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State College superintendent responds to reports of bullying after death of eighth-grade student

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State College Area School District’s superintendent updated families Thursday after the death of a Park Forest Middle School student, writing that reports of bullying are being investigated but evidence that a person or incident are responsible has not been found.

Eighth-grader Abby Smith died on Sunday, and in the days since the State College community has mourned the death of a girl described as a “kind, bright young woman who brightened the lives of those around her.”

In a letter to families on Thursday afternoon, Superintendent Curtis Johnson said that since Sunday, the district has received numerous communications and Safe2Say reports that singled out individuals for bullying. Abby’s family was not aware of her being bullied and do not believe it was the reason for her death by suicide, Johnson wrote.

SCASD administration and law enforcement agencies are still investigating.

“At this time, we have found no evidence that any one person or incident is responsible,” Johnson wrote. “Additionally, we did not receive any related Safe2Say reports beforehand.”

Abby, an eighth-grade student at Park Forest Middle School, has two siblings in the district. A Meal Train donation page has been set up for the Smith family and has raised $48,650 as of Thursday.

A percussionist in the Park Forest Middle School band, Abby was looking forward to joining the marching band and taking culinary classes at State High, according to her obituary. She loved to craft with her mother and learned to cook with her father. She was preparing to be a leader in training at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center this summer, the camp she had attended since she was four.

“Abby was a loving, creative, fiercely protective, determined old soul with a large group of family and friends who loved her immensely,” her obituary read.

The district asked that families not spread any misinformation and that parents talk with students about spreading rumors. Any credible information should be reported to the district or through Safe2Say, the anonymous school safety reporting system.

“My hope is this information helps create more understanding, and our conversations turn to remembering Abby as the nurturing and loving young woman she was,” Johnson wrote. “In the coming days, let’s focus on helping each other and caring for one another.”

Additional mental health support professionals were brought in to help students at Park Forest Middle School and classrooms throughout the district on Monday. Counselors will continue to be available to students as needed, Johnson wrote.

SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 988

Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Call or text 988 or chat at 988Lifeline.org

Center for Community Resources: Visit 2100 E. College Ave., 24/7



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‘Labour wants to exclude me from Parliament,’ says Diane Abbott

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BBC Newsnight revealed earlier this week that the party’s investigation was completed in December 2023.

Labour’s NEC issued her with a “formal warning” for “engaging in conduct that was in the opinion of the NEC, prejudicial and grossly detrimental to the Labour Party”.

It said it expected her to undertake an “online, e-learning module” which a source said was a two-hour antisemitism awareness course.

Ms Abbott did the module in February, after which it is understood she received an email from Labour’s chief whip acknowledging she had completed it.

However, as recently as Friday, Sir Keir had been saying the investigation into her comments was not “resolved”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Labour needed to “clear up” this issue.

“The Labour Party has been telling everybody this investigation into Diane Abbott is ongoing, it now appears it concluded months ago,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn, who was suspended as a Labour MP in 2020 for saying the scale of antisemitism within Labour’s ranks had been “dramatically overstated” by his opponents, has launched his campaign to stand as an independent candidate in Islington North.

Speaking at a launch event, he said he had been “disturbed at the way Diane’s been treated” and had sent her a “message of support”.

A complete list of candidates standing in the seat will be available on the BBC website after nominations close.



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Plan to shoot Catalina deer from helicopters is scrapped

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Santa Catalina Island’s evasive mule deer dodged a bullet — or several — on Wednesday.

At a special meeting of the Los Angeles County Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Catalina Island Conservancy, which controls 88% of the island, announced it was scrapping plans to eradicate the nonnative species by shooting them from helicopters with high-powered rifles.

L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn, whose district includes the island, confirmed in a statement that the conservancy has “taken the aerial shooting proposal off the table.”

“I appreciate the Conservancy for listening to the serious concerns people had about this plan, especially from people living on the island,” Hahn said in a statement. “I heard from residents who were terrified at the thought of bullets raining down from helicopters over their beloved island and others who couldn’t stand the thought of the deer carcasses that would be left in their wake.”

Lauren Dennhardt, the conservancy’s senior director of conservation, did not respond to a request for comment. The group previously indicated that it would be open to considering other options for the best way to rid the island of the nonnative deer.

In her statement, Hahn said Dennhardt told the meeting that the conservancy was revising its plan “to prioritize other methodologies” in light of the concerns raised by Hahn and island residents.

Mule deer were introduced to the island in the 1930s as a game species for hunting, according to the conservancy.

Protesters hold picket signs on Catalina Island.

Protesters with the Coalition Against the Slaughter of Catalina Deer hold signs as island visitors arrive on the Catalina Express boat on Oct. 30, 2023.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Their population can range from 500 to 1,800, according to the conservancy. The group claims the invasive deer have destroyed natural habitat — including vegetation found only on the island — and exacerbated the risk of soil erosion in overgrazed areas.

As the conservancy continues to plot how to hasten their demise, the deer are starving and dying of thirst.

