Can This Connecticut City Regulate Anti-Choice Clinics Without Court Interference?

Officials in Hartford, Connecticut, rolled out an ordinance Wednesday to prevent deceptive advertising practices at faith-based pregnancy centers that use anti-choice propaganda to target those seeking abortion and contraception services.

They’re hopeful the ordinance will stand up to court scrutiny despite the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling supporting anti-choice clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers, in California.

“We are confident our ordinance can withstand legal challenge because it is more narrowly crafted than California’s law was,” Howard Rifkin, the city’s legal counsel, told Rewire.News. “We require only that these centers disclose whether they have medically licensed personnel providing or supervising services. We do not require additional disclosures about what services they may or may not offer.”

Effective October 1, the ordinance requires pregnancy centers to disclose to prospective clients if they do not have a licensed medical provider on site.

“Our ordinance is based on the simple principle that women should be told the truth when they’re making decisions about their bodies, their health, and their lives,” Mayor Luke Bronin said Wednesday at a press conference. “We have seen young women, often young women with few resources who don’t have access to regular medical care, deceived and ‘lured’ away from women’s health centers that offer the full range of reproductive healthcare. We should all agree that’s wrong, no matter how you feel about abortion. These common-sense rules say that if you don’t have a licensed medical provider on site, you should disclose that fact.”

Hartford considered the ordinance after a particularly aggressive anti-choice clinic tried to usher away patients coming in for appointments at clinic that offered real reproductive health care. To further confuse patients, the anti-choice center imitated the signs and language of the real clinic across the courtyard, as reported by Rewire.News.

The Hartford ordinance passed last December and was set to take effect July 1, but Rifkin said they delayed implementation to make sure the rules would stand up in court.

California’s Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act, or the FACT Act, required licensed clinics to inform patients and callers that free or low-cost abortions and contraceptives are available in the state, and provide telephone numbers of agencies that could connect them to such providers. Unlicensed centers were required to post disclaimers in their advertisements to clarify, in several languages, that their services do not include licensed medical help. Anti-choice clinics argued the law violated their First Amendment rights and religious beliefs.

Hartford’s ordinance is different, Rifkin said. It says if you are defined as a pregnancy service center, you have to disclose to patients and callers whether you have a medical professional on staff. Rifkin said he does not believe this impinges on any First Amendment rights and described it as “a fair and rational disclosure to women seeking reproductive health services.”

The clash between free speech and the right to abortion services led to the Supreme Court’s NIFLA v. Becerra ruling in June, a 5-4 decision that nullified the California law. Advocates worry the ruling could topple similar laws in Hawaii and Illinois.

Connecticut is also considering a statewide law based on Hartford’s ordinance. Mayor Bronin has testified in favor of House Bill 5416, “An Act Concerning Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers.” The bill faced a public hearing in March before the legislative session ended, and advocates are hopeful it will be taken up again in the Democratic-majority legislature. 

A reproductive rights roundtable organized by Connecticut State House Majority Leader Matthew Ritter (D-Hartford) received bipartisan support this summer, said Sarah Croucher, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut. “The hardest issue for us was getting people to aware of what [fake clinics] are because it’s hard for people to understand that these places really exist.”

After over 18 months of advocacy, there is more public awareness and political momentum statewide to regulate anti-choice clinics that deal in myths spread by abortion rights foes, she said.

“As fundamental reproductive rights are under threat at the national level, this is an important step at the local level that underscores Hartford’s commitment to reproductive freedom for all women. We hope the state will follow suit and protect women around Connecticut from these deceptive practices,” Croucher said in a statement.

Why Dallas Authorities Are Desperate to Attack Botham Jean’s Character

Cross-posted with permission from Truthout.

The overt contradictions in Dallas police officer Amber Guyger’s story about how and why she shot Botham Shem Jean, a 26-year-old Black man, in his own apartment September 6 would leave anyone with even a rudimentary set of reasoning skills in doubt.

First, we heard from anonymous police sources that after parking on the wrong floor of her apartment complex and arriving at Jean’s door, mistaking it for her own (despite his bright red floor mat), she entered his apartment easily because the door was unlocked. Later, we heard that, actually, Guyger inserted her electronic key and struggled with the lock, putting down several items she was holding to continue wrestling with it before Jean opened the door himself.

Finally, a version was settled on: Guyger says that Jean’s door was already slightly ajar, so when she inserted the electronic key, it pushed the door open. She alleges that she then entered Jean’s dark apartment and saw his silhouette across the room, thinking she was being burglarized. She drew her gun, gave “verbal commands” that she says Jean “ignored” and shot him twice, once in the torso, according to the Texas Rangers arrest warrant affidavit.

But at least two of Jean’s neighbors at the apartment complex demonstrated and confirmed to The Intercept’s Shaun King that the apartment doors at the complex do not readily hang ajar, but rather, swing shut. Further, even the Dallas Police Department’s (DPD) own search warrant contradicts Guyger’s account. Instead, it accuses Jean of directly confronting Guyger, reporting that a witness heard “an exchange of words, immediately followed by at least two gunshots.” The DPD also has it that Jean was right at the door, rather than across the room.

This set of mind-bogglingly contradictory accounts is one of the reasons that thinking people in Dallas-Fort Worth are fuming in the streets, demanding Guyger be charged with murder and fired from the force. (On September 9, Guyger was arrested on manslaughter charges and was released after a little more than an hour on $300,000 bail.) The DPD’s response to their protests? Balls of pepper spray.

Jean’s family has spoken out about authorities’ highly irregular handling of the case. Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, called on the department to “come clean.” The family has expressed frustration with how officials have juggled the case: handing it from the DPD to the Texas Rangers and most recently, to the Dallas County district attorney’s office—apparently in a trust-building exercise lost on the public.

The family has turned to local attorney S. Lee Merritt, who is now running his own concurrent investigation. He recently told reporters that two witnesses overheard knocking and one witness immediately adjacent to Jean’s apartment heard a woman’s voice saying, “Let me in,” before the shooting. More critically, Merritt told CNN that there had been noise complaints registered at the apartment complex that came from the “immediate downstairs neighbor,” which would have been Guyger’s third-floor apartment, and that there had been a noise complaint “that very day.” The existence of noise complaints may provide an ulterior motive for the shooting.

Attacking Jean’s Character

As this information was punching holes in Guyger’s questionable accounts, the DPD was busy attempting to assassinate Jean’s character to shore her up. Even as Jean was being laid to rest [last] Thursday, Dallas police released a public record showing that, rather than searching the apartment of a supposedly disoriented officer, who, by their own accounts, was behaving nothing short of bizarrely the night of September 6, they instead found 10.4 grams of marijuana on the victim’s kitchen counter. (Police tested Guyger’s blood for drugs and alcohol but have not made the results public.)

“To have my son smeared in such a way,” said Allison Jean Friday, “I think shows that the persons who are really nasty, who are really dirty and are going to cover up for the devil, Amber Guyger.”

Authorities are likely feeling the pressure to mount a smear campaign in order to get Guyger off the hook. While in the past, a police officer’s acquittal might be taken for granted, Dallas’s police are fresh off the heels of the conviction and sentencing in August of former Balch Springs officer Roy Oliver in the police-perpetrated shooting of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards.

Jean, like Edwards, was an exceptionally sympathetic and virtuous character. A 26-year-old from Saint Lucia in the Caribbean, Jean visited orphanages, ministered to the sick, and worked with vulnerable youth during his time there, according to his mother. He moved to Dallas and worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers after graduating from Harding University in Arkansas in 2016. Many have heard his beautifully warm voice after videos of his singing at the Dallas West Church of Christ went viral.

Merritt told Truthout that the language of the search warrant “shows the purpose of the investigation from the beginning was to find evidence to incriminate the victim and exonerate the shooter. So as evidence comes in, it seems to absolve Ms. Guyger of any real liability. Of course, that’s the evidence they’re able to gather, because that was their goal from the beginning: to assassinate the character of Botham and to exculpate Ms. Guyger.”

Merritt recalled that the same kinds of police tactics were used against the similarly sympathetic Edwards, saying the police initially offered another “highly implausible false narrative” about the car hurtling toward Oliver, who had to act “heroically” by filling the car with bullets to protect his fellow officers. In that case, too, the police “hunted all night for a gun that they believed the boys may have thrown out of the car,” Merritt said, and initially investigated Jordan’s older brothers as criminals.

“That all turned out to be false, and the reason I believe it turned out to be false is becauseand this is sadis because of the character of the person he ended up killing. Jordan was seen as somebody deserving of justice,” Merritt said. He noted the system’s tendency to favor “exceptional” victimsthose who appear extremely sympathetic in the public eyeparticularly when it comes to Black victims (most of whom are afforded no measure of justice).

Merritt highlighted another case he’s currently working on in North Texas that occurred a week before Jean’s murder: the police-perpetrated shooting of 21-year-old O’Shea Terry, who was shot as he drove away from an Arlington, Texas, police officer who had his arm in Terry’s car window. Body-worn camera footage contradicted an officer’s claim that he pulled out his gun to somehow dislodge his arm from the window, showing instead that the officer stuck his arm in the car as Terry was rolling up the window and driving away, and then shot him several times.

