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Minnesota school removes ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from curriculum

Students taking English classes in a Minnesota city will no longer have to read two American classics or write reports about them, the Duluth News Tribune reported.

>> Read more trending news

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which contain racial slurs, will no longer be required reading for students in the Duluth Public School district’s English classes next fall. However, the books are not banned: They will be available in the school as optional reading for students, the News Tribune reported.

The decision comes two months after a Virginia school temporarily banned the two novels after a parent complained that her high school-age son was negatively impacted by the books’ racial slurs. In October, the school board in Biloxi, Mississippi, removed “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which won a Pulitzer Prize for author Harper Lee, from the curriculum of an eighth-grade class, the Sun Herald reported. The school, however, reversed is decision in late October, but required students to get a permission slip from their parents in order to participate in the class, the Sun Herald reported.

In Minnesota, school officials said the decision to remove the two novels was in response to concerns from students and parents.

>> Virginia schools ban books for racial slurs

“The feedback that we’ve received is that it makes many students feel uncomfortable,” Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction for the Duluth Public School district, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Conversations about race are an important topic, and we want to make sure we address those conversations in a way that works well for all of our students.”

Cary told the News Tribune that district leaders believed other literary options could impart the same lessons as the two novels.

"We felt that we could still teach the same standards and expectations through other novels that didn't require students to feel humiliated or marginalized by the use of racial slurs," he said.

Stephan Witherspoon, president of the Duluth chapter of the NAACP, called the move “long overdue, like 20 years overdue,” he told the News Tribune.

The literature has “oppressive language for our kids” Witherspoon told the Star Tribune. “Our kids don’t need to read the ‘N’ word in school. They deal with that every day out in the community and in their life. Racism still exists in a very big way.”

A racial slur appears 219 times in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” published in 1885 by Mark Twain; and 48 times in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” published in 1960.

Witherspoon told the News Tribune that it was wrong to include the books in Duluth’s curriculum.

“There are a lot more authors out there with better literature that can do the same thing that does not degrade our people,” Witherspoon said.

Cary said Duluth’s teachers will play a key role in selecting new texts for students to read.

“We’re doing this out of consideration of the impacts on our students and specifically different groups of students in our schools, and especially our communities of color,” Cary told the Star Tribune.

Girl all smiles in viral photo after teacher shows up with identical hairdo

A photo of a Texas teacher and her young student has gone viral after the woman kept her word last week and showed up at school with a hairdo identical to the girl’s.

Leigh Bishop, a pre-K teacher at Lakeview Elementary in Sugar Land, is being called “teacher of the year” across social media platforms after a photo of her with her student, who she identified only by the first name August, went viral. Bishop posted on Facebook Jan. 30 about an exchange she and August had the day before. 

“[Monday] Me: Oh my goodness! I love your hair August! Don’t be mad at me when I come to school with my hair just like that tomorrow …. August: Okay, Ms. Bishop. *Rolls eyes, keeps walking,*” Bishop wrote

Bishop used emojis to show the surprise on August’s face, and her dad’s, the following morning when they arrived at school to find Bishop sporting the same braided hair as the little girl. 

“Me: You thought I was playing? Girl, we are CA-UTE together!” Bishop wrote.

The internet at large agreed, with more than 15,000 people reacting to the post, which included a photo of Bishop crouched down next to August, her hands cradling the little girl’s chin. A beatific smile shines on 4-year-old August’s face as she looks at her teacher. 

>> Read more trending news

As of Wednesday, another 4,000-plus people had shared Bishop’s post on their own Facebook timelines, and hundreds of people had chimed in on the photo on both Facebook and Twitter. 

Commenters praised her for giving August, who, like Bishop, is black, representation in her school. 

“You are why we NEED black women teachers,” one woman, Paola Patrice, wrote. “You are beautiful inside and out! This made me smile at my phone. So grateful for you! You can never be paid enough!”

“Look at that smile!” TE Howell wrote. “It tells a beautiful story. The day my teacher let me know I’m beautiful, my hair is my glory and who I am will impact the world.”

“You are amazing,” another commenter, Toni Hunter, wrote. “You just built a beautiful little girl’s self-esteem.”

“God has placed you in the right place to touch kids’ minds and hearts,” Vickie Platenburg wrote. “You are a teacher that thinks outside of the box. Keep up the good work.”

“Thanks, everyone,” Bishop wrote in response. “Any chance I get to make a student feel whole and important, I take it. (Plus, I REALLY loved her hair.)”

The teacher said that August was thrilled by the gesture.

