16 Who Defined 2016: Amy Joyner-Francis

amy-joyner-francis

April 21st was a very dark day for Delaware.  Amy Joyner-Francis was beaten in a bathroom at Howard Technical High School in Wilmington leading to her death shortly after.  Delaware didn’t have a death like this in one of our schools since 1973.  For weeks, Delaware citizens felt the impact of Amy’s death.

What happened to Amy that day led to much-needed discussion about school safety and climate in The First State.  The perpetrators of the incident, Trinity Carr, Zion Snow, and Chakeira Wright faced criminal charges.  Snow and Wright were charged as conspirators while primary charges were filed against Carr but a judge ruled she would be tried as a juvenile.  The trial will take place in April 2017.  Many Delaware citizens felt the charges against Carr should have been bigger.  At a maximum, if found guilty of criminally negligent homicide, Carr, 16, would face community service and therapy until the age of 19.

The cause of death ruled by the medical examiner kicked off controversy.  The examiner ruled that Amy had a pre-existing heart condition which led to her death, not the severe beating she received from Carr.  Many in the field disputed these findings.

The most disturbing part about Amy’s death was the fact that many students watched this go down in a high school bathroom and did nothing.  By the time a teacher got there, it was too late for Amy.  Not touched on by major media was the fact that school monitors did not respond to the situation fast enough (if at all) and that most teachers were involved in a training class at the time of the incident.  Governor Markell issued a brief response to the murder as he went on his “Common Core Tour” at a Delaware school far away from the crime.  The New Castle County Vo-Tech School District held a press conference hours after the death proclaiming that their schools were safe.

In the first week of the incident, conflicting reports about what happened flooded online media, including this blog.  Debates over what happened, and some tried to profit off Amy’s death.  As her family and friends struggled to deal with her death, the media onslaught continued.  News quickly came out that the beating was filmed by students along with pictures taken on cell phones.  An entire state grieved for Amy.  For Amy, her life was tragically cut short in an environment where this should have never happened.  Over seven months later, her death still makes no sense…

I ask that all continue to pray for Amy’s family and friends as they face the holidays, especially her parents.  No parent should outlive their child and it is a weight that will never leave them.

Vo-Tech Vicki Sticking Around Another Couple Of Years

It looks like New Castle County Vo-Tech Superintendent Dr. Vicki Gehrt has renewed her contract for another two years.  Last summer, Dr. Gehrt wanted to start the process early for her contract renewal, but the board didn’t really want to jump the gun.  This reverberated into a tumultuous board meeting where the board was going in and out of executive session while Gehrt was visibly upset.  But it appears whatever issues were going on have been ironed out and Gehrt will be sticking around the vocational New Castle school district.

I have to wonder who else may have had their eyes on the prize?

Judge Sends A Dangerous Message In Carr Ruling For Amy’s Murder & The District’s Role In The Events

While a judge’s ruling in how Amy Joyner-Francis’ murderer will be tried sparks controversy, the role the New Castle County Vo-Tech School District may have played has been silent and ignored.

According to The News Journal last Friday, Delaware Family Court Judge Robert Coonin made a ruling in how Trinity Carr will be tried in the murder of Amy Joyner-Francis, the high school student who died after an assault at Howard High School of Technology.  Carr will be tried as a juvenile, not an adult.  In most likelihood, the maximum sentence Carr would receive, if found guilty, would be “community supervision and treatment until age 19” as per the News Journal article written by Jessica Massulli Reyes.

Judge Coonin also ruled Amy’s fingernails were more likely ripped out trying to fend the attack as the video showed her grabbing Carr as her murderer was being pulled away from her.  Coonin said there was insufficient evidence to suggest Carr lacked remorse because she did not know she had killed Amy after the fight.

None of this will likely give Amy’s family any feeling of justice.  I am very uncomfortable with Carr essentially walking the streets.  Her actions, and I don’t care what anyone says about a pre-existing condition that is suspect at best, led to the death of a sweet teenager.  Carr’s Sunday School activity doesn’t erase her actions that day.  No, I don’t think Carr should get the death penalty, but this sends a bad message to the youth of Delaware.  A very dangerous and bad message.