“That story was kind of swept away with this [Jean] incident, but O’Shea Terry [has] a criminal record, so the fact that deadly force was used against him is ‘OK,’” Merritt told Truthout. “He was killed the same way Jordan Edwards was killed. Roy Oliver didn’t want the car Jordan Edwards was traveling in to leave. He wanted to stop and question it. He couldn’t, so he shot it up. Same thing as O’Shea Terry … but he’s not the kind of Black deserving of justice” in the eyes of state’s current criminal punishment system, in which victims are unjustly divided into “good” and “bad,” deserving and undeserving.

Merritt and a crowd of more than 100 protesters openly challenged that system Sunday night, protesting on behalf of both Jean and Terry at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Nine protesters were arrested after breaking off from the larger march associated with Merritt and blocking the roadway around the stadium.

Merritt told Truthout the Jean family has been frustrated with the local media’s coverage of Jean’s shooting, saying mainstream reporters have aided and abetted the police department’s smear campaign. Writing at D Magazine, Dallas-based journalist Barrett Brown provides a useful roadmap to the ways in which local coverage has deferred to authorities’ narrative.

“They are trying not be upset about [the coverage],” Merritt told Truthout. “We spend a lot of time celebrating who Botham Shem Jean actually was. So, they’re trying to keep that image in their head, but it’s difficult when media is complicit in law enforcement’s attempt to assassinate his character in order to justify his murder.”

Meanwhile, few reporters have focused on Guyger’s own character. While she and her family quickly erased their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles in the days after the shooting, Guyger’s Pinterest account has recently surfaced, revealing troubling, albeit typical, aspects of her own police-oriented disposition. The account contains a meme critical of the Black Lives Matter movement and supportive of law enforcement: “When the Police RIOT for the death of a brother …. They do it with CLASS.” Another meme that didn’t age well: “PEOPLE ARE SO UNGRATEFUL. No one ever thanks me for having the patience not to kill them.”

Irregularities mark Guyger’s case from top to bottom, including atypical police procedures during her booking into the Kaufman County Jail, her last-minute manslaughter charges, the volleying of the investigation between law enforcement entities and lastly, the overwhelming sympathy for her story in her own charging documents.

As Dallas-area defense attorneys have noted, the language of the probable cause affidavit for Guyger’s manslaughter charge seems to have been carefully written to legally shield her. Probable cause affidavits are typically written to justify and support the arrest of a criminal defendant. In Guyger’s case, however, Stephen Le Brocq told Law&Crime, the affidavit “is written such that, one would question why a warrant was even issued.”

Victims’ Virtuousness on Trial

Oliver’s 15-year sentence is the second conviction obtained by prosecutors in Dallas County this year in police-perpetrated shooting deaths. Former Farmer’s Branch police officer Ken Johnson’s 10-year sentence in January for fatally shooting 16-year-old Jose Cruz broke a 45-year paradigm in Dallas County, which had not seen a criminal conviction against an officer in a police-perpetrated shooting death since former Dallas police officer Darrell L. Cain fatally shot 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez in 1973, sparking an uprising in the city.

Cain was sentenced to five years in prison, and got out on parole in only two-and-a-half years. The family never received an official apology from the city of Dallas, only an informal apology from Mayor Mike Rawlings, according to Cynthia Cordova, who is caregiver to Santos’s mother, Bessie, and a friend and spokesperson of the Rodriguez family.

Cordova agreed that convictions in the county shouldn’t only occur in cases involving very young boys or victims who are perceived as extremely virtuous. Pointing to the cases of Rodriguez, Cruz, and Edwards, she recently asked, “What happened to those [victims] in between?” Less sympathetic cases tend not to make the national news, let alone lead to convictions. “They just fell through the cracks, or [the police and district attorney] just didn’t care,” Cordova recently told Truthout.

The dynamic of convictions in Dallas County may mean there’s a chance that Guyger will be convicted, because Jean’s spotless record mirrors those of the young boys whose shootings resulted in officer convictions. Being able to portray Jean as anything other than saintly is absolutely critical for authorities hoping to shield a fellow officer.

Meanwhile, Merritt is working toward filing a civil lawsuit sometime this week as his team continues to gather its own evidence.

“We’re seeing the additional importance of having our own investigators, our own ballistics teams, etc., going back and doing some of the work with the limited information we have access to, because obviously we don’t have the subpoena or warrant power that the state has,” he told Truthout. “Some of the key witnesses … don’t believe in the veracity of the state’s investigation or the city’s investigation, so they’d rather give information to us, which we then turn over to the district attorney’s office.”

Still, more evidence may be on the way from city investigators that could pose problems for Guyger’s narrative: The district attorney’s office obtained a search warrant to seize Guyger’s own electronic lock. The crucial data contained inside could reveal whether she unlocked her door and entered before going to Jean’s apartment. Investigators likewise are in the process of downloading the data from Jean’s electronic lock.

As Danger to ‘Roe’ Grows, Many Voters May Not Even Know That Abortion Is Legal

Ever since Roe v. Wade established the constitutional right to abortion, federal and state policymakers have been chipping away at what it really means for people seeking abortion care. Since 2011, states have passed more than 400 abortion restrictions. Now, with President Donald Trump’s promise to appoint justices to the U.S. Supreme Court committed to overturning Roe v. Wade (such as current nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh), the threat of government action to more fully undermine abortion access looms large.

Based simply on laws already on the books, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, abortion would automatically be banned in four states and could become more restricted in 12 additional ones. This urgent threat to people’s ability to obtain abortion care has been the focus of recent advocacy campaigns, particularly when spurring opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination.

These efforts assume that people have a basic idea of what is at stake. But they might not.

A recent poll by the California-based marketing and opinion research firm Probolsky Research, which I analyzed, assessed knowledge of abortion legality. Over a 12-day period in March and April 2018, 1,000 U.S. voters were asked: “As far as you know, is abortion legal in your state?” Nearly 8 in 10 voters answered “yes,” but 12 percent responded that they did not know and 8 percent thought it was illegal.

Knowledge of abortion legality did not differ by race and ethnicity, age, or gender. Instead, education and political climate were the main characteristics associated with knowledge. Some 35 percent of polled voters with a high school degree or less did not know if abortion was legal in their state compared to 16 percent of voters who were college graduates. Living in a state with abortion restrictions was also associated with lower levels of knowledge. At the time the poll was conducted, the Guttmacher Institute considered 29 states to be hostile to abortion rights because they had enacted four or more key restrictions. In hostile states, nearly 24 percent of voters did not know if abortion was legal compared to 11 percent in states that were supportive of abortion rights. This association between policy climate and knowledge remained constant even when we controlled for education levels and other personal characteristics

The idea that individuals with less education have less accurate knowledge has been found to apply to a range of political and other issues. Associations between abortion policy climate and awareness of abortion legality require a little more explanation. A number of states considered hostile to abortion rights have enacted numerous abortion laws over the last decade. These restrictions were quite controversial in some states and received extensive local, and even national, media coverage. For example, when HB 2 was enacted in Texas, more than half of the abortion facilities closed, and this was covered by domestic and international news agencies. Abortion restrictions imposed in smaller states may not have received as much national attention, but were covered by local media. Some individuals, particularly those living in restrictive states, may have been “passively” exposed to this coverage. They may not have paid close attention to the content of the stories, but merely noted that one or more abortion laws had been passed. They may have assumed that these laws made abortion illegal or, upon being questioned about the legality of the procedure, realized they did not know how the laws affected abortion in their state.

The data discussed in this article is not without its flaws. Like polls conducted by Pew and Gallup, this one had a low response rate, and the information cannot be considered to be representative of all U.S. voters. Still, there is undoubtedly some truth in the patterns that emerged from information provided by 1,000 respondents. It is possible that accurate knowledge of the legality of abortion is even lower among nonvoting individuals—as voters are more educated, on average, than non-voters.

Abortion rights have always been embattled and have become more so over the last decade. This situation promises to get worse if the Supreme Court becomes increasingly hostile to abortion access. Even in the absence of an anti-choice individual being appointed to the Court, state-level efforts to restrict or abolish legal abortion will undoubtedly persist. Abortion restrictions not only make it harder for individuals to terminate their pregnancies, but attention around them may have the secondary effect of making people question whether abortion is even legal. Findings from this poll suggest that efforts to oppose state and national abortion restrictions need to be placed in a larger context. If people don’t even know that abortion is legal, they may not realize just how much is at stake.

Now Is an Especially Terrible Time for Texas to Stop Teaching Kids About Helen Keller

Last week, the Texas State Board of Education raised eyebrows after preliminarily voting to “streamline” the social studies curriculum in public schools, including removing mentions of Hillary Clinton and Helen Keller from sections on citizenship. Although teachers will not be prohibited from discussing Clinton or Keller, they will not be required to do so.

The removal of Keller is particularly alarming for some members of the disability community who believe that not teaching students about the deaf-blind activist and author is reflective of a larger issue: the erasure of people with disabilities. Indeed, many people with disabilities took to social media to express their frustration.

For example, journalist and activist Victoria Brownworth tweeted: “There is more to this story than the misogynist erasure of @HillaryClinton. Other women being erased, like #HelenKeller represent whole communities that are already erased daily in America.”