“She was soooo tickled the whole afternoon!” Bishop wrote. “It was the cutest thing.”

One of Bishop’s friends wrote that the photo belongs in the school yearbook. 

“You know, I took it just to show her what we looked like standing together!” Bishop responded. “Not even thinking it would turn out like this … it seriously speaks volumes. (Definitely) yearbook worthy.”

Bishop’s Facebook page is full of stories and photos from her work. Her teacher biography on the Lakeview Elementary website, where she goes by Leigha Bishop, states that she is certified to teach elementary education, English as a second language and gifted and talented students. She is working toward a master’s degree in school and mental health counseling.

“I am thrilled to be at a school with so much history, and a school that my dad and his siblings attended,” Bishop states on the page. “I am also thrilled to be part of a school district I grew up in.”

She wrote that, outside of her work, she enjoys spending time with her own daughter, hiking, “chasing waterfalls,” and baking. 

Former Georgia State soccer player who used racial slur apologizes

A former Georgia State University soccer player who withdrew from school after making a racial slur on social media said she was remorseful during an exclusive interview Wednesday with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

>> Read more trending news

“The truth is, I could give you excuses ... but what you need to know is what’s in my heart,” Natalia Martinez said by phone from her native south Florida.

>> Related: Georgia State soccer player withdraws from school after backlash over racial epithet

The epithet appeared on the freshman’s Finsta page, a secret version of Instagram that is growing in popularity among teens.

>> Related: Georgia State soccer player suspended over racial slur used on social media

Earlier, Martinez released a statement of apology, saying, “No words can properly express the remorse I feel about my use of that horrendous and disgusting word on social media last week. My incredibly poor choice of language in that post is beyond embarrassing.

“This mistake is something that I have to live with forever.”

Florida couple find Scottish children’s message in a bottle from 1980s

A Florida couple surveying damage after Hurricane Irma last September found a message in a bottle, sent more than three decades ago by a class of children in Scotland, FlKeysNews reported.

>> Read more trending news

On Sept. 29 last year, Ruth and Lee Huenniger were walking near their Key Largo home, inspecting street lamps. Ruth found a plastic bottle lying near a chain link fence and noticed there was a note inside.

“We are learning all about pirates. We would like to see how far this message goes. Please write and tell us where you found this bottle,” the note said.

The note was signed by Class 2/3, Chapelpark School, Forfar, Angus, Scotland, FlKeysNews reported.

The Huennigers decided to write back to the school, whose class sent the bottle hurtling into the North Sea in the 1980s, WSVN reported.

“I thought, ‘Let’s see if this gets all the way back to Scotland,'” Ruth Huenniger told WSVN. “I mean, I’d never heard of Forfar.”

“Your message was found in Key Largo, Florida, USA, on Sept. 29, 2017,” the new note read. “Hope this was a fun experience for your class.”

This time, the note was sent through the mail. On Oct. 23, the Huenningers received a letter from Fiona Cargill in Scotland. The retired teacher said her class had written the note sometime in the 1980s, FlKeysNews reported.

“We forgot to put a date on the letter, but would you believe it, that bottle was sent on its journey more than 30 years ago,” Cargill wrote. “The pupils who took part in this will now be in their mid-thirties!”

Chapelpark Primary School closed in 2008 and is now an apartment building. The postman who was given the Huennigers’ letter for his route knew this and delivered it to the town’s new school, Whitehills Primary, FlKeysNews reported.

“The staff did an investigation and discovered it was my class,” Cargill wrote. “I retired from there just over a year ago and was so, so excited about this wonderful true life story.”

Cargill said her class of children ages 6 to 8, had studied pirates and decided to send several bottles.

“They covered them with sticky plastic to keep them from getting wet, put them in bottles and then got a fisherman to put them in the North Sea,” said Cargill, who added there are at least three more bottles that were thrown into the ocean.

Oldest sibling in 'torture house' case was frail, bullied in elementary school, classmate says

After realizing he attended grade school with the oldest of the 13 Turpin siblings allegedly tortured by their own parents, Taha Muntajibuddin wrote an emotional Facebook post — which he later confirmed with The Associated Press — that described the girl as frail, having poor hygiene and being a target for torment by her classmates.

>> 13 siblings rescued in California will live in separate homes

The girl, now a 29-year-old woman, was rescued along with her other siblings from their home in Perris, California, on Jan. 14. The parents, David and Louise Turpin, were arrested and face multiple charges, including torture, to which they have pleaded not guilty.

