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.

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Gang Issues At Dover High School Leads To Capital Board Approving Use Of Armed Constables

Last night, with a vote of 5-0, the Capital School Board voted to hire three armed constables at Dover High School.  Using a model currently in use by Indian River School District, the board discussed the issue with members of the community as well  as high school and district staff.  All supported the measure with one exception: the Senior Class President.  The pool of applicants would come from the Delaware State Police.  Because of insurance and pension issues, the pool was limited.  All were in agreement that hiring out-of-state would not be a wise decision.

One of the staff from the high school gave public comment indicating the current non-armed security guard company they utilize is highly ineffective and said it is like “throwing $40.000 off the roof”.  He cited the bomb threat incident a few months ago that led to a student’s arrest.  But he also indicated there was a huge fight on the football field as students were already trying to deal with the bomb threat.  He indicated there are gangs at Dover High School.  He said they are a small group of students who cause a lot of the problems.

The Senior Class President said many students were concerned with going from unarmed to armed persons in the school.  He felt like it was a drastic leap to go from one situation to what he felt was extreme.  He urged the board to find some middle ground.  Many students, he stated, felt it wasn’t fair to have this in their school when they weren’t the ones causing the problems.

In an attempt to allay the class president’s fears concerning the presence of armed constables at the high school, board member Ralph Taylor, also a retired Dover Police Officer of 20 years, said a gun is a very last resort.  He said the last thing an officer wants to do is use a gun, but it could mean a matter of many lives in a bad situation.  Board member Sean Christiansen said he reached out to different stakeholders in the Indian River School District including their own constables, parents, teachers, and students to get their thoughts on the matter.  All felt it improved school climate and led students to a feeling of safety within the district.  Dover High School Principal Courtney Voshell had a survey where parents could rate how safe they felt their children were at Dover H.S. and over 93% felt the school was not safe the way the current safety program was set up.

The school will also retain their School Resource Officer from the Dover Police and the constables will not have arrest authority.  They will be used to diffuse situations, but as it was explained, they will not punish students if they don’t have a bathroom pass.  The contract will cost the district an additional $75,000 out of their budget which will be used from carryover funds from fiscal year 2016.  Going forward, this would be a permanent part of the district budget.  The constables will be employees of the district.  They will receive professional development on all areas of school safety.  The details are not flush yet, but there was discussion if the training would come from the current Indian River Constables or the Dover Police Department.

I asked the board how the recently passed Senate Bill 207, which would not mandate schools to call the police every time a physical assault occurs unless it is considered to be a crime, could affect this decision from a financial perspective.  The bill, not yet signed by Delaware Governor Jack Markell, would give schools and parents discretion to contact law enforcement in those events.  Superintendent Dr. Dan Shelton said the current school resource officer currently deals with crimes in the school so it would not change things.  Certain school crimes such as drugs or weapons, would still result in an arrest of a student.  Shelton said another bill (the restorative justice bill) didn’t pass but if it does in the future it would give the district additional funding to deal with school climate issues.   I also asked if the constables would receive special education training for students with disabilities.  Shelton said they would, but not on an individual basis.

The board was so impressed with the Senior Class President, board member John Martin invited him back up to the podium to discuss student concerns in greater detail.  Board member Christiansen invited him to come to every single board meeting.  It was also conveyed they wanted him to be a part of the hiring committee for the constables and Christiansen told Voshell he expected him to be excused from class those days.  Voshell jokingly answered that would be a summer school excuse which drew laughter from the audience.

The special board meeting, held just for the purpose of this decision, also had another activity.  Elected board member Dr. Chanda Jackson was sworn in by board President Matthew Lindell.

While I wrote some very negative things about the district almost half an hour prior to this board meeting yesterday, most of which concerned their Strategic Plan and joining the BRINC Consortium, I felt this board meeting was a very honest and open discussion about a very serious issue.  The district was honest about the issues happening at Dover High and didn’t try to whitewash the gang activity.  After the meeting, I happened to be speaking to a board member from another district that deals with similar issues as Dover H.S. but they said their district would never openly talk about these kinds of issues in their schools.  We both agreed that issues can’t be dealt with until they are acknowledged.  So I salute the Capital School District and Board for tackling this decision.

 

Academia Antonia Alonso Submits Modification To Change Location Out Of Community Education Building

Syringe

One of the three Delaware charter schools currently residing in the Community Education Building in Wilmington now wants out.  Academia Antonia Alonso Academy, as of January 29th, submitted a major modification to change their school location from the CEB to the Barley Mill Plaza location currently owned by Odyssey Charter School.  Should their modification gain approval, the plan is to lease one of the buildings from Odyssey.  So why would they want to move from the lauded CEB?