One in four U.S. adults—61 million Americans—have a disability, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet, although people with disabilities comprise a substantial part of the United States, they are often overlooked by the general public—and when they are acknowledged, their disability is often either the only thing that’s mentioned or it isn’t mentioned at all. This is why it is essential schools teach about Keller and other famous people with disabilities, such as Harriet Tubman, who had epilepsy, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had polio, and Fannie Lou Hamer, who had polio.

Noting the attention the vote to remove Keller and others from the curriculum received, Lawrence Carter-Long, director of communications at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, tweeted: “ON THE BRIGHT SIDE: #HelenKeller is now trending. Maybe people will be compelled to do a little research and discover *why* she was on the FBI’s watch list and what a pioneering pit bull lovin’ whisky drinkin’ Socialist bad ass she actually was.”

Indeed, although Keller is best known being deaf and blind, she was considered by conservative groups to be “radical” because of her involvement in political activism, especially the Socialist Party. Keller was concerned about social justice issues, and co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1920. Notably, Keller’s views made her the target of FBI surveillance for most of her adult life, as noted by Carter-Long.

The United States has had a shameful history of treating people with disabilities. During the eugenics movement in the 20th century, for example, more than 65,000 people, many of whom had disabilities, were forcibly sterilized in government-sanctioned procedures. This practice, considered progressive at the time, was aimed at improving society by stopping those viewed as burdensome or unfit from reproducing. Shockingly, involuntary sterilization even gained the blessing of the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1927 decision, Buck v. Bell.

Throughout history, people with disabilities were also warehoused in state institutions, segregated from mainstream society. At their peaks, there were nearly 560,000 people with psychiatric disabilities and 195,000 people with intellectual disabilities living in state institutions. By the late 1950s, journalists began exposing the appalling conditions of these institutions, leading to a push by policymakers and advocates to move people with disabilities into the community, known as the deinstitutionalization movement.

Likewise, children with disabilities were regularly denied the opportunity to attend school until the 1970s, when parents and advocates brought a series of lawsuits demanding that disabled children be provided an education. These cases also led to the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, the first federal law mandating that students with disabilities receive free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

Shedding light on the history of people with disabilities, including the segregation they experienced, can help to ensure this inhumane treatment never occurs again. There is also a benefit for students with disabilities, who are rarely taught about people like themselves.

In addition to understanding the past regrettable events, students should learn about the rich history of the disability rights movement. Indeed, in a 1996 report, Achieving Independence: The Challenge for the 21st Century, the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency that advises the president and Congress about disability policy, recommended that students learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the history of disability culture, and appropriate terminology, among other things.

Although people with disabilities have been fighting for their rights for centuries, disability rights grew in strength in the 1970s. For example, in 1977, more than 200 people with disabilities occupied federal buildings across the country to urge the Carter administration to pass regulations concerning Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the first federal law prohibiting disability-based discrimination. Known as the “504 sit-ins,” advocates occupied the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare building in San Francisco for 28 days, making it the longest such protest in the United States.

Twenty-three years later, in March 1990, disability activists again drew attention for their activism. This time, wanting Congress to pass the ADA, more than 60 people with disabilities abandoned their wheelchairs and other mobility equipment, and crawled up the 83 steps to the U.S. Capitol Building. The “Capitol crawl” was successful and led to the signing of the ADA on July 26, 1990.

The 504 sit-ins and Capitol crawl are only two of countless significant moments in disability history that must be taught in schools. For over a decade, disability advocates have been pushing for states to teach disability history and awareness in their public schools during the month of October, which is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. To date, more than a dozen states have passed laws or executive orders mandating disability history be taught to all students.

Learning about the history of people with disabilities, including how they were treated over time, can also decrease discrimination, as it has for other marginalized groups. In other words, if children are taught about people with disabilities early on as fully realized individuals, they will be more accepting and understanding as adults.

Despite many successes in disability rights, discrimination against people with disabilities, also known as ableism, remains a significant issue. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2017, only 19 percent of people with disabilities were employed, compared with 66 percent of people without disabilities. And women of color with disabilities experience even higher rates of unemployment.

The criminal justice system is also riddled with examples of people with disabilities, especially disabled people of color, continuing to be discriminated against. A recent study, for example, found that half of people killed by police have a disability. Moreover, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, three in ten people in state and federal prisons and nearly four in ten people in local jails have a disability.

The disparities people with disabilities experience is largely driven by ignorance and bias. Having students learn about the disability community can increase awareness, which in turn will lower discrimination.

Now, more than ever, it is crucial that schools teach about people with disabilities and their rich history. Understanding the past experiences of the disability community can help heighten awareness of current events and create more informed and engaged citizens.

Indeed, the rights of people are under incessant threats by the government. From continuous attacks on the Affordable Care Act, which would lead to cuts to important services for people with disabilities and the scrapping of protections for people with pre-existing conditions, to attempts by Congress to weaken the ADA, the disability community has been in a constant fight for their rights since Donald Trump took office.

The Texas State Board of Education will take a final vote in November to decide if Keller and others will be officially removed from the curriculum. By erasing people with disabilities from history lessons, we are failing our youth by denying them the opportunity to learn about significant aspects of our country’s past. Similarly, we are not providing them the knowledge necessary to be informed citizens.

For Women Veterans, No Room at the VA

When Whitney Brown, a National Guard veteran who lives in Wheeling, West Virginia, needs medical assistance, she must travel to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in St. Clairsville, Ohio, a half an hour round trip, or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an hour each way. Without outside medical insurance, Brown can only afford to be treated at the VA for any of her physical or mental health concerns. However, care at VA hospitals in Appalachia is not always prompt or easy—particularly for women veterans.

Brown, who was deployed to Iraq for about nine months of her six years in military service, has experienced significant delays on at least two separate trips to her nearest VA hospitals. Once when Brown experienced a “cracking,” wheezing sound in her lungs, she visited a VA emergency room to have her symptoms diagnosed. After some time, the doctor on the floor decided she needed to be admitted to the hospital. However, Brown estimates it took the hospital between three and four hours to finally move her from the emergency room to an inpatient bed.

“They said that they didn’t have any room, but when they wheeled me up in the wheelchair, there were six or seven empty rooms on the way,” she said in an interview with Rewire.News. “So, I don’t know if people just magically discharged themselves or what.”

While Brown cannot say for certain why she experienced such delay, she noted that her father, a Marine veteran, has gotten a room “pretty fast” in the past. Various reasons could explain this delay, but as a woman seeking help regarding a potentially serious medical condition, the wait felt unjustified to Brown. The incident also ignited her anxiety, a mental health condition that has been exacerbated by her military service. “[The situation] irritated me because, along with my anxiety, I get irritated pretty fast,” she said.

For many female veterans like Brown, once their service ends, the challenge of accessing care begins.

Retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning currently serves as the director of government relations for the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), a national organization, that, according to their website, strives to “support, connect, and advocate for service women past, present, and future.” According to Manning, one of the lesser-known difficulties female veterans face is simply receiving inpatient treatment at VA hospitals.

As of 2011, women veterans accounted for only 10 percent of the total veteran population in the United States, which means men still heavily outweigh women military personnel. In many cases, the imbalance between male and female veterans’ care can be traced to the Army’s historic gender breakdown.

VA hospitals in more rural areas, like some of central Appalachia, tend to be treatment facilities with a particular, outdated design: fewer wards and rooms filled with more beds. These wards can house multiple patients at one time, which means patients can be treated in a single room—particularly practical at VA hospitals, where, up until the past century, patients were almost exclusively men. Military doctors and nurses could indiscriminately place the men together in a single space.

But these health-care facilities built in past centuries are still in use today, when they may have outlived some of their usefulness. The large ward design has become an issue for VA hospitals as more and more women continue to join the U.S. military. “It’s much easier for male veterans who need inpatient health care to get a slot,” Manning said in an interview with Rewire.News. “Not all VA facilities have slots for women to have inpatient health care.”

Throughout Appalachia, where rurality and economic disparity already affect access to mental health care and other forms of treatment, veterans can sometimes only go to VA hospitals: the only facilities for miles. This is especially the case for veterans like Brown, who do not have outside health insurance.

A 2007 file from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), cited in the Appalachia Regional Commission’s “Health Care Costs and Access Disparities in Appalachia” report, showed that “military veterans in the Appalachian Region, particularly the central sub-region and western Pennsylvania, were among the highest users of VHA services in the U.S.” Paired with the fact that Appalachians frequently struggle with access to health insurance, many veterans in the region may not have the opportunity to visit alternative clinics or providers.

Little research has been done to compare admittance rates for male and female veterans at VA hospitals throughout the country. In VA hospitals and non-military hospitals alike, it is still a cultural norm in the United States that hospital rooms remain segregated by sex, a measure intended to promote feelings of control and comfort among patients. However, as the number of female veterans increase, women who live in communities serviced by older VA hospitals could experience a delay in care—especially if men already predominantly occupy the hospital rooms.

Hospitals have general protocols they take to ensure female veterans have prompt access to inpatient care. Lauren Winebrenner, public affairs specialist and community outreach program coordinator at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center in West Virginia, said that at the VA where she works, men can be shifted from one room to another in order to give women veterans private rooms.

“For us, if we have to move a man so a woman has a room with a bathroom so she has the privacy she needs, that’s what happens,” Winebrenner said in an interview with Rewire.News. “And I would say that would be true for any facility because we’re not going to ever put men and women together during a hospitalization.”