The heart of the ruling deals with Carr’s age.  She is sixteen years old.  Technically, she is a minor.  The Delaware Attorney General’s Office had extreme issues with the planning that went on before the assault on Amy.  The length of the assault, the viciousness of it, and the physical results of the attack were foremost in their mind in issuing charges.  Revealed at Carr’s first hearing on the matter was the unrevealed pulling out of Amy’s fingernails.  Coonin ruled they were a result of Amy trying to protect herself based on video footage.  While this could be true, it also points out a desperation on Amy’s part to save herself.  Which swings back around to the viciousness of the attack.

We have heard the tales of “bloodlust” in people.  Where they go beyond the point of reason and brutal savagery takes over.  I have to believe that most people make a conscious choice to cross that line in their mind.  What Carr did is not a normal choice unless she made certain decisions during the timeline of events.  This was planned in advance, the day before.  But there are situations where she may not have been able to make that final choice where rage took over.  Coonin’s ruling gives teenagers a very false idea that they could get away with something like this.  While it is my fervent hope it would not, the minds of teenagers are very different than those of an adult.  I highly doubt this would come out even if it were the case, but what if Carr has a disability?  What if she was on medication that had an adverse affect on the neurology of her brain?  I have no idea if this is the case or not, I am merely questioning a possibility.  While this would not justify her final actions in my mind because of the premeditation behind it, this could potentially lead to important questions that need to be addressed.

How aware was the school of the feud between Carr and Amy?  Should they have been aware?  As part of our bullying laws in Delaware, social media is addressed in those laws.  But how much monitoring of that social media takes place?  No one can see everything at once.  That would be impossible.  But one thing I haven’t ever heard is the possibility of having a school narc to monitor things like this, especially in schools where there are higher incidents of fights and inappropriate touching.  Someone who could keep abreast of things like this.  Hearing the buzz so to speak and acting on it.  There have been narc’s for drugs in schools.  Why not bullying or threats that result in vicious fights or, as an extreme, a student’s death.

What is the school’s role in this tragedy?  I’ve reported before that many teachers at Howard High School of Technology were involved in professional development that morning.  While not completely verified, the role of hall monitors has been very spotty at this school according to several sources wishing to remain anonymous.  Yes, testimony has come out that a teacher did get to the bathroom and heard Amy’s final words.  But how much time elapsed between the point when a bunch of students were running into a bathroom, Carr confronted Amy, pulled her by the hair into a bathroom stall, Amy resisted, and Carr was able to punch and kick Amy over twenty times?  This is something the school would know.  But they aren’t talking.  Some of that could be because this is a criminal investigation and they simply can’t talk about it.  But I have to believe that if teachers were present, and not in professional development at 8 or 8:30 in the morning, this tragedy could have been averted.  I don’t blame the teachers for this, I blame the administration.  While the true fault lies with Carr, the school’s actions, while intentional or not, did lead to Amy’s death.  And this is the thing no one else is talking about publicly.  If this were outside of school, this wouldn’t even be an issue.  But this happened inside a school building, filled with adults.

While I tend to doubt the New Castle County Vo-Tech School District would ever publicly address this aspect to Amy’s death, I sincerely hope this evolves into discussions with their board and district staff.  It may have already happened.  There is a public task force on school safety happening in Delaware.  I hope changes occur that would allow for something like this to never happen again, not only in their schools, but all Delaware schools.  We owe it to Amy, and all those who have been victim to any kind of vicious assault or murder, to try.  If anything like this could be in any way prevented by the local school authority, we need to look at all scheduling aspects, how much security we may or may not need in our schools, and some type of apparatus to watch student’s actions to see if a crisis could happen.  This is something our schools should have always been doing.  It should not take the death of Amy to finally make our students the safest they can possibly be.

The School Safety Committee is meeting tonight at the Friends of Woodlawn Library, 2020 W. 9th St., in Wilmington, Delaware, at 6pm.  While I am unable to make it, and I know this is late notice, but I would try to attend if you can.  Don’t be afraid to give public comment.  Someone’s life could very well depend on it.

Hearing Gives Details About The Amy Joyner-Francis Murder With Victim’s Last Words

They jumped me.  They snuck me. -the last words from Amy Joyner-Francis

Yesterday, a Family Court hearing in Delaware convened to decide whether or not Trinity Carr should be tried as an adult in the murder of Amy-Joyner Francis.  Disturbing evidence came out during the hearing solidifying the theory that Carr,  Zion Snow, and Chakeira Wright planned the attack for 20 hours before the fight.