After reviewing options of other potential locations, it was determined that a location that can be conveniently accessed by families, can be managed directly by the school, and also provides green space and playground facilities would be preferable to the current location in enabling the school to deliver the educational outcomes that it is striving to achieve.

Now this is some logic I can get behind!  Looking out for students, recess, and families is crucial to school success nowadays.  It is underestimated by our Delaware Department of Education and Governor Markell.

Given that 61% of La Academia’s students live in the City of Wilmington zip codes of 19801, 19802 and 19805, the majority of the school’s students live in neighborhoods where they may be regularly exposed to violence and crime, and where their families do not feel safe having their children play outside. This makes it even more important that the school be able to offer the opportunity for these children to be able to have safe play spaces.  Non-structured play time has a positive impact on social development and general well-being and allows children the opportunity to practice essential social skills, which in turn improves learning and school climate.

Thank you!  While some schools have reduced or gotten rid of recess, this school is actually celebrating it!

Our school has students in grades K-2 who are young and small, and during transitions they have to either navigate 2 to 6 flights of stairs or wait on elevators that require the school to make multiple trips to transport everyone, depending on the location of their next activity. We have had one incident of an elevator full of students getting stuck for over 20 minutes. A second incident occurred with Kuumba Academy students and staff. This has caused some of our students to be afraid of the elevators. Some of our younger students have tripped on the stairs, and now are afraid of using them.

Sounds like a health inspector needs to get in there as soon as possible!

In order to get our students to the outdoor fenced parking lot that is their recess area, our teachers go down the elevators (or six flights of steps), walk down a full city block, cross a dangerous intersection where accidents have happened right in front of our students, down another half of a city block and into the Wilson Street lot. This typically takes 15 minutes. Adding another 15 minutes for the return trip the students lose precious recess time.  Developmentally, it is critical that 5, 6, & 7 year olds are able to have time for recess and play.

Wow!  How much thought went into student safety for this building?

The Wilson Street Parking Lot, our recess area, has a number of issues relating to safety and supervision.  Several areas in the fence are a concern to the school, as well as there being no barrier (mesh fence or other) to prevent students from going behind the storage unit where teachers have no line of sight. This recess area is not fully secure from the public after hours and dangerous items such as broken glass, syringes and other items are routinely found by both teachers and students. There is no typical playground equipment for the students to use such as swings, slides etc.

So what happens if a student accidentally pokes another student or themselves with a syringe?  Who is responsible for the potential of a student getting HIV or some other disease from a dirty needle?  I would get the hell out of this location too!  I’m guessing Governor Markell and Acting US Secretary of Education John King didn’t go out with the kids to recess during King’s visit last month to the Community Education Building…

To see the full major modification request, please see below.  For the next few months, the school will go through the charter school accountability committee and public hearings.  A final decision will be made by the Delaware Secretary of Education and the State Board of Education at their April 21st meeting.

Now the big question becomes which charter school will now submit a major modification request to get into the Community Education Building?  I hope no elementary schools based on what I’m hearing!

 

 

 

An Open Letter To Governor Jack Markell

I have tried to stay on the sidelines in the Syrian refugee crisis.  It is a deep concern of mine in many aspects.  My reasons for not publicly commenting on this are very simple.  I don’t want my readers to get sidetracked from education issues I write about.  The extremes on this issue among Delaware citizens is very apparent.  I have seen people de-friend others on Facebook because they don’t agree with their point of view.  There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground on these issues.  I see very Liberal citizens completely blasting Democrat politicians because they don’t agree with Governor Markell or President Obama.  I see those on the far right continue to trash those who seek equity in our society.

The plain and simple fact is this: there is a very huge population of people in this world who have no choice but to leave their country for fear of their very lives.  This is the reality.  Unfortunately, there are those who take advantage of that and come to other countries to perpetuate terror.  We saw it in Boston and Paris in recent years.  When do the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many?  When does the safety and concern for a country’s current citizens become more paramount than those who are not even having their basic needs met?  This is the crux of these issues.  Both sides have valid points that warrant further discussion.  What drives me crazy is the polarizing effect this has on social media.  I see this with gay marriage and abortion as well.  I cringe when I see very blatant and racist comments when the News Journal posts anything directly related to race on Facebook.

In matters of education, I fully understand I am extremely polarizing on certain issues.  I have never de-friended someone on Facebook though if they don’t agree with my opinion.  I will argue it until the cows come home, but I won’t shut them out.  As a society, we have become very quick to draw that line in the sand.