Renovated facilities like the Martinsburg VA work to serve and treat women by having a women’s health clinic. Furthermore, Winebrenner said that women are always given private rooms with bathrooms when they check into the general medical center. While uncommon, Winebrenner said there have been instances when the hospital had to relocate some male veterans to accommodate women.

“Not frequently, but it does happen on occasion, like during flu season when you have all your beds full,” Winebrenner said. While the move may be inconvenient, Winebrenner said it has never caused a problem.

“We explained that to the [male] veterans and we’ve never had any issues with any veterans who were not willing to do that to accommodate another veteran.”

On Attempted Rape Allegations, GOP Wants to Prosecute Ford to Promote Kavanaugh

Last Sunday, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of psychology from Palo Alto University, made public her allegation that Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her at a high school party in the 1980s. From the moment she did, Republicans began undermining her using a playbook straight out of the Anita Hill hearings.

Their strategy employs several tactics in a larger effort to discredit and distract. One is to question Ford’s sanity and veracity. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, known for his attacks on Hill 27 years ago, made clear that Ford could not possibly be telling the truth because Kavanaugh denied it. Hatch said Monday that Ford is “mistaken” and he believes Kavanaugh is “a very strong, decent man.” In an interview with CNN, Hatch said that Kavanaugh told him during a telephone conversation Monday that “he didn’t do that and he wasn’t at the party” where the incident is alleged to have occurred, so “clearly somebody’s mixed up.”

“She’s mistaken something that I don’t know …. I don’t know her,” Hatch said. Asked if he believes Kavanaugh, Hatch responded, “I sure do.”

Easy, right? No man accused of attempted rape has ever lied about it and surely this woman must be “mistaken,” a euphemistic way of saying she is either lying, crazy, or both. It’s not “he said, she said.” It’s “he said, and that’s all I need to know.” 

Even as some Republicans dismiss Ford’s claims outright, others try to appear sympathetic and concerned about the allegations while insisting that some existential ticking clock prevents them from taking time to investigate. Kellyanne Conway, playing the role of the sympathetic female figure, said that Ford “should not be insulted and she should not be ignored,” and immediately reminded everyone that Kavanaugh is a man of “character and integrity”—simultaneously both insulting Ford’s veracity and ignoring the implications of the what Ford alleged. South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham took pains to paint Kavanaugh himself as a victim, stating“They’ve had tons of time to do this. This has been a drive-by shooting when it comes to Kavanaugh  …. I’ll listen to the lady, but we’re going to bring this to a close.”

Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Jeff Flake of Arizona, in their usual roles as senatorial Weebles, flipped back and forth, first asserting that a vote must be postponed until the Senate could hear from Ford, and then flopping to the other side: Corker demanded a vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation be taken unless she appears Monday, Flake indicated he’d do the same, and Collins said not doing so would be “unfair” to Kavanaugh. Meanwhile, complicating everything but utterly predictable, the right-wing terror machine has gone into full gear: threatening, intimidating, and harassing Ford and her family, who now have been forced into hiding.

The GOP is now blaming Ford for not adhering to the rules of a game they’ve changed several times. After the allegations became public, Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley said that a vote on Kavanaugh would proceed as originally scheduled on Thursday, September 20. That changed after a public backlash: The vote was postponed, and a hearing set for Monday the 24th, just a few days later. The committee had not, however, consulted either Ford or her lawyer, Debra Katz, on timing, venue, or process, making clear they did not have her interest at heart. Moreover, Grassley made clear they would not call or subpoena the only other witness named by Ford, conservative columnist Mark Judge. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin noted that “in any rational fact-finding process,” Judge would be called to testify. But this is not rational. This is the GOP hell-bent on maintaining its own power.

Katz sent a letter questioning the process and requesting an FBI investigation:

While Dr. Ford’s life was being turned upside down, you and your staff scheduled a public hearing for her to testify at the same table as Judge Kavanaugh in front of two dozen U.S. Senators on national television to relive this traumatic and harrowing incident. The hearing was scheduled for six short days from today and would include interrogation by Senators who appear to have made up their minds that she is “mistaken” and “mixed up.” While no sexual assault survivor should be subjected to such an ordeal, Dr. Ford wants to cooperate with the Committee and with law enforcement officials.
As the Judiciary Committee has recognized and done before, an FBI investigation of the incident should be the first step in addressing her allegations. A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the Committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions.

Now the GOP is demanding Ford show up or else, and Grassley sent a letter to Katz late Wednesday afternoon demanding that Ford submit written testimony by this Friday morning. Moreover the GOP has refused to call for an FBI investigation, even though it can easily be carried out and is actually routine in such cases.

All of this is meant to mask the fact that Republicans are unconcerned with fact-finding or objective truth, a fact we knew if only because the entire Kavanaugh confirmation process has been a sham. They are not concerned with sexual assault, sexual harassment, or victims’ rights. They are not concerned with weighing Ford’s allegations. They don’t care if Kavanaugh attempted rape once, twice, or 100 times, or if he harassed, demeaned, or was complicit in harassment in the offices of Alex Kozinski, or if there are other issues to uncover, such as those on which he appears to have committed perjury. They are not concerned with justice in any sense. They just want Kavanaugh, a former political operative, on the Court as soon as possible so he can do the bidding of corporate interests. A new Reuters poll suggests that his popularity throughout the country is at a historic low and opposition to his becoming a justice of the Supreme Court is high. But he’s the judicial equivalent of Trump shooting a guy on Fifth Avenue; he won’t lose GOP support.

In an interview, Kristine Lucius, who worked on judicial nominations for 14 years as the staff director at the Senate Judiciary Committee, told me she feels Grassley’s approach is not in keeping with best practices and is a partisan approach. Lucius, currently executive vice president for policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said:

I think the process that Chairman Grassley has set forth on this hearing just generally, even before these allegations of Dr. Blasey Ford came to light, that process has had many red flags, many process fouls …. So I think that what we’re seeing is a continuation of how he has run this hearing process and this independent vetting of Brett Kavanaugh differently than any previous Supreme Court nomination that I’ve worked on, and I’ve worked on six.

Lucius did not think it would be appropriate to have Senate staffers interview Ford and Kavanaugh, as Grassley had suggested. There are individuals, Lucius said, “who are specifically trained in how to investigate allegations of sexual assault or sexual trauma. And it is a very different and much more sensitive type of investigation.”

Staffers are not equipped to carry out such investigations, Lucius said, because for one thing they lack training:

I can tell you as someone who for many years was a “cleared” staffer who worked on background investigations of judicial nominees, that there was no training whatsoever for how to work with survivors of sexual trauma. That’s just not at all what the cleared staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee were trained to do or did. Instead, the FBI—and other organizations, I think, at the state level as well—they have investigators who understand how you approach those conversations, understand how to get a whole picture when someone has experienced severe trauma. But I can tell you that’s not at all what Senate Judiciary Committee staff are trained to do.

“We know from the Anita Hill hearings that the FBI conducted a series of investigations before Anita Hill came to testify. So it seems … directly analogous [that] what Dr. Blasey Ford is asking to happen before she come testify should happen here as well,” Lucius continued.

“The investigators at the FBI are nonpartisan, they’re not running for political office, they are trained to have these kind of conversations. And so it makes perfect sense to me, knowing the limitation of staff conversation and clear staff interviews, that that is not the appropriate thing when we’re talking about an allegation as serious as sexual assault,” Lucius said, pointing out that the senators “can use that investigative material from the FBI to prepare for the hearing.”

If justice is to be served, what is needed, Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), told me in an interview is a “trauma-informed” process that protects Ford and seeks the truth. A joint letter sent by the NWLC and the Leadership Institute to all 100 senators on Tuesday calls for just that, “an investigation led by independent, trauma-informed professionals who have the training and experience necessary to appropriately and respectfully handle a matter involving sexual assault.” 

The letter says:

The Constitution entrusts all 100 Senators with the responsibility to independently consider nominations to the Supreme Court. In light of the revelation that the Senate Judiciary Committee noticed a hearing without Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s consent and agreement, we call for the Senate Judiciary Committee to postpone the scheduled hearing on Monday, September 24, 2018. It is imperative that each member of the Senate clearly commit to providing a process to consider these very serious and credible allegations that is fair, thorough, and nonpartisan for all parties involved. A rushed process without a fair and independent investigation is unacceptable.

Facts. Respect. Dignity. Justice. These would be at the center of any process that seeks truth and ensures that the allegations made against Brett Kavanaugh are fully vetted. From what we can see so far, the GOP has no interest in such a process, just as they have nominated a man to the Court who has no interest in justice.

In ‘Unapologetic,’ Charlene Carruthers Offers Young Black Organizers Inspiration, Purpose, and Strength

One of Charlene Carruthers’ earliest memories about power comes from her visits with her mother to the public aid office in Chicago for food stamps or cash assistance. She recalls entering a “colorful and always noisy” room full of Black and brown women, many of them with children. The front desk “was placed on high, and even then the symbolism of this was evident to me, and I found the arrangement uncomfortable and odd,” Carruthers writes in her new book, Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements, published last month by Beacon Press.

“I also didn’t understand why we had to wait in a room all day for a conversation of no more than fifteen minutes with a caseworker,” Carruthers continues. “I didn’t understand why the caseworker asked my mother invasive questions about my very present father. I didn’t know the government viewed Black fathers as a barrier to need and Black mothers as unworthy of dignified treatment.”

