol,” he said. Black News Alert will provide more information when it becomes available.

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Crime

Classes canceled at Howard University as US Government investigates ransomware cyberattack

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Howard University officials along with leading cyber experts are trying to assess what has been compromised in an active ransomware, cyberattack on the HBCU campus. Officials have deemed the attack criminal.

What We Know:

  • Monday, the university issued a statement to faculty and students that “the service disruption was caused by a ransomware cyberattack against the university.”
  • Classes have been canceled for Tuesday and Wednesday. Students have been notified that online and hybrid classes will remain canceled and only essential staff will be allowed on campus. All in-person undergraduate, graduate, professional, and clinical experiential courses will resume as scheduled on Wednesday.
  • A ransomware attack can be triggered by simple, everyday activity. Opening a unintended link inside of can lead to a cyberattack.  Computer, tablet and phone users are encouraged to change their passwords and security questions regularly.

Howard University is home to several notable high profile Black alumni such as Chadwick Boseman and Phylicia Rashad.

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Education

Howard University installs Chadwick Boseman’s name on College of Fine Arts building

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The “Black Panther” star is seen as an “icon in his own right who has left an immeasurable legacy for the next generation,” the university said.

What We Know:

“Yesterday, the letters were installed over the now official Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts,” the school said in a tweet Friday. “An icon in his own right who has left an immeasurable legacy for the next generation. Thank you Mr. Boseman.”

  • Howard University first announced in May that it would rename its performing and visual arts school after the ‘Black Panther’ star who also happens to be an alumnus of the school.
  • Boseman graduated from Howard in 2000 with a bachelor of arts degree in directing. During his time at the school, Boseman led a student protest against the absorption of the College of Fine Arts into the larger College of Arts & Sciences, according to the university.

In 2018, the year Boseman rocketed to international fame as King T’Challa in the Marvel cinematic universe, the university announced that its performing and visual arts school would return to its independent status.

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Education

Education Department Will Erase $5.8 Billion in Loans For Borrowers With Disabilities

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The Department of Education (DOE) announced it would eliminate the outstanding loans of over 32,000 borrowers with significant, permanent disabilities. It will also remove barriers that block future students from qualifying for this relief.

What We Know:

  • The DOE’s declaration erases approximately $5.8 million in debt. In addition, NPR writes that it symbolizes a “significant step” toward improving a “troubled debt relief program meant to help borrowers with disabilities.” U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona confirmed this statement when the Education Department revealed its decision, stating it would remove a major barrier for disabled students.

“Today’s action removes a major barrier that prevented far too many borrowers with disabilities from receiving the total and permanent disability discharges they are entitled to under the law,” Cardona said.

  • Despite the program’s intention to wipe student loans of those who cannot work due to disabilities, those who qualified for the program needed to apply for relief. Under the new plan, students will obtain automatic relief when identified through a data match with the Social Security Administration. The next match will take place in September.
  • In addition, the Department of Education said it would propose to eliminate the three-year income monitoring period. Officials will stop sending requests to borrowers for income information during the aforementioned years. Furthermore, the DOE will consider removing it entirely during the upcoming negotiated rule-making.
  • Disabled students and advocates believe this will bring change to the program. Persis Yu, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, said the vote is “long overdue.” However, Yu hopes the Education Department will review the eligibility criteria to determine when someone holds a disability discharge.

Yu added that Social Security’s match does not identify some qualified borrowers.

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