>> Video shows children leaving alleged 'torture house' in California

Muntajibuddin, now a pediatrics resident doctor in Houston, said he attended kindergarten through third grade with the oldest Turpin child in Fort Worth, Texas. He described her as “a frail girl, [who] had pin-straight hair with bangs and often wore the same purple outfit.” Muntajibuddin expressed an “overwhelming sense of guilt and shame” over the way he and his classmates treated her.

>> Mom accused in 'torture house' case kept watchful eye on son at college, report says

Muntajibuddin reflected: “It is nothing but sobering to know that the person who sat across from you at the lunch table went home to squalor and filth while you went home to a warm meal and a bedtime story."

>> Couple accused of holding 13 children captive were days away from moving to Oklahoma

Reactions to his post, which we are not displaying because it identifies the victim, have varied; some readers have praised Muntajibuddin for his speaking about and condemning his youthful actions, while others were angry that he took part in bullying the girl as a child.

>> Hundreds of journals found in home where 13 siblings held captive, DA says

“It was just meant to be an honest lesson: Take it or leave it,” he told the AP in an interview Tuesday.

>> Dogs found in perfect condition in home where 13 siblings held captive

Anthony Kirchner, a spokesman for the Crowley Independent School District, confirmed that the girl and Muntajibuddin attended the school at the same time. However, Kirchner was unable to determine when she enrolled or departed, or whether any of her siblings attended the school. Elementary schools are required to hold onto such records for only five years.

>> Read more trending news 

Muntajibuddin did have positive things to say about the girl, writing that she, "despite being vehemently vilified by her peers, was still one of the most pleasant people I have had the opportunity to meet. She had this whimsical optimism to her that couldn’t be dampened, couldn’t be doused no matter what anybody threw at her.”

He added: “The resounding lesson here is a simple one, something that we’re taught from the very beginning: Be nice.”

Florida college student says man tried to touch her leg in on-campus parking garage

Police at the University of Central Florida are warning students to be on their guard after a woman said a man tried to assault her in a campus parking garage Monday.

>> Read more trending news

UCF police said a woman who attends the university was approached around 6 p.m. by an unknown man who asked for help with his car in Garage C. 

During the exchange, the man tried to touch the student's leg, police said, causing her to scream and run away. 

The student immediately called police and described the man as 5 feet 7 inches tall. He was wearing glasses, a gray sweater and dark pants, she told authorities.

UCF police said the description of the incident closely matches two similar incidents that happened on campus within the past month and a half. 

In December, a student reported that she was inappropriately grabbed by a man inside the Business Administration II building, the UCF Police Department said.

The student told investigators that the incident happened at about 5:50 p.m., UCF police spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin said.

The man, who she did not know, was lingering near a vending machine and started talking to her before grabbing her, Gilmartin said.

"It's just unfortunate that we have to deal with that here at UCF. I feel like we're so close as a family and as a university. It's incredible that we have to do this," UCF student Ponatoyas Jusakus said.

Investigators said the woman ran from the building and reported the incident about an hour later.

>> On WFTV.com: 9 Investigates: Sexual assault cases at UCF

The man was described as being dark-skinned with a thin build and about 5 feet 7 inches tall. He was wearing a gray hoodie and jeans at the time of the incident, police said.

A similar incident happened in the same building Dec. 4, Gilmartin said. The victim in that case provided a similar description of the culprit, but no one was arrested.

>> On WFTV.com: Police: Woman screams for help, gets pushed into car at UCF

Police said they do not believe the two incidents are related to a similar encounter at Valencia College this week.

"Detectives are currently revisiting the case from last month and reviewing surveillance video from last night," Gilmartin said. "In regards to the incident at Valencia College Tuesday night, at this point, the circumstances and suspect descriptions do not match."

Georgia State soccer player withdraws from school after backlash over racial epithet

A Georgia State University soccer player who was suspended from the team after she used a racial epithet on social media has withdrawn from the school, officials said.

>> PREVIOUS STORY: Georgia State soccer player suspended over racial slur used on social media

Some students had called for the expulsion of 18-year-old freshman defender Natalia Martinez after the epithet appeared on her Finsta page, a secret version of Instagram that is growing in popularity among teens.

>> On AJC.com: What is a ‘Finsta'? Teens and their secret Instagram accounts

“As a progressive, diverse university, we ... feel like this sort of behavior should not be tolerated,” said India Bridgeforth, who created a petition demanding the university take a tougher approach with Martinez.

The petition had garnered more than 500 signatures by Monday afternoon when the university announced Martinez had “officially withdrawn.”