This experience was one of many that left an imprint on Carruthers as she came to understand the impact of anti-Blackness, patriarchy, and capitalism in the United States and around the world. But it was social justice movement work that showed the Chicago-based organizer, who would serve as founding national director of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), how to “think more expansively about Black freedom and collective liberation.”

In that spirit, Unapologetic offers Black organizers a framework from which to draw inspiration, purpose, and strength. It stands apart from other books about movement work by offering guidance to Black youth organizers who are in today’s liberation movement, or who are seeking to join or learn more about it and its Black queer feminist praxis from one of its progenitors.

As historian and longtime political activist Barbara Ransby—who co-founded the Chicago-based Black Radical Congress in the late 1990s—argues in her new book, Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21st Century, “This is the first time in the history of U.S. social movements that Black feminist politics have defined the frame for a multi-issue, Black-led mass struggle that did not primarily or exclusively focus on women.”

BYP100 is a member-based organization for Black youth between the ages of 18 and 35 focused on transformative leadership development, direct action organizing, advocacy, and education. Like Black Lives Matter, BYP100 was originally a hashtag—in this case, for the 2013 “Beyond November Movement Convening” developed by longtime Black feminist activist and political scientist Cathy Cohen. Created after the acquittal of the man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the organization has led some of the most significant actions defending the dignity of Black people, such as the #StoptheCops and #FundBlackFutures campaigns; it currently has chapters in Chicago, D.C., Detroit, Durham (NC), Jackson (MS), New Orleans, New York City, and the San Francisco Bay Area, along with a national membership for young people who are outside of those regions.

The sole staff member for the organization’s first year after leading grassroots and digital strategy campaigns for Color of Change and the Women’s Media Center—among other national groups—Carruthers unpacks in her book BYP100’s Black queer feminist (BQF) organizing lens. Drawing inspiration from such luminaries as Ella Baker, Barbara Smith, and the Combahee River Collective, she defines it as a “political praxis (practice and theory) based in Black feminist and LGBTQ traditions and knowledge, through which people and groups see to bring their full selves into the process of dismantling all systems of oppression.” This lens enables BYP100 to create “alternatives of self-governance and self-determination” and through its application while organizing, members are able to “more effectively prioritize problems and methods that center historically marginalized people in our communities.”

Carruthers provides numerous examples of the BQF lens in practice throughout the book. One example that stands out is BYP100’s holistic response to an allegation of sexual assault involving one of its leaders. As has been acknowledged publicly, a visible leader in BYP100 Chicago, Malcolm London, was accused of sexually assaulting a young Black woman identified as Kyra. Rather than forcing London from the organization, the BYP100 community facilitated a “survivor-led process of transformative justice” with London and Kyra, led by experts in that process, while the organization placed London on hiatus and underwent internal changes “to address and prevent harm within our organization.”

“While BYP100 had not even existed when the assault took place, our organization and its leaders chose to be accountable to the survivor and broader community. In the … transformative justice process, I came to realize what it meant to embody Black queer feminism as a praxis.” That meant not disowning members, but instead practicing compassion for their community. “All too often our responses to our people mirror our responses to the state. Our comrades should not become our targets,” Carruthers writes.

It’s not a perfect lens—it’s “full of contradictions because we are working to practice and explain what it means”—but the takeaway here is the extraordinary possibilities for radical transformation when using a framework that expands what many people see as responses to violence, even when it involves an accusation brought against one of their own comrades. “Did we set ourselves up for failure by opening a space that espouses values no one can completely live up to? I can accept that,” Carruthers writes. “We are fighting for our lives against formidable enemies, but we are optimistic and steadfast in the idea that we can lean to treat each other better.”

When asked how the BQF lens has transformed her personally, Carruthers explained to Rewire.News in a recent phone interview, “It allows me to think much more expansively and not to move out of a spirit of scarcity but a spirit of abundance and thinking about all the possibilities that we have before us. Queer politics, at least radical queer politics, are about expansiveness, about imagination, and about possibility.”

Another example of Black queer feminist organizing in practice is the May 2015 national day of action raising awareness of police violence against Black women and girls. The action kicked off at the time that Chicago organizers were calling for the firing of officer Dante Servin, who fatally shot 22-year-old Rekia Boyd but remained on the city’s payroll three years after her killing. During Servin’s trial, Boyd’s mom, Angela Helton, said to Carruthers “in a voice heavy with grief, ‘They never talk about the women and girls.’”

That planted a seed in the organizer’s mind that was swiftly followed by support from BYP100 and other organizations to organize a national day of action, in coordination with the release of the African American Policy Forum’s groundbreaking report Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women. “Together we wove a narrative about the impact of policing Black women, girls, and gender-nonconforming people that changed how everyday people understood the meaning of #BlackLivesMatter.”

It is in the “Reviving the Black Radical Imagination” chapter that the author reminds readers how Black people have always found a way to see beyond the violence inflicted upon them. She discusses an analogy shared by the legendary Cicely Tyson of a ladder that represents the world’s social order and places Black women below white men, white women, and Black men, on the last rung. Black women “are being trampled on by all those three above, and still we hold on. That’s our strength. That’s the reason we survive—because we will not let go of that rung,” said the actor.

Carruthers diverges from Tyson on the part about whether holding on is Black women’s strength. “The killing of the Black imagination, I believe, tells us that we must rise only as far as the world will allow us,” she writes. “But I argue that Black women have always demanded and done more.”

“We’ve never accepted that the bottom rung is where we will remain. And that’s where the Black imagination lives. It lives in our ability to create alternatives, whether those are alternative economies, alternative family structures, or something else entirely,” writes Carruthers.

This space where the Black imagination lives is where tools for collective liberation are born, Carruthers explains. It’s where strategies are designed to create transformative change, “meaning change that dismantles oppressive systems and fundamentally shifts power into the hands of communities.” Carruthers writes that this change takes time, but notes a shift is under way and it is very clearly being led by young Black abolitionists.

When Rewire.News spoke with her on the phone about maintaining radical imagination amid darkness, she explained: “I’m not free of sadness, free of anxiety, free of despair. That stuff is super present for me. It’s about moving through that and not getting stuck in it. And the only way I’m not able to get stuck—the only reason I’m not always stuck in it—is because I’m connected to other people doing the work.”

“There’s no magic bullet. I don’t have some spell or incantation to tell people. There’s no secret sauce,” said Carruthers. “At some point, people have to be driven and make an active choice to engage in some kind of way, no matter what that is. And oftentimes the single choice to do something leads to being able to deepen our work.”

Collective action over individualism is a crucial precursor to collective liberation. “There are things that we could do as individuals and there are things that we can only do as a collective group of people, and creating transformative change is one of those things,” she said.

The idea that change is not only possible but in our control may seem suspect to individuals who are struggling to see themselves as enough, often as a consequence of those with power doing the most to kill Black imagination and self-determination. For young Black people, Carruthers had this to say: “First, know that we live in a world that tells us every single day that we are not enough: We don’t have the right body, we don’t have the right ideas, we don’t have the right amount of money, we don’t come from the right kind of family. And yet we still persist. And while there are people who tell you that you are not enough, there is someone around the corner who absolutely believes that you are enough.”

“And so we quite frankly have to find our people. Find our people, find our village.”

BYP100 is one such village. And after five years, Carruthers is transitioning out from her national director position and welcoming two co-directors, Janaé Bonsu and D’atra “Dee Dee” Jackson.

Regeneration is a common theme throughout Unapologetic. Carruthers addresses the concept directly in the “Three Commitments” chapter, in which she invites organizers to take up “adopting healing justice as a core organizing value and practice,” “combating liberalism with principled struggle,” and “building many strong leaders.” These three practices can enable movements to “cultivate radical and even revolutionary means for liberation,” Carruthers argues. Within this chapter, she reminds readers about the importance of doing self-work and healing to create more effective movements, as well as snuffing out harmful liberalism practices that “do harm without consequence,” such as allowing people and organizations to identify as “progressive” without committing to “ensuring reproductive freedom or ending mass incarceration or poverty,” or “allows so-called progressive elected officials to fund wars but vote no on immigrant rights.”

When asked how she and BYP100 prepares young leaders, she clarified that “we’re not training the next generation of leaders; we are training people who are leading right now. So whether we’re working with people who are in middle school or in high school or people who are young adults … we’re not preparing them for something five years from now, we’re doing things for right now—and for 20 years from now, 30 years from now, 40 years from now.”

Training for people leading right now includes strategic communications and “teaching people how to facilitate a meeting and giving them space to do it. Those things are the building blocks of organizing,” said Carruthers.

The book offers numerous case studies on how young Black people are working to fulfill the mandate for Black people, as espoused by Southerners on New Ground Co-Director Mary Hooks: to avenge the suffering of our ancestors; to earn the respect of future generations; and to be willing to be transformed in the service of the work. At the same time, it acknowledges that the Black liberation movement must continue to grow and evolve, and in many ways speaks to future generations about how the task of reimagining must continue to address unforeseen circumstances of today.

“Nobody gave [BYP100] a plan,” Carruthers told Rewire.News. “We had to figure it out, just like generations before us.” And the same will be true of future generations. Fortunately they have one more guide in the canon of radical Black organizing books to lead them—to lead us—to collective liberation.