Photos presented at Wednesday’s meeting included a young dead deer lying on a paved walkway. Another showed a male deer scavenging through an Avalon resident’s trash can.

“The island and the deer are both fighting for survival, and neither one is winning,” Whitney Latorre, the conservancy’s chief executive, said in an interview in the fall. “Unless we address the deer issue, the island will become more and more vulnerable to the devastating consequences brought on by rising temperatures and drought.”

Hahn drafted a letter that the supervisors unanimously approved on April 23 opposing the proposal to hunt the deer from helicopters, calling it “inhumane and drastic.”

She said her letter was prompted by “an intense public outcry” that sprung up after the aerial sharpshooting proposal became public last year.

The conservancy’s original plan was to hire sharpshooters from the Connecticut-based nonprofit White Buffalo Inc. The group would use AR-15-style rifles with lead-free bullets, to avoid poisoning natural scavengers.

Some carcasses would remain where they fell, and those closer to Avalon and roadsides would be removed.

Ultimately, California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife will decide whether to allow whatever plan the conservancy files to remove the deer. The agency hadn’t made a ruling on the helicopter proposal because it had been waiting for additional paperwork from the conservancy, a Fish and Wildlife spokesperson said.

 A mule deer doe licks its fawn on Catalina Island.

A mule deer doe licks its fawn on Catalina Island in 2023.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

It’s unclear what will happen next.

Hahn is asking that the conservancy reconsider alternative proposals previously dismissed, although she didn’t endorse any specific course of action, a spokesperson said.

The conservancy had considered fencing, recreational hunting, the introduction of natural predators, relocation, sterilization and chemical contraceptives before settling on aerial sharpshooting, which it said was an efficient way to quickly eliminate a large number of animals.

The main drawbacks included the loud sounds of gunfire, which could distress wildlife and residents.

In comparison, fencing was described as costly and challenging, given the island’s topography, while recreational hunting was generally ineffective, the conservancy said. Between 200 and 300 hunters visit the island annually, according to the conservancy.

Overall, there are about 4,200 residents and 1 million visitors to Catalina, which spans about 48,000 acres.

Opposition to aerial hunting has been intense. The advocacy group Coalition to Save Catalina Island Deer has collected more than 18,000 signatures since Sept. 23 on a petition opposing the concept.

Bernd Blossey, a natural resources and environment professor at Cornell University, said in an interview in April that aerial shooting was a standard form of extermination.

Blossey, who chairs the university’s deer management program, pointed to aerial shooting efforts used to eradicate feral goats on the Galapagos Islands and in New Zealand earlier this century.

Blossey also believes that calls to relocate the animals — as some conservationists want — may be more harmful than helpful.

“The capture is traumatic, the transport is traumatic and the success rates of doing both are poor,” he said. “Then they’re moved to areas that they don’t know and it’s just not a good thing.”

The American Assn. of Wildlife Veterinarians endorsed the aerial shooting on Wednesday via a letter, while the American Bird Conservancy, the California Botanic Garden and several others backed permanently removing the nonnative deer.



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Virginia mom says white students told her Asian American son to sit at ‘segregated’ table

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An after-school game took a troubling turn last Tuesday at Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy in Alexandria.

Mom Kathryn Kelley says a group of white students allegedly told her fifth-grade son, who is half Asian, that he couldn’t sit with them.

“[They were] saying that mixed race kids had to sit at a table that was away from the white kids, and then African American and Black kids had to sit even further,” Kelley told News4. “They said that they were segregated and that they couldn’t play with the white kids.”

Kelley says some students also allegedly teased the students of color, based on race and class.

“It was of course very difficult, it was confusing. He was trying to understand what was going on while also trying to stand up for his friends and trying to interrupt the situation, but not really knowing what to do,” Kelley said.

News4 obtained a letter sent by the school’s principal to parents last Friday, acknowledging an “inappropriate game” that caused some students to feel uncomfortable, as part of a “role play of a social studies lesson.”

The letter said, “Students often want to discuss troubling topics from class in a variety of ways, some of which may cause offense. This is certainly a challenge in educating our students and one that we must be keenly aware of when difficult topics are presented.”

Kelley feels there are steps that should have been taken.

“When kids are learning these things, like about segregation, learning about the history of white supremacy in the U.S. — they have to learn that, they need to learn that, but it’s not a game, and they need to learn the seriousness of these things.”

In the letter to families, the school’s principal said she plans to work with her team to incorporate lessons into the curriculum on thinking before you speak and act. The principal also said the school community has a collective responsibility to make sure all students feel valued and respected.

“I think we do it by perhaps starting with what children know,” said Greg Carr, an Afro American studies professor at Howard University.

Carr said lessons on inclusion can be simple, such as asking kids how they feel when they see TV characters who look like them. He also says guest speakers can be helpful.

“So a lesson on segregation could incorporate elders who lived through that period,” Carr said. “You know the implications of it now, from an elder who can tell you how much it hurt to be segregated.”

It is not yet clear if any students involved in the game faced discipline. The principle, in her letter to parents, said she could not say.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com



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