With that being said, I am taking a stand on the refugee crisis.  I do not think Americans should be put in harms way for the sake of individuals from another country.  While I realize there is more chance of a plane crash happening than a terrorist attack on US soil, the implications and consequences of another event would be long-term and damaging.  I don’t believe the US Government can say with 100% certainty that the vetting process is reliable.  While there is a chance, I can’t support accepting refugees from Syria.  This will tick off many who believe I am a Progressive Liberal.  If anything I am a Progressive Conservative Independent Republican Democrat.  It really depends on the issues.  In a nutshell, I am in the middle.  On this issue, I don’t think the risk of American lives being lost and disrupted is worth it.  9/11 haunted me for many years.  To this day, I always cry on the anniversary.  I didn’t lose anyone that day, but it felt like America was ripped apart and we lost something that day.  It was our sense of safety and security.

Today I received an email as I do every day from various groups and organizations on both sides of the fence on numerous issues.  Upon reading the below letter, I felt it best exemplified my thoughts and concerns with the refugee crisis.  I am posting it here because it is an important issue and a well written letter that best shows where I stand on this issue.  This does not mean I agree with every single aspect of the groups who signed onto this letter.  But on this issue, I stand with their opinions.  I do not think it is a racism or discrimination issue but rather a safety issue.  There is a very clear distinction between the two.

An Open Letter to Governor Jack Markell,
 
In a unified and sincere concern for the safety and economic health of Delaware’s families, we urge you to reconsider your position to relocate “Syrian refugees” into Delaware communities. We ask that you join the 30 other state governors in placing the safety and reasonable concern of your constituents above any other consideration or agenda.  
 
We all share your compassion for those who are suffering and want those who truly need refuge to get it. Like you, we recognize that true Syrian refugees need a safe harbor. That safe harbor is best found in Middle Eastern countries near their homeland beyond the reach of the present violence. The first and most immediate safe place in the region meets their need for safety. Their need is not tax payer supplied housing and EBT cards in Dover, Newark or Seaford, in a culture completely foreign to their Islamic worldview, and 6000 miles from their known way of life. 
 
We know from the recent European experience that “Syrian refugees” comprise people from a dozen or so countries from Morocco to Afghanistan. Claims in Washington of a robust vetting procedure prior to entry to US are not credible. The FBI has reportedly said it is impossible to vet that many people before they come into our country.  Representative Carney and Senator Coons have both expressed their concerns in light of this information.
 
We are equally concerned that your support for President Obama’s planned action reflects a disconnect from those you serve in Delaware. Delaware families are being profoundly impacted by limited resources including a lack of care for our veterans, also a concern of yours. Heroin use is at an epidemic level in our state and destroying families and communities daily. Wilmington continues to suffer from uncontrolled crime and there is a growing racial discontent.  We still face inequalities and deficiencies in our state’s education system that may likely place added burdens on the state’s budget. The people of Delaware just cannot afford the cost, financial and otherwise, of your plan to add to those needing assistance in our state. 
 
You will recall the Tsarnaev family; taken in by the state of Massachusetts under condition of asylum.  The cost to the taxpayer of their direct and indirect benefits exceeded one million dollars. No one in that family ever became self-sufficient or safely acclimated in the U.S.
 
As you know the two sons of that family killed 3 innocent people with a homemade bomb at the Boston Marathon. Over 200 other innocent people were seriously wounded in the blast.  After years in this country they acted with deadly violence as they believed their faith dictates. 
 
Finally, the Tsarnaev family was fully and completely vetted by our Federal immigration authorities as applicants of asylum. 
 
Ultimately, this “compassionate gesture” is estimated to cost the state over 100 million dollars. This cost extended beyond the social benefits taken by the family. It ultimately included, police operations and manhunt, emergency care for the survivors, hospitalization of the wounded, reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation and prostheses needs, business disruption, criminal investigation, state prosecution and public defender costs, and forward projected prison costs; all paid by Massachusetts tax payers.
 
We are faced with new and uncertain dangers that can only increase as we neglect to control those who gain access to our country.  We ask that you block state funding of any sort that would be needed and allocated to resettle this population in Delaware.  Importing persons from a vastly different culture and trying to integrate them is exorbitantly expensive and the unpredictable results can be devastating.
 
Our groups collectively represent many thousands of Delawareans who are passionate, engaged, and aware of the realities of recent events in this world conducted by a few Islamic radicals.  As Governor, your heaviest burden and first concern must be for the safety and common well-being of the people in Delaware.  We ask that you recognize the proven risk associated with similar relocation programs. We further request that you use your authority, in the best interest and public safety of Delaware families and communities, to obstruct President Obama’s ill-considered relocation plan. 
 
Respectfully,
912 Delaware Patriots
Faith and Freedom Coalition Delaware
Central Delaware NAACP
Rev. Dr. Shawn Greener
Frederick Douglass Foundation of Delaware – Sussex County
Institute on the Constitution