Associate athletic director Mike Holmes told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that officials were made aware of Martinez’s post Friday morning — just days after the University of Alabama expelled a 19-year-old student who posted a video of a racist rant on her Finsta page.

>> Read more trending news 

That student, Harley Barber, uploaded a second video on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in response to people who were upset by the language and threatened those who wanted to report her fake Instagram account, The Washington Post reported

In a statement, Georgia State University said the school does “not tolerate the language (Martinez) used in her post.”

James Comey to teach ethical leadership course at College of William & Mary

Former FBI Director James Comey will teach an ethical leadership course for his alma mater, Virginia’s College of William & Mary, starting in the fall, the school announced Friday.

>> Read more trending news

Comey, who was dismissed as director of the FBI by President Donald Trump in May 2017, was named an executive professor in education at William & Mary on Friday. School officials said he will teach ethical leadership during the fall 2018, spring 2019 and summer 2019 semesters with Drew Stelljes, an executive assistant professor of education and assistant vice president for student leadership at William & Mary.

“Our students will benefit significantly from his experience and wisdom,” William & Mary President Taylor Reveley said in a news release. “He understands to the core of his being that our leaders must have an abiding commitment to ethical behavior and sacrificial service if we are to have good government.”

>> Related: Comey told Trump 3 times he was not under investigation

The course will be taught predominantly in Washington, D.C., at the William & Mary Washington Center, school officials said. One class will be live-streamed to students in Washington, D.C., and taught at the William & Mary School of Education in Williamsburg, Virginia.

"I am thrilled to have the chance to engage with William & Mary students about a vital topic — ethical leadership,” Comey said in a news release. “Ethical leaders lead by seeing above the short term, above the urgent or the partisan, and with a higher loyalty to lasting values, most importantly the truth. Building and maintaining that kind of leadership, in both the private sector and government, is the challenge of our time.”

>> Reports: Trump's controversial decisions in office under scrutiny by Mueller

Comey ran the Richmond, Virginia, division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia f om 1996 to 2001, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. During that time, he also worked as an adjunct law professor at the University of Richmond, the news site reported.

President Barack Obama appointed Comey as director of the FBI in September 2013.

He faced criticism during and after the 2016 presidential election for his handling of an FBI investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time in office. His decision to release a letter to Congress informing lawmakers of newly uncovered Clinton emails just weeks before the election had a strong impact on the vote, according to analysts.

>> Related: FBI opens investigation into new Clinton emails

Comey said two days before the election that nothing new or incriminating was found in the emails.

Comey was fired by Trump amid an ongoing investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to Trump campaign officials.

>> Related: Trump tweets: 'I am being investigated for firing the FBI director'

In congressional testimony, Comey said he felt the president tried to get him to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign less than a month into his tenure after it was revealed that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contact with Russian officials.

>> Related: Read James Comey’s complete testimony before the Senate committee

The White House denied that the dismissal was related to the Russia investigation, although Trump later told NBC News that he had “this Russia thing” on his mind when making the decision.

Comey earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and religion at William & Mary in 1982.

Betsy DeVos: Common Core is dead at U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave a far-ranging speech today in Washington at an American Enterprise Institute conference, “Bush-Obama School Reform: Lessons Learned.”

>> Read more trending news 

She announced the death of Common Core, at least in her federal agency.

DeVos also decried the federal government’s initiatives to improve education. “We saw two presidents from different political parties and philosophies take two different approaches. Federally mandated assessments. Federal money. Federal standards. All originated in Washington, and none solved the problem. Too many of America’s students are still unprepared,” she said.

And she touched on a favorite topic, school choice.

“Choice in education is not when a student picks a different classroom in this building or that building, uses this voucher or that tax-credit scholarship. Choice in education is bigger than that. Those are just mechanisms,” she said. “It’s about freedom to learn. Freedom to learn differently. Freedom to explore. Freedom to fail, to learn from falling and to get back up and try again. It’s freedom to find the best way to learn and grow… to find the exciting and engaging combination that unlocks individual potential.”

Read DeVos’s speech at MyAJC.com.

Flu outbreak forces an entire school district in Oklahoma to cancel classes for rest of week

An entire Oklahoma school district canceled classes Wednesday through Friday after schools reported excessive flu absences among much of the staff.

>> Read more trending news 

Morris Public Schools said Monday's absences were at 20 percent, and Tuesday's were at more than 30 percent.

Basketball teams will continue competition in the county tournament.

Wrestlers will need to contact the coach about scheduled meets.

The district asks that ill students stay home when school resumes.

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