A Detained Immigrant Is On A Hunger Strike in Washington State. ICE Might Force Feed Him.

Immigrant advocates are trying to keep Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from force-feeding a man detained inside of a Washington state detention center who has been on a hunger strike for nearly 30 days.

Attorneys for the hunger striker scheduled an emergency court hearing Tuesday seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) against ICE after officers in the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington allegedly threatened Viacheslav Poliakov with force-feeding. The hearing was canceled, leaving advocates concerned that the federal immigration agency is attempting to move forward with force-feeding the detainee without allowing his legal counsel to intervene. 

“It is my understanding that canceling a hearing like this is not a normal occurrence,” said Maru Mora Villalpando, a spokesperson for the undocumented-led immigrant rights group, NWDC Resistance. “We told the people on hunger strike we would do our best to protect them on every level possible and that included being able to move forward with this hearing. The hearing wasn’t denied or postponed, it was canceled. We are not being given the chance to protect people who have chosen to utilize their freedom of speech through hunger strike.”

An estimated 60 people in NWDC launched their hunger strike on August 21 in solidarity with those participating in the national prison strike and calling for the abolishment of “prison slavery.” The hunger strike has continued, with detained people joining at different periods and reports of people striking for more than 20 days, but Poliakov has continued the strike since it first launched and the TRO was being sought in his case because he is at “imminent risk” of being force-fed by federal immigration authorities, according to advocates.

The Russian immigrant has told advocates he will refrain from eating until detainees have access to better medical care and he is released, allowing him to fight for asylum from the outside. Poliakov has been detained at NWDC since April 3 and was placed in removal proceedings on April 25. On August 30, he was ordered removed from the United States and has until October 1 to file an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, according to court documents obtained by Rewire.News.

Villalpando told Rewire.News that Poliakov could not stand on his own during his last court hearing on August 30, requiring assistance because he had not eaten in eight days. As of September 19, Poliakov has been on hunger strike for 27 days.

A lawsuit was filed last week by the Whatcom Civil Rights Project and the Law Office of Edward S. Alexander, P.S. requesting the court grant a TRO to stop ICE from “threatening hunger strikers with force-feeding, solitary confinement, and segregation,” according to a press release from NWDC Resistance. On September 6, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington attorney, Enoka Herat, also sent a warning letter to the NWDC warden and the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Annette L. Hayes, after detainees participating in the hunger strike reported to advocates that ICE agents were threatening to get a court order that would allow them to force-feed hunger strikers. 

“Detainees in ICE custody have the right to engage in protected First Amendment speech, including participation in hunger strikes,” the letter read. “Detainees also have the right to make informed decisions about their own health care when engaging in hunger strikes.”

While yesterday’s hearing was canceled, attorneys representing the hunger striker received a legal document filed by ICE. Rewire.News has seen a portion of the document, where the agency notes, “Courts in this District, including this Court, have granted orders on at least six occasions.” While ICE says these cases are “filed under seal due to the sensitive personal and medical information involved,” Villalpando said this is a reference to six court orders in which ICE was allowed to impose involuntary medical monitoring, involuntary hydration, or involuntary feeding.

“This is very open to interpretation. It can mean that ICE forced someone to hydrate or that ICE was successful in ordering someone to be force-fed through a tube,” Villalpando said. “We don’t know when these six cases were or who the people were, but for me, it’s a very alarming revelation. To my previous knowledge, there have been no force-feedings in detention centers or on U.S. soil, but maybe I was wrong.”

While ICE has denied it retaliates against detainees, there are documented cases of the agency moving to force-feed hunger strikers. In December 2015, after nationwide hunger strikes were launched on the eve of Thanksgiving as a part of “Freedom Giving,” a national movement to bring awareness to the inhumane treatment of immigrants in detention, judges in several districts signed off on the force feeding of hunger strikers. Detainees at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, ended a 14-day hunger strike after hearing that a district judge authorized officials to force-feed one of the hunger strikers.

Also in December 2015, a U.S. district judge ordered doctors at the Krome Processing Center in Miami, Florida to force-feed ten Bangladeshi men who had been on hunger strike for more than 20 days. The threat of being force-fed through nasal-gastric tubes was enough to end the hunger strike.

In court documents filed by ICE in response to the request for the TRO, Drew Bostock, ICE’s assistant field office director at the Seattle field office, reported he was made aware Poliakov was hunger striking on August 22. When a detainee launches a hunger strike and misses nine consecutive meals, ICE’s local field office must be notified by detention center officials. Bostock said he had never spoken to Poliakov and asserted, “I have not threatened to put a tube down Detainee Poliakov’s throat.”

ICE told Rewire.News in an emailed statement: “ICE will only administer involuntary medical treatment after securing a court order. ICE is unable to provide further comment on pending litigation.”

Villalpando told Rewire.News she’s concerned about the health of detained people after a “toxic” fire erupted less than a mile from NWDC. The fire blazed for 12 hours after lithium-ion batteries inside a 50-foot pile of scrap metal at Simon Metals spontaneously combusted, with “unhealthy levels” of “toxic smoke” harming the air quality and causing Tacoma residents “headaches, nausea, and watering eyes,” according to local news reports. The Tacoma Fire Department advised people to stay indoors and avoid inhaling the toxic fumes. But detainees inside NWDC were not made aware of the fire by ICE or GEO Group, the private prison company contracted to run the operations at the detention center.

Detained people learned of the toxic fire by advocates with NWDC Resistance.

“This is why people hunger strike. The is the perfect example. There is a lack of safety and concern for the lives of the people ICE and companies like GEO oversee,” Villalpando said. “People weren’t even told of this fire that could give them serious health issues. They were not told they may need to evacuate if the fire spreadand the fire was less than one mile away. No one who is detained by ICE is safe.”

Cincinnati Public School Students With Disabilities Are Protected on Paper But Say They’re Treated Poorly in Practice

Just one month before her 14th birthday, Arrington Payne’s uncle—with whom she had a very close bond—was gunned down on the west side of Cincinnati. His murder left the teen grief-stricken and deeply distraught.

One Sunday shortly afterward, Payne’s body suddenly began jerking uncontrollably about an hour into the morning sermon at her church. She briefly lost consciousness.

After nearly a year of experiencing several more similar episodes, Payne learned that she was having nonepileptic pseudoseizures or “events,” brought about by conversion disorder: a condition in which an individual experiences shaking, blindness, paralysis, or other nervous system symptoms that do not have a physical cause. Payne’s doctors believe that her disorder is linked to post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her uncle’s death.

Since that day, Payne, now 17, has had countless events. They range in severity from moments of blank staring to violent jerking spells that have caused her to fall and sustain serious injuries. At times, Payne may have up to five events in one day.

“I miss school a lot just because my [events] are so frequent,” Payne said. “If I have one in the morning, it’ll keep me from going to school because I’ll be too tired.” Payne has suffered multiple concussions and other injuries—including fractured bones—as a result of falling during her shaking spells.

Because of her condition, she requires accommodations to her learning environment at the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), located in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati. SCPA is part of Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), the largest public school district in the Cincinnati metropolitan area and the third-largest in the state of Ohio.

A letter penned by a pediatric psychologist on behalf of Payne in 2015 explains how her events “often resemble epileptic seizures, but they lack the characteristic clinical and electrographic features of epileptic seizures.” The psychologist goes on to describe how the events alone “do not require medical attention,” but advises that the “events need to be taken very seriously.” She also mentions “it is extremely important to realize that Arrington is not ‘faking’ these events.”

Still, Payne told Rewire.News that teachers, administrators, and other school staff continuously downplay her disability, though she has presented extensive medical proof that it impedes her ability to learn.

As outlined by federal law, children with disabilities like Payne are guaranteed equal access to public education and school services. They can either receive individualized education plans (IEPs) through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), or—like Payne—seek 504 plans under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Both policies require public school districts to provide a “free and appropriate education,” often referred to as FAPE, to all children with qualifying disabilities who live within district lines, irrespective of the nature or severity of a child’s disability. The policies also include access to the “least restrictive environment” (LRE) for students with disabilities as a guiding principle. For IEPs and 504 plans, the impetus for an evaluation is usually a request by a parent or a recommendation by a teacher. School psychologists and specialists will generally do their own evaluations of a student, but having outside medical documentation of a disability or a doctor’s recommendation certainly helps prove a child is in need.

The doctor who wrote the letter in support of Payne’s 504 plan in 2015 wrote that “there is high probability that [the events] will significantly decrease or stop [altogether] if properly treated,” and that “effective treatment will take the concerted efforts of Arrington’s doctors, counselor, parents, and school personnel.” Her letter expresses that “the guiding theme of effective treatment is for [Payne] to be treated compassionately.”

But Payne claims this has not been her overall experience at SCPA. Her teachers, she says, are not always understanding of her circumstances and the absences they cause. Consequently, her grades have suffered.

“I’m taking all advanced classes and I’m doing the best I can,” said Payne, who is now a senior. “I can see it in my teachers’ eyes and in the way they talk to me that they don’t want to see me succeed. They put barriers up and make things harder for me than they would for the next person.” One of Payne’s friends also described to Rewire.News incidents in which school staff would accuse Payne of “faking” her events.

