Thursday, April 30, 2015

Falsely accused male college student strikes back

A COLUMBIA University student in New York has sued the school, saying it failed to protect him against harassment when a female student went public with claims he raped her after school and law enforcement authorities rejected her case.

The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court by Paul Nungesser, a German citizen who said one-time friend Emma Sulkowicz has repeatedly and publicly called him a “serial rapist,” resulting in national and international media attention.

Defendants include the school, its board of trustees, President Lee C. Bollinger and Professor Jon Kessler. The lawsuit sought unspecified damages.

“Columbia University’s effective sponsorship of the gender-based harassment and defamation of Paul resulted in an intimidating, hostile, demeaning ... learning and living environment,” the lawsuit said.

Roger Hornsby, a Columbia spokesman, said the school had no comment.

Email messages requesting comment from Mr Bollinger and Mr Kessler were not immediately returned. The suit was filed three days after a judge tossed out another gender-based lawsuit brought by a male student against Columbia University.

In his lawsuit, Mr Nungesser said a Columbia-owned website had presented as fact that he sexually assaulted Ms Sulkowicz. It said that the school allowed Sulkowicz to carry a mattress into classes, the library and campus-provided transportation as part of her senior thesis, that Prof Kessler approved the “Mattress Project” for her course credit and that Sulkowicz’s pledge to carry her mattress to graduation may prevent Mr Nungesser and his parents, who’d like to fly from Germany, from participating in graduation ceremonies.

“Day-to-day life is unbearably stressful, as Emma and her mattress parade around campus each and every day,” the suit said.

As a result of publicity that resulted in media reports in 35 countries, the lawsuit said, Mr Nungesser “has been subjected to severe, pervasive ... and threatening behaviour by other Columbia students, believing that Paul is a ‘serial rapist,’ whenever Paul has appeared at university activities.”

The complaint also said he wants to stay in the United States, where he has been dating a girlfriend for over a year, and is seeking consulting work in New York, though job prospects have been “severely jeopardised” by the school’s support of Ms Sulkowicz.

In an email responding to a request for comment, Ms Sulkowicz wrote: “I think it’s ridiculous that Paul would sue not only the school but one of my past professors for allowing me to make an art piece.

“It’s ridiculous that he would read it as a ‘bullying strategy,’ especially given his continued public attempts to smear my reputation, when really it’s just an artistic expression of the personal trauma I’ve experienced at Columbia. If artists are not allowed to make art that reflect on our experiences, then how are we to heal?”

Ms Sulkowicz has argued her case was badly mishandled by the school disciplinary panel after she reported in 2013 she was raped in her dorm months before. She was among 23 students who sued Columbia last year, saying it mishandled sexual assault cases. She also attended President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January at the invitation of Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.


UK: Parents anger after children as young as THREE told to sign contract promising not to use 'transphobic language'

Children as young as three are being asked to sign a contract pledging not to use transphobic language at school.

The pledge is contained in a ‘home-school agreement’ which all children must sign before they start at Turnham Primary School in September.

The infants must also promise to refrain from using homophobic and racist phrases and to be tolerant of people with different sexual orientations and lifestyles. Each child must print their name and provide a signature to confirm that they understand their ‘responsibilities’ while attending the school.

It is understood that teachers at the South-East London school introduced the document to help stamp out playground prejudice against transgender people and a wide range of disabilities and cultures.

But yesterday the chairman of governors said that they knew nothing about the change to the contract, which was also dismissed as ‘bonkers’ by parents who said pre-school children could not be expected to understand such complex issues.

The contract was sent to parents last week along with the letters offering a place at the school. It reads: ‘We believe that every child can and should reach their full potential. This is achieved when all staff, parents and children understand their responsibilities and work together towards the same goals, as detailed in our home-school agreement.’

In a list of responsibilities for pupils to sign is a clause which states pupils will be tolerant of ‘sexual orientation or lifestyle and refrain from using racist or homophobic or transphobic language in school’.

The contract does not say what will happen to pupils who disobey the clauses.

Yesterday, one mother said: ‘My son is three yet he is meant to pledge not to use “transphobic” language.

‘How am I meant to explain it to my three-year-old that he must sign on the dotted line not to do something which he is not even aware exists when he can barely hold a crayon? This just fills me with dread about what sort of politically correct, tick-box bureaucracy runs this school.

‘I agree that teachers need to be made aware of transgender issues as it affects a number of children who suffer in silence, but to make three-year-olds sign up to something they do not even know exists is bonkers.’

Turnham Primary is a foundation school, which means it is funded by the Government through Labour-run Lewisham Council, which yesterday refused to comment on the matter. The school, led by executive head teacher Selina Sharpe, also declined to comment.

Yesterday, Robert Mapp, chairman of governors, said he was not aware of ‘the change in format’ to the home-school agreement.

He said Miss Sharpe was an ‘interim executive head’ at Turnham, adding: ‘Given she is a Lewisham Council employee who was personally referred to Turnham Primary Foundation School by the executive director for children and young people, Frankie Sulke, I am surprised the local authority have elected not to comment on the matter once.

‘On behalf of the governing body I would like to sincerely apologise for any offence or distress caused to our parents and pupils. Until I have held a full inquiry into the matter, I am not in a position to make any further comment.’

The controversy comes in the wake of the Coalition’s British Values drive, which requires all schools to teach tolerance of other faiths and lifestyles. It was introduced last year in response to the Trojan Horse scandal, which saw schools in Birmingham allegedly infiltrated by Muslim hardliners hoping to impose an Islamic agenda.

But since then, schools have complained they have been penalised by Ofsted for failing to meet the criteria. Two Christian schools in the North East said pupils were asked ‘inappropriate’ questions on race and sexuality – and branded intolerant when they gave the wrong answers. One ten-year-old girl was left in tears after inspectors allegedly asked her ‘whether she felt trapped in someone else’s body’.

Two years ago Turnham Primary came to national attention when Cliff Pearce, then chairman of governors, claimed expenses for travel to the school for meetings from his home in Menorca in Spain.


Another West Virginia County Cracks Down on Testing Opt Outs

Freedom and Independence? Ha! Nice one, Harrison

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a county in West Virginia was trying to intimidate students who wanted to opt out of the standardized testing mandated under Common Core standards. Despite assurances from the State Superintendent of Education that there were no consequences to students for opting out, schools were fearing a loss of funding, and therefore overreacting to parents exercising their rights by singling out and pressuring students to comply.

Unfortunately, it seems the situation has gotten worse. The Superintendent in Harrison County, one Mark Manchin, has gone public with his anti-opt out position.

“We simply cannot allow them to opt out,” he said on the Mike Queen Show, “or decide that they don’t want to participate in the statewide assessment.” Manchin went on to say that he had given school principals the authority to discipline students at their discretion for failing to take the test, which, it should be repeated, the State Superintendent said they were allowed to refuse.

The county is classifying the decision to opt out as “insubordination” and applying appropriate disciplinary measures, although Manchin stopped short of detailing exactly what these might be.

This kind of county-by-county tyranny further underscores the need for more school choice in West Virginia. If a school denies the student’s right to opt out of a test, the student should be able to opt out of that school and pursue education in a county that values parental choice more highly. As things stand, students are forced into schools based on where they live, and depending on the county, are forced into tests that neither they nor their parents think are beneficial to their educations.

Superintendent Manchin attempted to underscore his point with a powerful, albeit misguided hypothetical:

“What if a parent doesn’t like another decision that we make here? They’re going to, unilaterally, to allow their student to opt out of disciplinary issues, or other issues that we have at the school system and [the administration] allow that to take place?”

What if, indeed? Maybe people would get the education they actually want instead of that which the government decides to ram down their throats. Education should not be a battle of teachers against parents, but rather should be a collaborative search to find the best, most effective methods for each individual child. The adversarial relationship these centralized standards are creating is one of the most potent objections to Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessments.


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