The News Journal gave a very gruesome detailing of the outcome of the paragraph in their lead which appeared in print today:

A fatal attack in which Howard High School of Technology sophomore Amy Inita Joyner-Francis was punched in the head two dozen times and had her fingernails ripped out started because of a group text message, a Wilmington police detective said in court Monday.

The State News did not mention the fingernails being ripped out in their lead, but did give more weight to the blows against Amy…

A cellphone video of a high school restroom fight that left a 16-year-old Delaware girl dead shows the victim on the ground, struggling to fight back and escape as she is repeatedly hit and kicked in the head while her assailant holds on to her hair.

If I had to guess, the part about the fingernails played a huge role in the decision of prosecutors to try Carr as an adult.   This was a very vicious and brutal attack.  For someone to drag a teenager by the hair, punch and kick her in the head over twenty times, and tear out her fingernails… that takes a viciousness and callousness with an intent to seriously harm or kill someone.  But what astonished me even more was the fact that a math teacher, who found Amy in the bathroom and heard her last words, had to run to get a nurse.  Where were all the students who witnessed a classmate getting seriously hurt to the eventual point of death?  Why did none of them, upon witnessing this scene, run to grab a nurse?

Details emerged, according to The News Journal article, that Carr showed no remorse upon learning of Amy’s death…

Deputy Attorney General Theresa Sedevic, however, said that even after Carr learned of her death at the Wilmington police station hours later, Carr blamed Joyner-Francis for the attack and was upset only that the incident would mess up her chances of getting a nursing degree.

The murder occurred inside a Delaware school, Howard High School of Technology.  A source within the district, who wished to remain anonymous, told me the district pretends like the murder never happened.  No one talks about it.  This source felt like the New Castle County Vo-Tech district moved on and forgot about what happened.

I have never bought this bad theory that an unknown heart condition was the cause of her death.  Amy died because someone killed her.  Plain and simple.  Even though the articles talked about how Carr has received counseling and is making progress, it doesn’t erase what she did.  She planned to hurt Amy.  She killed Amy.  She needs to be tried as an adult and given an appropriate sentencing for an adult if found guilty.  Why is Carr allowed to travel out of state when she has been accused of murder?  Why is she allowed to teach Sunday School to kids at a church in Philadelphia?  But more importantly, why is she under homebound instruction which is paid for by the school district?  Does this mean Carr was not expelled from the school district after murdering a classmate in a bathroom?  What kind of message does that send to Amy’s parents when not even the school district could bring even an iota of justice to their daughter’s murder?  Students have been expelled from Delaware schools for much less.  None of this makes sense.

None of this will bring Amy back to her family who misses their daughter every single day.  There is no such thing as justice when you lose a loved one like this.  Nothing will bring their daughter back.

The Judge in the case is expected to render a decision on how Carr will be tried by the end of next week according to The State News article.

Vaya Con Dios Vo-Tech Vicki?

At last month’s New Castle County V0-Tech’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Vicki Gehrt wanted to get the ball rolling early on her contract renewal.  Her contract isn’t up for another six months, but apparently she felt the need to bring it up now.  The board wasn’t too keen on that.  Details are scarce, but it wound up with the non-elected board going in and out of executive session throughout the night.  As Gehrt and friends stayed in one room with Gehrt visibly upset.  Scuttlebutt has it that the board is not too enamored with Gehrt, especially after the Amy Joyner-Francis death at Howard High School of Technology as well as other issues.

Ultimately, the board decided to table any talk of Gehrt’s Superintendent renewal until it is actually up for renewal.  But they do have a board meeting tomorrow night.  Will Vo-Tech Vicki bring it up again?  Will there be more drama with unannounced adventures in executive session?  And will the board meeting be heard for all to hear?  Last month, the board was prepping for the House Bill 61 all school boards must record bill which goes into effect in a couple of months.  But no recording was put up on the website.  This is definitely a to be continued story…

Howard High School of Technology Protecting Group of Students Who Jumped A Student At Freire Charter School

A few weeks before the violent assault at Howard High School of Technology, a group of Howard students jumped and beat up a student at Freire Charter School, in the mid-town Brandywine section of Wilmington.  How come we haven’t heard about this?  Because even though the Wilmington Police Department wants to act, they can’t.  Apparently there is a memorandum of understanding between Howard High School of Technology and the Wilmington Police Department.  There is a video of the incident but Howard refuses to name the students from their school.  And they don’t have to because of the agreement with Wilmington P.D.

