Nation and world news briefs

©Tribune News Service

District apologizes for ‘inappropriate’ question about slavery in S.C. students’ homework

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina school district is apologizing for a fourth-grade social studies assignment meant to teach students about slavery after complaints from parents.

The eLearning worksheet, assigned to all fourth-grade students in the Richland 1 school district, asked students to “write a journal entry responding to the following prompt: choose to be a slave or a slave owner. Write a journal entry that describes your daily activities before the Civil War.”

The worksheet was created as part of the district’s remote learning, which was brought on by the coronavirus.

The question was included in a packet sent to schools in March, spokeswoman Karen York said in a statement. The assignment spawned a wave of complaints from parents, which the district addressed, said Richland 1 school board member Lila Anna Sauls.

The assignment surfaced publicly on Tuesday after a parent who was doing makeup work with a student posted a picture of the assignment on Facebook, saying she refused to do the assignment.

“In very quickly pulling together learning activities for students to complete at home, the sample lesson activity on slavery was inadvertently included in the fourth-grade social studies learning packet,” Richland 1 Superintendent Craig Witherspoon said in a statement. “When it was brought to our attention back in March, it was addressed at that time. The activity was inappropriate and should not have been included. Students should not complete the activity, and their grade will not be impacted by leaving the activity blank or removing it completely from the packet. We regret that this occurred and apologize for any offense taken by any of our students and parents.”

Sauls agreed, saying the assignment was “absolutely inappropriate.”

“I don’t think you can brush that time period under the carpet, but there’s a right way to teach it,” Sauls said.

While many of those commenting on the image posted to Facebook expressed outrage that the assignment would be approved for children, others said the assignment forced students to confront the horrors of slavery.

The state’s education standards require fourth-graders to learn about the slave trade, how slavery led to the Civil War and about Reconstruction, according to the South Carolina Department of Education’s website. However, the decision of what materials to assign is made by the district.

“The state does not assign curriculum which encompasses homework assignments and classroom activities,” South Carolina Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown said in an email. “Slavery is covered extensively in state social studies standards but we do not prescribe how those standards are taught.”

—The State (Columbia, S.C.)

———

Another rich parent charged in college scandal, admits paying $50,000 bribe to get daughter into college

A wealthy Pennsylvania father could spend months in prison after admitting to paying $50,000 in bribes to have his daughter accepted into Georgetown University by passing her off as an athletic recruit, federal authorities announced Tuesday.

Robert Repella, a former biotech executive from Ambler, is the 55th person charged in the Department of Justice’s still-ongoing college admissions cheating investigation, which has implicated dozens of ultra-rich parents desperate to get their kids into elite colleges across the country.

But unlike most parents in the case, the 61-year-old defendant is accused of bribing a Georgetown tennis coach “directly” — without the help of convicted mastermind William “Rick” Singer, the man who admitted helping numerous parents with fraudulent athletic profiles and rigged SAT and ACT scores.

Authorities said Repella gave two checks of $25,000 to then-coach Gordon Ernst to make sure his daughter would be accepted as a recruit to the Georgetown women’s tennis team. The girl, whose tennis credentials were not immediately clear, was accepted to the university in 2018, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts, which is leading the investigation.

Ernst, who’s also accused of helping some of Singer’s “clients,” was previously charged with racketeering, fraud and other offenses, but he has pleaded not guilty and continues to fight the allegations.

Repella pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud. Under the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 10 months in prison, followed by one year of supervised release, and a fine of $40,000.

He’s scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 23.

—New York Daily News

———

Judge moves Rep. Devin Nunes’ Washington Post lawsuit. It’s his second court setback in a week

WASHINGTON — A Virginia judge overseeing a pair of Rep. Devin Nunes’ lawsuits against news organizations handed the California Republican two setbacks in one week, granting motions by The Washington Post and CNN to move the cases to other jurisdictions.

In both decisions, Judge Robert E. Payne wrote there was “no logical connection” for the California congressman to sue the news organizations at a federal court in Richmond, Va.

Payne moved Nunes’ case against The Washington Post to the District of Columbia, and the CNN lawsuit to the Southern District of New York.

The decision in The Washington Post lawsuit, published to a public database on Tuesday, closely resembles’ Payne’s ruling in the CNN case. Both decisions include warnings to Nunes’ attorney, Steven Biss, advising him to refrain from using “ad hominem” attacks in legal briefs.

In the Post lawsuit, Biss referred to a reporter as a “puppet of the FBI and CIA, employed to selectively leak talking points and classified information to smear targets.” Biss in a court brief called CNN “the mother of all fake news.”

Nunes filed the lawsuit against The Post in March in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Virginia, alleging a Feb. 21 news story describing an intelligence briefing given to members of Congress regarding Russia’s perceived preference for President Donald Trump’s reelection was part of a long-running effort to damage Nunes’ reputation.

Only a few paragraphs in The Post story focus on Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, saying Trump learned about the briefing from Nunes. The Post cites one anonymous source for that information.

In transferring Nunes’ lawsuit to D.C., Payne wrote he was concerned about “forum shopping,” a term for when attorneys strategically file cases in certain courts because they think they’ll get a more favorable outcome, regardless of whether the court has jurisdiction.

“Nunes does not provide any explanation to support his conclusory allegation that transferring this case to the District of Columbia ‘would accomplish absolutely nothing more than shifting the balance of inconvenience to (Nunes).’ Indeed, Nunes ‘works at the Capitol,’ which is located in Washington, D.C.,” Payne wrote. “To the extent that Nunes would have to travel from California, Nunes has not suggested that traveling to one of Washington, D.C.’s three major airports would be more inconvenient than traveling to Richmond, Virginia.”

Nunes a year ago began suing media organizations and critics, alleging in the cases that various organizations conspired to damage his reputation. In Virginia courts, he has sued CNN, The Washington Post and McClatchy — the parent company of the largest newspaper in his district, The Fresno Bee. He’s also suing Twitter in Virginia.

In Iowa, he is suing Hearst over a news story about his family’s dairy farm in that state.

All of the news organizations are fighting the lawsuits and moved to dismiss them. McClatchy has called Nunes’ lawsuit against the company a “baseless attack on local journalism.”

—McClatchy Washington Bureau

———