Payne’s mother, Lekita Balderos, says that when she presented the issue to school administrators, her concerns were brushed off. In addition to being misunderstood by school faculty, Payne alleges she was once physically assaulted by a history teacher in 2016, as a ninth grader.

Balderos, who herself works with children with disabilities, says she tried to file a police report with the Cincinnati Police Department, but was instructed to file a report with the SCPA school resource officer instead. She provided Rewire.News with a copy of the report, which alleges the teacher in question grabbed Payne’s “upper arm area with aggressive force” and shook her while yelling at her, causing her to have an event.

“He took the information and told me that it may take several weeks, but that we would be hearing from someone about a court date,” Balderos said of the report she gave the resource officer. Four months later, after reaching out repeatedly, she learned the case had been closed and dismissed.

In Payne’s eyes, this is not “appropriate” education as outlined under Section 504. She isn’t alone: Rewire.News interviewed more than a dozen students and parents of students with disabilities who live in the Cincinnati Public Schools district. Their struggles with having disabilities recognized and accommodated have been problematic and at times, apparently in violation of federal law. CPS officials declined to comment to Rewire.News on matters pertaining to individual students, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Payne recalled a period during which she was temporarily deaf after having a serious shaking spell in 2015. Soon after she lost her ability to hear, Payne sat in a meeting with an in-school social worker and the school principal to discuss updating her 504 plan. Payne says the social worker requested the school provide her with an interpreter, which would make communicating with her teachers less burdensome.

Although she couldn’t hear, Payne said she could still read lips and felt invisible when the principal made a remark he assumed she wouldn’t catch.

“He said that the school couldn’t shell out money just because a kid is emotional and chooses not to hear,” Payne said. She later confirmed what the principal said with the social worker, as they reviewed notes from that meeting together. The social worker did not respond to Rewire.News’ request for comment; school officials declined to answer any questions about Payne’s allegations and referred Rewire.News to CPS’ media relations department.

Ultimately, the school did not provide her with an interpreter.

A “Free and Appropriate Education”

Though both IEPs and 504 plans are designed to protect the educational rights of students with disabilities, there are notable differences in how each is implemented.

Procedural requirements for IEPs under IDEA are very specific about who should be involved in the planning process: a parent or guardian, at least one general education teacher, one special education teacher, a school psychologist or other equally qualified clinician, and a district representative who oversees special education services are all required to be present. IEPs must be reviewed annually, but they may be reviewed more frequently if a parent or any other members of the IEP planning team request as much.

504 plans, however, do not legally have to come in the form of an official, written document. Thus, there are no procedural requirements for who is involved in the 504 planning process. All districts that receive federal funding are required to employ at least one 504 coordinator, though, who is responsible for ensuring that the district is complying with Section 504 regulations. The law only requires “periodic re-evaluation” of plans, which is usually every three years.

IDEA is strictly an educational policy, while Section 504 is recognized as a civil rights law that works in tandem with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Neither IDEA nor Section 504 mandate that specific services or accommodations be assigned to students on the basis of a specific disability, as a rule. However, educators are tasked under both laws with implementing plans that promote the standards of FAPE and LRE for children who qualify. With regard to IDEA specifically, in the 2017 Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a “free and appropriate education” includes well-founded goals for a student’s educational progress.

IEPs facilitate both modifications—or customized changes to a curriculum—and accommodations, defined as adjustments to one’s learning environment. 504 plans are only intended to provide accommodations.

Another distinct difference between IEPs and 504 plans are their respective standards for eligibility. For a student with a disability to be eligible for a 504 plan, they must have a “physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities” and have “a record of such an impairment” or be “regarded as having such an impairment.”

The disabilities eligible under IDEA are generally covered by Section 504, but not all disabilities covered under Section 504 are covered by IDEA. The 13 disability categories covered under IDEA include specific learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities, deafness and other hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, and emotional disturbances among other disabilities. However, having a disability under one of those 13 categories alone isn’t enough to qualify: A child’s disability must require them to need specialized instruction and/or services in order to make progress in school.

This is the case for Cillian Carlson, a Cincinnati student who has been diagnosed with borderline autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS): a group of connective tissue disorders that causes bearers to injure easily and may come with psychological symptoms, including anxiety.

After weighing several school options within the Cincinnati Public Schools district for her son, Cillian’s mother Melanie Carlson settled on enrolling him in Silverton Paideia Academy for kindergarten in 2015. Silverton is a preschool-through-sixth grade magnet school that boasts a “museum model” curriculum, or curriculum that engages students in exploration and discovery activities and the creation of projects.

Carlson and her husband, Sean, believed the museum school model would be beneficial for Cillian. However, warning signs that Silverton was a less-than-ideal environment for their child began to emerge soon after he started kindergarten.

“Cillian was coming home and saying things like ‘[my teacher] was mean to me,’” Carlson told Rewire.News. Then one day in January, the kindergartner came home crying about his interactions with his teacher. This prompted Carlson to schedule a string of conferences with her.

“She’d say, ‘Oh well, his behavior is terrible,’ and when I’d ask her what she meant, she couldn’t really tell me anything,” Carlson said of the meetings. And although Silverton had assigned Cillian a personal teacher’s aide as part of his IEP, nobody seemed to be able to give Carlson concrete details about her son’s in-class behavior. The aide would tell Carlson that everything was going great, while his teacher would continuously complain about him.

Carlson grew even more concerned when Cillian started failing spelling tests—tests she says should’ve never been given to him considering he couldn’t read at that time and had speech delays. Carlson says Cillian’s kindergarten teacher initially agreed to make the adjustments Cillian needed. But when Carlson requested his teacher give him extra time to work on the tests, she says the teacher refused.

“This is a kid with an IEP who is developmentally delayed and is still learning language,” Carlson said as she recalled the notes Cillian’s teacher sent home about him failing the tests. The Carlsons went into overdrive, creating a flashcard system in an effort to get Cillian up to speed on reading and spelling. But by then, the kindergartner—who had typically conveyed an eagerness to learn and work—had already developed anxiety surrounding his academic performance.

“He loves learning but all of a sudden, he became highly anxious and didn’t want to go to school anymore,” Sean Carlson said. Cillian would cry and apologize profusely anytime he made a mistake during their at-home spelling lessons.

Moreover, Carlson says she also learned there were days when Cillian was denied recess because he hadn’t finished his classwork, although his IEP asserts his need to have movement breaks.

Rewire.News examined Ohio Department of Education (ODE) records on district-wide disciplinary actions taken during the 2016-2017 academic year. We found that despite making up less than one-fifth of the CPS student population, students with disabilities were disciplined at a rate that was nearly 22 percent higher than that for students without disabilities. An ODE representative said that the “disability” condition noted in a ODE manual on the subject “describes the disability of a student at or below 22 years of age who has been officially identified with a disability by an ETR (Evaluation Team Report), an IEP (Individualized Education Program), and one of the valid disability condition options.” In other words, these students are covered under IDEA; the data set does not note how many students with disabilities using 504 plans were disciplined. The methods of discipline include out-of-school suspensions, in-school suspensions, in-school alternative disciplinary measures, and emergency removal by district personnel. A report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in March found that students in K-12 public schools with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined compared to their non-disabled peers.

Carlson went on to say that Silverton did not provide her with quarterly reports about whether the specific goals outlined in Cillian’s IEP were being met, despite the school being legally obligated to do so pursuant to section 3323.011 of the Ohio Revised Code. The law mandates that “a description of how the child’s progress toward meeting the annual goals described pursuant to [a statement of measurable annual goals written in the IEP] … will be measured and when periodic reports on the progress the child is making toward meeting the annual goals will be provided,” and that “such reports may be quarterly or other periodic reports that are issued concurrent with the issuance of regular report cards.”

After realizing more needed to be done for her son, Carlson turned to the district for help—and got no answer.

The Carlsons then consulted with a local attorney. He informed them that they were not legally required under Ohio law to have Cillian in school until age 6. They decided to pull Cillian out of Silverton six weeks before the end of the school year. It was only when she informed the district she would be homeschooling Cillian, Carlson says, that she received any response from its representatives.

Silverton representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

“When we stopped taking him to the school and would have to go up that way, he would start shaking and start freaking out,” Sean Carlson said. “He still talks about, ‘Am I ever going to have to go back to that school?’ whenever we drive by there.”

Anyone who suspects a local educational agency is in noncompliance with IDEA can file a written complaint with their state education department. However, only parents and legal guardians of students with IEPs can request a due process hearing, similar in nature to a court trial. A due process hearing would not yield any awards for damages, but if a parent wins against a district, they could be entitled to reimbursement for legal fees and vice versa. However, a parent could pursue a civil lawsuit if a due process hearing doesn’t resolve the issue. Additionally, parents may be entitled to having their child’s school district pay for an independent educational evaluation, or IEE, under IDEA.

The Carlsons ultimately did not file any official complaints, nor did they pursue legal action. But Rewire.News reviewed findings from the 36 resolved written special education complaints filed against CPS since 2008, which can be found on the ODE website. Most filings alleged numerous violations of IDEA and similar state-level special education laws, with nearly two-thirds resulting in the determination of one or more violations. Out of the three resolved due process hearings that occurred in the same time period, one determined that CPS was in violation of IDEA. ODE did not respond to Rewire.News‘ inquiries about how many IDEA complaints against CPS are still open.