I searched high and low for this agreement, and the only reference to it came from the New Castle County Vo-Tech District’s Student Handbook:

NCCVTMOUWWPD1

NCCVTMOUWWPD2

While I doubt this is the real Memorandum of Agreement with Wilmington Police Department, I am hard pressed to find any justification for Howard’s administration to withhold the names of their students that assaulted another school’s student off their premises.

So what exactly is going on with this school and why is the district downplaying everything?  They say their school is safe, but the things coming out indicate otherwise.  As well, Howard’s school psychologist resigned February 5th of this year according to their February board minutes:

NCCVTMinutesFeb2016

While it is not known if Howard hired a new psychologist since they haven’t updated their board minutes since, Randolph is still listed on the Staff Directory of Howard’s website.  The school has a Principal, three Assistant Principals, and three Guidance Counselors.

I have to know: What kind of world are we living in when the police can’t act because a school is protecting students?  Something is seriously wrong with this school and I am afraid more students are going to get hurt.  What happened to Amy Francis-Joyner was an unspeakable tragedy, but no one else is tackling the problems with the administration at this school.  How many more students will be hurt or even die before this district wakes the hell up?

You would think their Board of Education would say something, but they have not issued any press releases or talked to anyone publicly about what happened and continues to happen at Howard.  Like the Delaware State Board of Education, vocational district boards in Delaware are appointed by the Governor of Delaware.  That’s right.  They were appointed by Governor Markell.  And our Delaware Secretary of Education… where does he come from?  New Castle County Vo-Tech.

I saw a segment on Channel 6 ABC News from Wednesday about the charges filed against the three students involved in Amy’s murder.  They interviewed a student who said he is not allowed to talk about it.  Excuse me?  I knew the district put a gag order on the teachers but now they are doing it with students.  So the next time I see Superintendent Dr. Vicki Gehrt at Legislative Hall or some education meeting and she wants to give me one of her indignant looks, know that she is withholding vital information about the safety of one of her schools.  You can look like the wounded party, but your school is out of control and you damn well know it.  You can choose to ignore the situation and risk the safety of more students or you can actually do something about it.  Or the board can replace her.  Either way, students’ lives are far more important than the illusion this district is casting.

Just this past Monday, Howard Principal Stanley Spoor rather arrogantly told students and the press to not believe everything you hear and say on social media.  Well Mr. Spoor, maybe when the school and the district starts owning up to what is REALLY going on there, then you can start preaching from your pedestal.  Until then, please keep your students safe and make sure there is adequate coverage in your school to watch students.

Public Information Officer For Howard High School Of Technology Clears The Air On Board Meeting & Town Halls

I updated my last post yesterday with information from the New Castle County Vo-Tech District concerning the change of time and venue for their board meeting this month.  During my communication with the district, I asked them if they just wanted me to make the change or post their information verbatim.  I didn’t hear back from them until late last night but I already made the change earlier.  This was their communication to me:

From: Demarest Kathy <kathy.demarest@nccvt.k12.de.us>
To: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2016 3:49 PM
Subject: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Hi, Kevin-

I am writing this email to you instead of using your blog as a forum.

On behalf of the NCC Vo-Tech school district, it is disappointing that you presumed that we decided to change the school board meeting time and location in order to prevent access to the public.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
As you can imagine, or perhaps you cannot, the first two days were spent doing everything that could be done to support Amy’s family, to provide supports for our Howard students and staff, and to communicate with students, parents, and the greater community the details as we knew them,  while this horrible tragedy was evolving.

We scheduled a Saturday morning conference call so we could schedule and plan Howard parent meetings as soon as possible. We knew we already had a regular monthly Board of Education meeting scheduled for Monday evening, and were already considering changing it so that Monday could be a parent meeting option.

We were informed late Friday by an elected city official that a Town Hall meeting for Howard parents and community had been scheduled for Monday night at Stubbs Elementary School. As we were unaware of that plan, and in order to accommodate that meeting, our Board of Education determined to move up their meeting Monday from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m., and to hold it at District Office.

We have scheduled to hold the Howard parent meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, both meetings beginning at 7 p.m., and both in the Howard auditorium.  We had to schedule two meetings in order to accommodate as many parents who may wish to attend. Howard has a student body of over 900.
The Tuesday meeting is for parents of 10th and 11th grade students; Wednesday is for parents of students in grades 9 and 12.

