Tuesday, March 24, 2015

New Hampshire fourth-graders' hawk bill provokes abortion comment

A civics lesson took an unexpected turn for a group of New Hampshire fourth-graders when a lawmaker brought the abortion debate into their effort to name a state raptor.

The students from Lincoln H. Akerman School in Hampton Falls worked during class and on their own time to craft a bill to make the red-tailed hawk the official state raptor. They got a sponsor for it, got the bill through a House of Representatives committee and then watched from the House gallery last week to see if it would pass.

Rep. Warren Groen, a Republican from Rochester, rose to speak on the measure, which was defeated.

"It grasps them with its talons and then uses its razor-sharp beak to rip its victims to shreds, to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood," Groen said.

Principal Mark Deblois said Thursday that he has heard from parents whose kids asked what Planned Parenthood is and why it was invoked in a discussion about hawks.

"None of the kids got those (abortion) references," he said. "Fortunately they didn't, because it's such a disgusting reference. But certainly that led to questions about what did that mean."

Groen defended his comments and chastised critics for being outraged by his comments but not by abortion.

"The gallery is open to the public and there are children in the gallery every day," he said. "I don't know if we should limit free speech or limit the attendance in the gallery. It seems either one would be bad for transparency in government."

Other lawmakers joked that they were representing a constituent named "The Big Chicken" or ridiculed the bill as silly, saying the state would next be naming an official hot dog. Those comments affected the students more than the Planned Parenthood comment, Deblois said.

"Obviously, they were disappointed that their bill didn't pass, but it was just the manner in which they say the bill was debated, when they saw people stand up and say these just appalling things," Deblois said. "That (the abortion reference) was probably less than the gentlemen who stood up and made jokes. That was almost more upsetting to them because they understood those references. Why didn't they take us seriously? Why were people laughing?"


Pledge of Allegiance Read in Arabic, Causing Uproar at New York High School

Administrators at a New York state high school are apologizing after the Pledge of Allegiance was recited in Arabic on Wednesday morning, offending some students and their families.

In a letter posted online, officials at Pine Bush High School in the hamlet of Pine Bush explained that students were supposed to give the pledge in different languages to celebrate National Foreign Language week. But they acknowledged the controversy that has divided students because the pledge was not done in English.

"We sincerely apologize to any students, staff or community members who found this activity offensive," the statement said. "In our school District the Pledge of Allegiance will only be recited in English as recommended by the Commissioner of Education."

Schools Superintendent Joan Carbone did not immediately return a request for comment to NBC News on Thursday, but she told the Times Herald-Record that state education department regulations mandate the Pledge of Allegiance be recited in English.

She also said she fielded complaints from residents upset that the reading was in Arabic, including from Jewish parents and those who said they lost family members in Afghanistan, the newspaper said.

Andrew Zink, Pine Bush's senior class president, normally reads the morning announcements, and told NBC News that he consented when a teacher asked another student to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. There were talks about having the pledge read in Japanese, French and Spanish this week as well.

Zink, 18, said Thursday that he was "fired" from doing the morning announcements but was not told why. "Even if I had said no to having it read in Arabic, they might have just done it anyways," Zink said.

"But I chose to say yes because it was about making a point: What makes you American is not the language you speak, but the ideas you believe in," he said, adding that he would "do it again."


Russian and Chinese pupils moving into Britain's State schools too

Private schools have long awarded places to foreign pupils to bring in extra income. Now it seems the same is happening in state education.

Around 1,000 youngsters from China and Russia are paying up to £15,000 a year to attend a handful of England's best state sixth-form colleges, it was claimed yesterday.

Dozens more such colleges are understood to be considering recruiting from abroad in the future.

While charging pupils to attend state schools is against the Department for Education's admissions code, different rules are thought to apply to standalone state-funded sixth-forms.

Some college heads say that without the extra income they would have to reduce teacher numbers because of a nationwide schools funding crisis.

But there are concerns that the practice will leave fewer places available for local pupils.

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: 'Some state schools are now behaving like businesses and taking advantage of the voracious ambitions of Chinese and other overseas students. 'The downside is that British students may be squeezed out of places that would be valuable to them.

'Chinese pupils are remarkably successful. Whether it's because they are driven on by tiger mothers or a fear of job insecurity ... they have the ambition and work ethic to get excellent exam results and enter our top universities.'

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, which represents nearly 100 sixth form colleges in England, said foreign pupils produced much-needed money.

He told the Sunday Times: 'In terms of the income it is phenomenal and a lot of schools that have been hit by public sector cuts are seduced by that.'

Richard Huish College in Taunton, Somerset, which was recently rated 'outstanding' in an Ofsted inspection, told the newspaper it has about 60 overseas pupils in the sixth form, most from mainland China.  The college is understood to be building a new boarding house to allow the number to increase to 120.

Principal John Abbott, said the school received £4,560 a year for a British pupil from state funding but charged £12,000 for overseas pupils, a sum that will rise to £15,000 next year.

He said: 'They provide wonderful additional financial income. We have not been immune to the public sector cuts. Their academic results are fantastic too, especially in maths, science and economics — better than those of the British students.'

Peter Symonds Sixth Form College in Winchester, Hampshire, which sends a large number of pupils to Oxford, is reportedly considering enrolling overseas pupils from 2017. It is understood families of foreign pupils would be charged about £15,000 a year.

The college said: 'Like other schools we are cash-strapped and charging for overseas students would help a lot.'

Figures published last year showed 24,391 non-British pupils whose parents lived overseas were enrolled in the 1,257 schools that were members of the Independent Schools Council.

Of those, 19 per cent were from Hong Kong and 18 per cent were from mainland China.

The Department for Education said that some colleges, depending on their status, were allowed to admit and charge overseas students.

In February, David Cameron admitted that state school spending per pupil would fall in real terms under a future Conservative government.

Mr Cameron said that while the overall amount spent on schools would rise, spending per pupil would not increase in line with inflation.

Campaigners say the money schools receive has not kept pace with inflation over the past five years and many areas of England receive inadequate levels of funding due to an outdated formula of allocations.

According to ASCL, over the next 18 months their budgets will be stretched further by a rise in costs of about 4.5 per cent because of increases to pension and national insurance contributions, and pay rises.


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