By comparison, the next-largest school district in Ohio, Cleveland Metropolitan Schools (formerly Cleveland Municipal Schools), has only had ten written special education complaints leveled against it in the past decade, with nine of them resulting in the discovery of noncompliance.

When it comes to 504 noncompliance, meanwhile, complaints can be submitted directly to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). But advocates wonder how much longer OCR will be of assistance, given the Trump administration’s rollbacks on civil rights policy over the past year.

“In previous years, investigators were given the flexibility and permission to look into cases that might lead them to uncovering systemic issues in certain school districts,” Meghan Whittaker, policy and advocacy manager of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said in an interview with Rewire.News. But recent changes to OCR’s case processing manual instruct investigators to review cases on an individual basis and throw out complaints that appear to resemble other complaints made in the past.

“I Had Issues From Day One”

OCR has nearly 3,900 disability discrimination cases open as of August 31. Six of the ones listed in its database are within CPS. However, a district representative told Rewire.News that there are only five open in reality and that one is a repeat of another.

Rewire.News found that the two complaints in question display the same date, with one addressing allegations of a “procedural requirement” violation of Section 504 and the other alleging a “disability harassment” violation by CPS.

The OCR website archives resolutions to complaints filed on or after October 1, 2013; it lists three resolved disability discrimination cases within CPS since that time, with two closed before an investigation was completed due to early complaint resolution agreements. The third case was fully investigated and resulted in a determination that CPS failed to uphold FAPE.

Whittaker says that it’s not uncommon for public school districts to have trouble implementing federal law when it comes to special education and disability rights.

“There are so many different levels that go from the federal law down to the state and district level,” she said. “So by the time schools are interpreting what the state has told them about how to apply the laws, there’s a lot of room for misunderstandings and miscommunications about what they should be doing.” Together, these factors create the perfect recipe for noncompliance.

Indeed, the legal and procedural nuances of developing and implementing IEPs and 504 plans often lead to confusion for educators and parents alike, who may not be thoroughly educated on the laws that back them. This, in conjunction with factors such as the misuse of support staff, the costs of special education services, and concern about district ratings has led to poor special education practices by Cincinnati Public Schools, according to a special educator for the district who has requested not to be named.

An IEP “is a pretty big document, and it’s difficult to digest as someone with no real training,” he said. “The problem with CPS is there’s no real training process to write IEPs.”

The problem, the specialist says, may also be traced back to poor preparation on the part of colleges that are sending special educators into the workforce. Research has also supported this.

“You don’t really learn anything about writing IEPs until you’re out on the job,” the special educator said about his college experience.

Cincinnati-based attorney Marcus Coleman was a substitute teacher for CPS from 2002 to 2007. He says he was thrust into the role of being a makeshift special education intervention specialist for two years, despite not being certified by the state.

“People make the mistaken assumption that special education is about behavior,” he said. “So if you are a person who can manage behaviors, [schools] assume that means you can be a good special education teacher—but it does nothing to further the education of the kids. What they need is a lot more complicated than that.”

When Rewire.News described the alleged treatment of students with disabilities by CPS schools to Coleman, who specializes in education law, he said, “It sounds like they’ve got violations all over the place.”

As an Ohio-based board-certified behavior analyst, Oascha Cross works with kids who have ASD, learning disorders, and other cognitive and emotional disorders. She told Rewire.News that she has encountered many public school teachers who are not equipped with the skills necessary to develop and implement specific, measurable objectives for students with IEPs.

“A lot of times teachers will write out goals and start trying to meet them without having the prerequisites,” she said. While Cross has not worked within the CPS district specifically, this is an issue she’s seen in various other public school settings.

Her primary duty is “to take a negative behavior and create an appropriate replacement behavior” for kids with disabilities, including learning disorders and emotional and behavioral issues. She creates detailed plans to teach kids the skills they need to thrive across all environments—home, school, and out in the community—after thoroughly observing them and reviewing data specific to their individual circumstances.

Cross is frequently present for IEP planning meetings conducted for the students she has evaluated. But there have been times when she’s been shut out of the process because certain educators view her as an outsider trying to dictate how they do their jobs rather than a partner in preparing students for successful outcomes.

Cassie Wolf described the difficulty she faced with getting her son, who has autism, an IEP through the district. Despite producing extensive documentation of his disability, “I had issues from day one with CPS,” she told Rewire.News.

The Child Find mandate of IDEA requires public school districts to identify, locate, and evaluate any children living in its jurisdiction, ages 3 to 21, who are in need of special education services. This applies regardless of whether or not a child attends one of the district’s schools. Wolf’s son, Ricky, was diagnosed at age 2 with pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), a former subtype of autism that was removed from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) in 2013.

In 2014, an IEP meeting was held on Ricky’s 3rd birthday. The district would not accept the PDD diagnosis for his IEP evaluation, so Wolf got a comprehensive evaluation affirming a new diagnosis of ASD for Ricky. However, the district claimed the neuropsychologist who evaluated him wasn’t an approved clinician by its standards.

“When I was fighting [CPS] about the diagnosis, we got into a lot of back and forth,” Wolf said. “I provided them with a lot of paperwork.”

The district’s guidelines at the time for the educational identification of autism were a medical diagnosis by a “qualified developmental pediatrician or child psychiatrist” in the form of a “written, explicit diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder” as seen in the DSM 5. According to an online listing, the clinician who diagnosed Ricky with ASD specializes in pediatric neuropsychology and child clinical psychology.

With the support of a second clinician and an advocate from the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities, Wolf managed to get Ricky the special education services he needed for preschool in 2015—but only after he went weeks without. Wolf and the advocate drafted a complaint letter to send to the state but decided not to move forward once the district agreed to recognize his diagnosis. Because of her experiences, Wolf opted not to place Ricky in a CPS school for kindergarten.

CPS was rated as “meets requirements” in a comprehensive assessment of its special education performance by the Ohio Department of Education for 2017. However, the district was given an “F” for its overall progress component, which includes an evaluation of the progress a district has made for students with disabilities “as compared to the statewide expectation of growth” based on numbers it reported in 2017.

Kids with disabilities who don’t have a parent or guardian advocating for them fare especially poorly, according to the CPS special educator.

“If they know the parent is absent or not really involved with their kid, they’re going to push the envelope to see what they can get away with,” he said. And even the parents who do participate in their children’s education tend to place the onus for understanding laws and procedures on educators, giving way to accountability issues. This makes it easier, he says, for the district to take students off of special education services, or block their access, at its discretion.

A 2012 article written by researchers from the Hammill Institute on Disabilities reviewed nationally representative samples of students with disabilities to assess participation in and satisfaction with IEP planning meetings, on the part of parents and students. The article concluded that although federal legislation indicates an intention for parents and students above the age of 14 to be actively involved in the IEP planning process, “the federal intention is not being equally realized for students served under IDEA and their families.”

Rewire.News reached out to CPS for comment regarding its policies and practices relating to special education and disability laws. Director of CPS’ student services department Kevin Jamison spoke on behalf of the district.

CPS holds presentations at each of its schools with updated information for intervention specialists and related services personnel on a required, monthly basis, according to Jamison. He said the district also holds quarterly meetings with its 504 coordinators. Additionally, CPS collaborates with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the Kelly O’Leary Center for Autism to host special training sessions throughout the year for educators who work with students who have multiple disabilities.

Rewire.News also inquired about whether or not CPS is aware of any widespread or recurring complaints against it for failing to accommodate disabled students. Jamison said that it was not and that when issues do arise, the CPS student services department does everything that it can to rectify the situation. Additionally, teachers and support staff have access to a database wherein they can view individual students’ IEPs and 504 plans.

He went on to say that CPS issues a handbook to every parent of a student with an IEP that spells out procedural guidelines. He also responded to questions about the district’s history of being found in noncompliance with both OCR and ODE policies by stating that “the number of complaints [the district receives] on an annual basis are minimal in comparison to the number of students that [it serves]” and that the district is “very eager to resolve those complaints when they arise.”

CPS representatives did not respond to requests for comment regarding specific schools or alleged incidents, only citing district-wide policy on IDEA and Section 504 compliance.

Arrington Payne, for her part, says she’s just trying to finish her high school career strong. After taking medical leave from school in April, per her doctor’s recommendation, Payne spent the summer completing the 11th grade through home instruction and took introductory college courses.

Just one month into the new school year, though, she says she’s already facing the same kinds of poor treatment.

Payne told Rewire.News that she was kicked out of the school nurse’s office by an office aide after going there to prevent an event she felt coming on while attending a masterclass. She alleges she was instructed to call her mom to pick her up so the school wouldn’t be liable for any injuries she sustained. A family friend listed as an emergency contact picked Payne up, but not before she had an event that left her face down on the ground and initially, she says, without assistance from school staff. She had another event the following day after allegedly overhearing one teacher insult her to others.

In the first week of September, Payne’s mother filed a complaint against CPS with OCR on behalf of Payne for disability discrimination.

“I’m very numb because [staff members] keep doing these things and Arrington is doing her best to be there,” Balderos said. “And no matter what this child does, she gets slapped down. This is her last year and I just want her to have a good year.”

Payne says she’s determined to stick it out.

“If I leave now, nothing will change,” she said. “Other people with disabilities will have to endure the same thing I have. I want to make a change and the best way I see to do that is to stay and fight this battle.”