It was certainly disheartening to see your post, when all are trying to make the best decisions possible during this unspeakable and evolving personal crisis for the Joyner-Francis family, and a school-wide crisis for the Howard community.  Perhaps you should have asked before you presumed the worst.

Please keep Amy’s family and friends in your thoughts and prayers.  This will be a most difficult week for all. 

Kathy K. Demarest
Public Information Officer
NCC Vo-Tech School District

I responded with the following:

From: Kevin Ohlandt
Reply-To: Kevin Ohlandt
Date: Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 6:47 PM
To: Demarest Kathy
Subject: Re: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Kathy,

I do appreciate you reaching out to me. I apologize about not reaching out. I used to reach out, many times, and I am usually ignored. So I stopped doing so a while ago. I get information from a lot of people, and while you were disheartened with my article, that was the impression many folks had prior to my writing it. As well, many people, including staff in the district, were extremely upset that Dr. Gehrt referred to Howard as a safe school when an innocent girl was killed there. There was a whole other part to that article you didn’t address. I understand this is a very tough situation, but parents and community members are counting on all of you to change the environment there. The bottom line is Howard is not safe. It hasn’t been, and I know many of our schools aren’t either. Sadly, we learned what happens when things are sugar-coated and we hyper obsess over student outcomes.

I write what I do, not to be heartless, but to draw attention to what is really going on out there. I know that underneath the shiny veneer so many of our schools coat themselves with, that there are children suffering. I also know a lot of that suffering is due to events from outside our schools, but a lot of it does take place in schools. Let me be the first to tell you: I hate writing so much about our schools and DOE in Delaware. I truly do. There is no benefit to myself, and it takes a huge amount of time.

I will happily change the article with the information you provided to me. I can do so verbatim or just paraphrase. I will leave that up to you.

I know this is a horrifying time for the district, but as a parent myself, I would want to attend this board meeting if I were a Howard parent. Town Halls in this situation are absolutely necessary, but board meetings are too. I know many people don’t take advantage of them, but that is where things happen with our districts. I do apologize the way I wrote the article, and like I said, I am more than happy to change it.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

I received the following response late last night:

From: Demarest Kathy
To: Kevin Ohlandt
Sent: Sunday, April 24, 2016 10:27 PM
Subject: Re: Regarding your post to Exceptional Delaware

Hi Kevin,

Thank you for your apology and for the offer to post. I’d prefer you post my email in its entirety.

Regards,

Kathy

Four Delaware School Districts On The BrINC Of Massive Data Sharing

I’ve been meaning to write about this consortium for a while now, but other matters kept pushing it to the side.  BrINC stands for Brandywine, Indian River, New Castle County Vo-Tech and Colonial, the four school districts that are part of the BrINC Consortium.  What is BrINC?  It is a massive personalized learning initiative.  And they are using the very same company that has hundreds of other companies under its data sharing umbrella.  The Delaware Department of Education and Rodel love this little group.  Rodel especially has been pushing personalized learning for a couple years now.  I can see why.  It’s a cash cow for education technology companies.  Especially IMS Global Learning Consortium who delivers all these wonderful toys to BRINC.  Think of IMS as a big huge cloud.  It houses all the data, and members pay a hefty fee to be a part of that cloud.  But it looks like Indian River School District, a member of IMS’ elite group of hundreds of other companies, school districts and universities, pays the bills to IMS.

Indian River loves the DOE, and the DOE loves them.  New Delaware State Board of Education member Nina Bunting said at their State Board Retreat last month “When the DOE says jump, we say how high.”  Current Superintendent Susan Bunting was in the running for Mark Murphy’s slot a few years ago.  So that leaves the other three districts: Brandywine, Colonial and New Castle County Vo-Tech.  Brandywine’s Mark Holodick has been hypnotized by the Vision Coalition (Rodel), Governor Markell loves the NCC Vo-Tech schools like Howard High School, and Colonial…things are fairly quiet with them.  Although I do like Colonial’s Superintendent.  Anyone who tells the DOE he wishes he could just “blow it up” when talking about the DOE’s school report card fiasco is okay in my book!  They don’t make a lot of noise.  Not like Christina and Red Clay.  Just think of the geography with this.  All the Wilmington school districts that aren’t a large part of the redistricting efforts and the biggest tourist area in the state.

To see what BrINC is all about, read their grant application below: