Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Confederate flags fly at Hurricane High School

One day last week at Hurricane High School, in the part of the parking lot nearest to Teays Valley Road, eight Confederate flags on six pickup trucks waved to passing drivers.

A couple of students have done it for a while, they said, but more started after the Confederate flag was removed from the state capitol in South Carolina this summer.

On Sept. 11, one student decided he had had enough. Police say the student used a box cutter to shred Confederate flags on other students’ trucks at a football game. He was suspended from school, and Hurricane Police Chief Mike Mullins said soon after the incident that police would probably file a juvenile petition in circuit court for destruction of property.

“He admitted to doing it and advised that he was offended by the flag,” said Mullins, who has not returned recent calls from the Gazette-Mail. The student and his mother would not agree to an interview.

Cody Barker, 19, was waiting this week for his friends to get out of school in the section of the Hurricane High parking lot that he called the “redneck station.”

“They all were going to fight him,” Barker said of the student who cut up the flag. “They weren’t too happy about it.”

Some schools ban the Confederate flags on clothes or vehicles, and have attempted to use flag controversies to explain why the flags are divisive and can be viewed as a symbol of hate. More have banned them since June 17, when nine black people were killed in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a man who posed with the flag in photos.

The debate holds more significance at Hurricane High, where a decade ago, a federal judge ruled that the school could not ban the Confederate flag. In that case, U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver ended the ban at Hurricane High, in part because the overwhelmingly white school did not have a history of racial tension or violence.

The judge ruled in favor of Frankie Bragg, an 18-year-old senior who regularly wore Confederate flag T-shirts to school. He said he wore them to honor his southern heritage.

Copenhaver wrote that he lifted the school’s ban on Confederate flags because the school had not had “flag-based physical violence between students, a pervasive background of demonstrated racial hostility or the involvement of any hate groups aligned on either side of a serious racial divide.” Without that racial turmoil, the school did not have the right to trample on Bragg’s First Amendment right to express himself freely, he ruled.

Hurricane High’s principal at the time, Joyce Vessey Swanson, had fought to keep the ban in place and said she had seen students at other Putnam County schools use the flag to harass black students.

Putnam schools spokeswoman Rudi Raynes said the county doesn’t have a policy regarding the Confederate flag, but directed a reporter to the 2005 court decision.

“Basically the ruling in that case was as long as the student was not being disruptive, intimidating anyone or trampling on the civil rights of others, they do have the freedom of speech,” she said.

Raynes said she didn’t know if students at Hurricane High were currently flying Confederate flags, and she could not comment on student suspensions. Putnam schools Superintendent Chuck Hatfield and Hurricane High Principal Richard Campbell did not return calls from the Gazette-Mail.

Hurricane students who fly the flags said they see the flags as an homage to Confederate heritage. They also said they feel like their free speech is being stifled.

School administrators have made them roll and zip-tie their flags, the students said, but the flags were flying free as traffic went by and students exited the building Wednesday afternoon.

Although they were quick to say the flags are not meant to send a message about race, the students seemed acutely aware that some people were taking them that way.

Thomas Joyce turned around to show the phrase “Heritage Not Hate” emblazoned on his shirt.  He said the wind must have unrolled his flag, one of which also read, “heritage not hate.”

Kailey Young rides home with her brother, who usually flies one on his vehicle.  “My stepdad’s black,” she said. “I would still fly one. We’re not doing it against black people at all.”

Other students didn’t agree. “I think they’re terrible and they shouldn’t be up because they’re offensive,” said Andrew O’Dell, a senior. “It’s like flying a swastika.”

Jamie Lynn Crofts, an attorney for the ACLU of West Virginia, noted that since the 2005 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, has upheld a Confederate flag ban at a public high school in South Carolina. In that case, Hardwick v. Heyward, the court noted examples of racial tension and found that school officials could reasonably predict disruption caused by a student wearing Confederate shirts.

“Although students’ expression of their views and opinions is an important part of the educational process and receives some First Amendment protection, the right of students to speak in school is limited by the need for school officials to ensure order, protect the rights of other students, and promote the school’s educational mission,” the decision read. The 4th Circuit is also the federal appeals court for West Virginia.

Several people upset about the flags at Hurricane High have suggested contacting the ACLU — not realizing the ACLU actually represented Bragg, the Confederate flag shirt-wearing student, in 2005.

“It’s not a Confederate flag issue,” Crofts said. “It’s a free speech issue.”

Hurricane High student Brent Price said he saw the student running near the trucks after slicing the flags with the box cutter at the football game. The flag on his own truck had been removed from the bed of the truck and tossed to the ground, he said.

He said he saw the student put a shirt on over a tank top, apparently to disguise himself, and Price ran over and lifted up the shirt, then told police.

“He hasn’t been back (to school),” Price said.

Price was asked why he flies the flag on his truck.

“Because people tell us we can’t,” he said.


You needn't be Christian to be head of Church of England school

Church of England schools are struggling to find enough Christian headteachers.

Primaries and secondaries are being forced instead to recruit ‘from other faiths or none at all’.

Practising Christians are in short supply for all teaching posts and those taken on must show only that they are ‘on board’ with CofE values.

In a ‘needs analysis’ report, the Church’s education office warns of a potential demographic time bomb with an increasingly elderly cohort of school leaders.

It says it needs to recruit significant numbers of strong heads, particularly in ‘hard to reach’ rural and coastal areas.

The document says: ‘Recruitment of school leaders with the necessary understanding and commitment is proving increasingly difficult, and sometimes impossible.

‘Many dioceses have become more flexible around the requirement that headteachers need to be practising Christians and can reference successful church school heads who are from other faiths or none at all but are able to maintain a clear vision for education.

‘However, in the long term there is a risk to the vision if sufficient numbers of teachers and school leaders with a deep understanding of and engagement with the Church of England cannot be deployed.’

The report also notes the danger of CofE schools being forced to join multi-academy trusts with no church affiliation. ‘In these cases the school’s vision and religious character may be at serious risk,’ it says.

Interviews with staff reveal that fewer and fewer senior leaders are willing to step up into the top jobs.

Some are deterred by the extra pressure and accountability, while there is also ‘a perception from outside that it may be more difficult to be a headteacher in a Church of England school’.

The Manchester diocese had reported no problems with recruitment, but more rural dioceses, including Exeter and Norwich, have had trouble.

The report argued for a training programme to recruit potential teachers who are ‘sympathetic to the Church’s vision for education’. It also recommended developing marketing materials for teachers outlining the benefits of leading church schools.

CofE schools are able to ask for ‘Christian commitment’ as one of the criteria used in making staff appointments to ensure the religious character of the school is maintained.

In voluntary controlled and foundation schools, governors may also ask how potential headteachers will maintain and develop the Christian character and ethos of the school.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, of the Accord Coalition, which campaigns to end religious discrimination in school staffing and admissions, said: ‘The growing number of Church of England schools that are appointing senior staff from outside the faith is encouraging.’


Group of Eight universities: End Australia's 'broken, mediocre' research system

Excellence must be recognized.  Not all research is equal. The Group of Eight is Australia's approach to an Ivy League

Australia will not develop the innovative economy envisaged by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull unless it stops rewarding mediocrity and ditches a culture of "every child gets a prize", the nation's most prestigious universities argue.

The Group of Eight universities – including the University of Sydney and University of Melbourne – is urging the federal government to fix the country's "broken" research funding system by targeting taxpayer funds at research judged to be of high quality.

This includes a contentious push for $680 million in annual funding for PhD and master's research to be restricted to institutions rated at or above world standard in their chosen fields.

The change would hit suburban and regional universities the hardest, leading to warnings it would entrench the privilege of elite institutions.

Go8 chief executive Vicki Thomson said: "Australia's research funding system is broken: it is over-complicated and rewards research that is below world standard.

"We are using scarce taxpayer dollars on research that is frankly mediocre.  "Instead of an egalitarian, 'every child gets a prize' approach we should be funding excellence.

"You wouldn't fund a mediocre sportsperson in the hope they can go on to win a gold medal. The Australian Institute of Sport takes athletes and invests in them because they believe they can be excellent. That's the approach we should take to research."

The Turnbull government has a slew of reviews under way including into: research funding and policy; research training; research infrastructure; and boosting the commercial returns of research.

Ms Thomson said: "It is fantastic to see the Prime Minister talk about innovation, and the key to a more innovative economy is university research and training."

Ms Thomson said 98 per cent of research at the Go8 universities is judged world standard or above, according to the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) rankings. By contrast, 38 per cent of research at non-Go8 universities is judged as below world standard.

The Go8 approach would see the University of Western Sydney and University of Newcastle lose funding for PhD research in the physical sciences, Macquarie University and La Trobe University for mathematics and Charles Sturt University for history.

Universities judged as excellent in their research fields – such as James Cook University for tropical science or the University of Tasmania for oceanography – would continue to receive funding.

Australian National University vice-chancellor Ian Young said in a speech earlier this month: "My concern is that we don't target our research investment in areas of demonstrable excellence and hence our average research performance trails our national peers.

"One has to ask if Australia's more egalitarian approaches represent good use of scarce research funding and whether it yields the country the best outcomes."

Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven said he supported universities focusing on their research strengths, but accused the Go8 of self-interest.  "The argument from the Group of Eight on research is essentially: let's give rich universities all the money," he said.

"That ignores the fact that some of these universities have been around for 150 years and have had a big head start with support from the taxpayer."

Regional Universities Network chairwoman Jan Thomas said the group opposed using "narrow" research scores to allocate funding. The scores were retrospective, didn't adequately recognise engagement with industry and ignored the strategic importance of research in regional Australia, she said.

Professor Thomas said research funding should be more focused on creating links between researchers and the private sector, including by creating new PhD scholarships for industry-based research and more funding for joint university-industry research projects.

Australia ranks 29th and 30th out of 30 developed countries on the proportion of large and small businesses collaborating with higher education and public research institutions on innovation, according to the OECD.


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