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Spelman faculty join #WeKnowWhatYouDid campaign

More than 60 Spelman College faculty members signed a letter distributed Monday supporting a student-led effort to stop sexual assault and harassment on the Atlanta campus.

Spelman, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University students last week began a campaign on social media with the hashtag #WeKnowWhatYouDid urging students to share information about individuals who’ve hurt others and complaints that administrators aren’t doing enough to stop such acts.

“As an institution, we have an obligation to protect you,” the letter, in part, says. “Because of your bravery and courage, change starts now. You have shown us that our silence does not protect any of us and especially not you.” 

Spelman College president Mary Schmidt Campbell wrote a message to students and staff Thursday urging accusers to report complaints to campus police or officials. 

Spelman College announces plan to address student hunger issue

Spelman College and its food service vendor have created a plan to help students who sometimes cannot afford meals, the college announced Thursday.

Spelman president Mary Schmidt Campbell released a statement to students and staff that it will help provide 2,000 meals by the end of this year and 7,000 meals next semester to current Spelman students who live off campus and who have a need for a meal. Starting Monday, Spelman will give free meal tickets to students who live off campus to use in the dining hall.

The changes were made after a group of students involved with the National Action Network Spelhouse Collegiate Chapter announced a hunger strike last week to raise awareness to food insecurity on campus. The students ended the hunger strike, Campbell wrote.

Spelman will explore additional ways they can address the problem, Campbell wrote.

Kennesaw State rescinds change that kept cheerleaders off field during national anthem

Kennesaw State University president Sam Olens announced Wednesday he’s ending a controversial change that kept some cheerleaders from kneeling on the football field during the national anthem to protest police misconduct.

KSU has been under the national microscope since five African-American cheerleaders took a knee during the anthem before the football team’s Sept. 30 game and the decision days later to keep all cheerleaders off the field during the anthem. Some felt KSU’s decision violated the students’ free speech rights.

“While I believe there are more effective ways to initiate an exchange of ideas on issues of national concern, the right to exercise one’s freedom of speech under the First Amendment must be protected,” Olens wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff.

The Georgia Board of Regents is conducting a special review of how KSU responded to the cheerleaders’ actions.

Please return to www.myajc.com for updates.

 

Cheerleaders continue to take a knee at Kennesaw State football games

Four Kennesaw State University cheerleaders were seen taking a knee in the stadium tunnel during the national anthem at the university’s football game Saturday evening, continuing their protest to raise awareness about police misconduct and racial inequality.

The protest is part of an ongoing controversy on the 35,000 student campus that has drawn national attention over free speech rights and patriotism.

About three dozen students remained seated during the anthem, with some raising their fists in solidarity with the cheerleaders. A dozen students marched around Fifth Third Bank Stadium chanting “land of the free but we can’t take a knee.”

Most spectators stood during the anthem.

The cheerleaders first took at knee at the Sept. 30 football game, and since then the university makes them wait in the tunnel during the national anthem.

Woodstock resident John Smith, 55, said he was dismayed by the protest as he arrived at the stadium Saturday.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “When they put that uniform on, they’re representing the university. They shouldn’t be protesting. It’s a respect thing.”

KSU has been under a national microscope after five cheerleaders knelt during the national anthem at the Sept. 30 football game to protest police misconduct and the subsequent decision to keep cheerleaders off the field during the anthem, which many feel violate the students’ free speech rights. KSU officials have said the change had nothing to do with the cheerleaders.

The state Board of Regents announced Wednesday it’s conducting a review of how KSU responded to the cheerleaders’ actions after text messages obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren boasting to state Rep. Earl Ehrhart that they convinced KSU president Sam Olens to keep cheerleaders off the field.

Several campus protests have taken in support of the cheerleaders during the last two weeks. But many Cobb residents have described the cheerleaders’ actions as unpatriotic.

Students kneel during national anthem as Olens takes president’s office

As Sam Olens was being installed as president of Kennesaw State University, students took a knee during the national anthem to protest how the school handled cheerleaders who knelt at a football game.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Eric Stirgus, on the KSU campus, reports that about a dozen students knelt at their seats during Olens’ investiture.

Students have also scheduled a sit-in on the campus green, where Olens is supposed to celebrate officially taking the office that he has held for about a year.

Students are not the only ones protesting.

Some faculty are also boycotting the ceremony because they believe Olens appointment -- he is the former state attorney general -- was a political appointment rather than one based on solid academic experience.

“We are boycotting the Olens ceremony because he is not our President,” wrote Susan S. Raines, a professor of conflict management at KSU. “He was not chosen through a transparent, traditional hiring process. He is not qualified for the position which was gifted him by the Governor through the Board of Regents.

She continued, “He has repeatedly shown that he does not know how to carry out the duties of the office, including recent violations of constitutional rights on campus. He will never be our President.”

Reporter Meris Lutz, also on the campus, spoke with Mark Robinson, a staff member who was crossing the green outside the convocation center. Robinson did not appear surprised that some would boycott the ceremony after the handling of the protest and apparent intervention of public officials. 

“It’s a public university with public funds and I do believe the cheerleaders’ first amendment rights come into play,” he said. “It’s understandable that people would protest.”

Robinson emphasized that he was expressing a personal opinion. 

Olens did not address the controversy in his remarks at the campus convocation center. He got choked up speaking about his parents and talked about his goals of helping students succeed. 

 State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, a Cobb Cobb Republican, indirectly addressed the situation, acknowledging there are some times "rough waters," but KSU is in good hands with Olens. 

"I've never seen anyone more honest than Sam Olens," Tippins said in his speech. 

Stirgus reports that the building where Olens ceremony is taking place is about half empty, and a plea was sent out to professors last week to come and even bring classes with them because too few RSVP’s were coming in.

The recent events started Sept. 30 when five cheerleaders knelt during a football game’s as the national anthem played. Various KSU officials had been in discussion about what to do if this happened, and local politicians, including a state representative and the local sheriff called Olens to pressure him to take action.

The school decided to keep the cheerleaders off the field during the national anthem, sparking both praise from many in the community and criticism by others.

The Georgia Board of Regents announced Wednesday it’s conducting a review of how KSU responded to the cheerleaders’ protest.

 Olens said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon he regrets how the situation was handled.  

MYAJC.COM: REAL JOURNALISM. REAL LOCAL IMPACT.

The AJC's Meris Lutz keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Cobb County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories: 

Never miss a minute of what's happening in Cobb politics. Subscribe to myAJC.com.

Spelman College to admit transgender female students

Spelman College president Mary Schmidt Campbell announced Tuesday the all-women institution will accept students, starting next school year, who “consistently live and self-identify as women, regardless of their gender assignment at birth.”

The college sent a letter to students, faculty and staff explaining the new policy. The Historically Black College & University (HBCU), located near downtown Atlanta, had been considering such a policy since the prior semester, according to news accounts. A task force of students, faculty, staff and alumnae looked at the potential changes, Campbell said.

“In adopting this admissions policy, Spelman continues its fervent belief in the power of the Spelman Sisterhood,” the letter said. “Students who choose Spelman come to our campus prepared to participate in a women’s college that is academically and intellectually rigorous, and affirms its core mission as the education and development of high-achieving Black women.”

The letter also contains frequently asked questions about the policy. Transgender students who identify as men will not be admitted, Spelman explained. Housing accommodations will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Students who transition to male after they’ve enrolled at Spelman will still be awarded a degree.

Spelman, one of the nation’s most prominent single-gender institutions, has about 2,100 students. Spelman’s decision was a hot topic for alumni and on social media. Some blasted the college while others called the change progress.

“I applaud my beloved alma mater’s proactive stance while still honoring the institution’s traditons,” said Charmagne Helton, a 1994 graduate. “I am as proud of Spelman College as I was the first moment I set foot on campus more than 25 years ago.” 

Campbell’s letter said Spelman will have a committee to consider the impact on the campus resulting from the new policy. 

In recent years, more single-gender colleges and universities are admitting transgender students. Since 2014, at least eight women’s colleges have moved to allow transgender women, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

Agnes Scott College, located in Decatur, adopted a policy in 2015 that accepts students who were assigned female at birth as well as those who were assigned male or female at birth who now identify as female or transgender.

Bennett College, the nation’s only other all-female HBCU, located in Greensboro, N.C., also allows transgender female students.

Staff writer Ernie Suggs contributed to this article.

Brad Pitt, Michael B. Jordan sign on to Atlanta school cheating movie

Michael B. Jordan will star in a movie about the test cheating scandal that resulted in criminal convictions for 11 former Atlanta educators and Brad Pitt will be one of the producers, Deadline Hollywood reports.

The movie will focus on Parks Middle School, one of dozens of Atlanta schools where educators cheated on the state tests Georgia students take each year in an effort to meet ever-increasing performance targets set by then-Superintendent Beverly Hall.  

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported on highly improbable improvements in student test scores in 2008, and in a series of articles uncovered the extent of a cheating conspiracy that included dozens of schools. State investigators eventually found cheating in 44 of the 56 schools examined and implicated about 200 educators  in the cheating and cover up.

Parks Middle School was among the most egregious cases and its former principal, Christopher Waller, became the self-described “poster child” for the Atlanta school cheating scandal. 

In the movie, titled Wrong Answer, Jordan will play Damany Lewis, a former Parks teacher profiled in a 2014 New Yorker story. Ryan Coogler will direct and Ta-Nehisi Coates will write the script,  Deadline Hollywood reports.

U.S. News: Best high schools in metro Atlanta

More than 30 Atlanta area high schools are among the top high schools in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 Best High Schools list.

The list initially included 11 Gwinnett County high schools, eight in Cobb Countyseven in Fulton County, three in DeKalb County and two in Clayton County. No non-charter Atlanta Public Schools high school made the list.

Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, which U.S. News ranked as the number-one school in Georgia last year, at first didn’t even make this year’s list.

U.S. News later said a data software error was to blame for the school being completely excluded from the list.

DeKalb County’s Arabia Mountain High School - Academy of Engineering was also initially excluded because of the error.

The rankings are based on how student performance on state tests compares to schools with similar proportions of low-income, black and Hispanic students. They also take into account graduation rates and how many students take AP exams and pass at least one.

Here are the top high schools in metro Atlanta, according to U.S. News. The schools are listed by their metro Atlanta rank, followed by their statewide rank in parentheses.

NOTE: U.S. News has since corrected the rankings. The new rankings put Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology tied for 35th nationally and tied for number one in Georgia. Arabia Mountain High School - Academy of Engineering in DeKalb County is now tied for 1,874th nationally and tied for 51st in Georgia.

1. DeKalb School of the Arts - DeKalb County (2) 

2. Walton High School - Cobb County (5) 

3. Fulton Science Academy High School - Fulton County (6) 

4. Cambridge High School - Fulton County (7) 

5. Northview High School - Fulton County (8) 

6. Alpharetta High School - Fulton County (9) 

7. North Gwinnett High School - Gwinnett County (10) 

8. Johns Creek High School - Fulton County (11) 

9. Chattahoochee High School - Fulton County (12) 

10. Chamblee Charter High School - DeKalb County (14) 

11. Roswell High School - Fulton County (15) 

12. Lassiter High School - Cobb County (16) 

13. Decatur High School - Decatur City (20) 

14. Brookwood High School - Gwinnett County (21) 

15. Pope High School - Cobb County (22) 

16. Harrison High School - Cobb County (24) 

17. Parkview High School - Gwinnett County (26) 

18. Mill Creek High School - Gwinnett County (27) 

19. Peachtree Ridge High School - Gwinnett County (28) 

20. Duluth High School - Gwinnett County (31) 

21. Buford High School - Buford City (32) 

22. Norcross High School - Gwinnett County (33) 

23. Hillgrove High School - Cobb County (34) 

24. Mountain View High School - Gwinnett County (36) 

25. Martha Ellen Stilwell School for the Performing Arts - Clayton County (37) 

26. Dacula High School - Gwinnett County (39) 

27. Elite Scholars Academy School - Clayton County (41) 

28. Collins Hill High School - Gwinnett County (42) 

29. Wheeler High School - Cobb County (45) 

30. KIPP Atlanta Collegiate - Atlanta Public Schools (49) 

31. Kennesaw Mountain High School - Cobb County (51) 

32. Central Gwinnett High School - Gwinnett County (56) 

33. Allatoona High School - Cobb County (62) 

34. DeKalb Early College Academy - DeKalb County (81)

RELATED: Find complete data on Georgia schools on the AJC’s Ultimate Atlanta School Guide

Children find Spirit Airlines pilot, wife dead in apparent overdose

Four children found their parents – including their airline pilot father – dead Thursday in their Centerville, Ohio, home in what investigators said appears to be the latest incident in a scourge of drug deaths plaguing Montgomery County and Ohio.

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The husband, Brian Halye, was an active pilot for Spirit Airlines, flying for them nine years, and captaining a passenger jet as recently as last Friday.

He and his wife, Courtney Halye, were found in a bedroom of their home on East Von Dette Circle, a suburban cul-de-sac.

RELATED: Centerville pilot, wife deaths may be fentanyl-related

The deaths appear “drug related due to paraphernalia found at the scene,” Centerville Police Officer John Davis said. Ken Betz, director of the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office, said the incident resembles other opioid cases and “could be consistent with what we’re seeing with fentanyl products in our community.”

“We’ve been talking about this for how long now?” Betz said by phone. “Here I go again … year-to-date, accidental drug overdoses exceeded 160 already this year.”

Official causes of death for the couple have not been released, as a full medical exam will be performed today.

‘They were very cold’

The couple each had two children from previous marriages. In two 911 calls to Centerville police shortly before 8 a.m., the children ages 9 to 13 told dispatchers their parents are on the floor and “not waking up.”

“They were very cold,” said the oldest child, politely answering “yes, ma’am” to the dispatcher as his sisters cried in the background.

The children ran outside the home to relatives as police conducted an investigation. By 10:30, police and emergency response vehicles cleared the usually tranquil neighborhood.

The Halyes purchased their home in summer 2013. The neighborhood, Pellbrook Farm, is just southwest of the Ohio 725-Wilmington Pike intersection. The quiet suburban cul-de-sac features homes valued around $150,000 to $225,000.

Warren County Court records show Brian Halye was divorced in 2011 in a shared parenting case. Courtney Halye was convicted of a felony drug possession charge in 2009, but the case was expunged. Her previous husband Jacob Castor, the father of two of the children, died in 2007 at age 27.

Neighbors were stunned by Thursday’s news.

“There’s never much activity going on over there,” said a neighbor, who declined to be named. Added another neighbor, “That’s what surprises us, because he was an airline pilot, and he flew for Spirit.”

Pilot flew last week

Halye last flew for Spirit on Friday, according to the “ultra low fares” carrier. The pilot’s social media accounts indicate he was based at its Detroit operations center. The airline does not provide service to Dayton International Airport.

“Captain Halye served at the airline for just over nine years,” Paul Berry, the company’s spokesman, said in a statement expressing the company’s sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues.

The Dayton Daily News asked Spirit Airlines officials to provide more details about Halye’s last-flown routes and upcoming flights, as well as the dates and results of any drug screenings. Spirit declined to answer.

Federal regulations require employers to administer drug and alcohol testing in pre-employment, reasonable suspicion, random, post-accident, reasonable cause and follow-up situations, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said.

MORE: Spirit Airlines pilot suspected in OD flew 6 days ago

Pilots must hold valid medical certificates in order to fly. The Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which Halye held, requires a first-class medical certificate, which must be updated every 12 months for a pilot under the age of 40. Halye was 36.

The FAA database lists Halye’s medical certificate date as September, 2011, which would mean the certificate expired more than four years ago. Asked to double check, Cory said Halye’s certificate was up-to-date, with it due to expire this fall.

“I’m not sure why the online database does not have that information,” Cory said in an email to the Dayton Daily News. “The system could be in the process of update.”

Dr. Richard Garrison is among the doctors who conducts such tests locally. Garrison said that exam is roughly similar to an annual physical, and also includes vision testing and EKG heart tests for pilots over a certain age. But he said those exams do not include substance-abuse testing.

Drug issues everywhere

Multiple-death overdoses at a single site happened at least four times in Montgomery County in 2016 — including to Jamie Haddix and Darrell Morgan, who were found dead on Christmas Eve. The place where they died, a four-unit apartment building on Wiltshire Boulevard in Kettering, isn’t ground zero in the region’s opioid crisis because there is no ground zero.

“You always hear, ‘It can’t happen in my neighborhood,’ ” said Michael Link, who lives around the corner from the Halyes in Centerville. “But it does.”

Centerville ranked comparatively low on Montgomery County’s 2016 overdose list, with only five residents dying from drug causes, according to preliminary coroner’s data. That’s much lower than comparably sized Trotwood (17), Miamisburg (14) and Riverside (13). But nearly every community in the county had a spot on that list, which included 355 deaths.

Two of the children attended Centerville’s Tower Heights Middle School and two attended another district. Centerville schools Superintendent Tom Henderson said the district “continues to support friends of the students who were part of this family. Centerville had guidance counselors “on call and on deck as needed.”

Henderson said so many students know each other not only from school, but from sports and other cross-community activities that a tragedy like this can have a wider impact that people might think.

“These two students have come up through our district, so we try to be cognizant of that and get out to the other buildings they’ve attended,” Henderson said. “We’ll be ready (Friday) when students come in, and we’ll be ready when the students (in that family) come back to attend school again.”

Staff Writers Chris Stewart, Malik Perkins, Katie Wedell and Hannah Poturalski contributed reporting.

Emory, UGA, Ga. Tech, Mercer among nation’s best universities

U.S. News and World Report ranks four Georgia colleges among the nation’s best on an annual list released today.

Emory University, Georgia Tech, Mercer University and the University of Georgia made the list of best national universities for 2017.

Schools are ranked on up to 15 measures of academic quality including graduation and retention rates, expert opinions, faculty and financial resources.

Mercer was new to the list after being reclassified in a 2015 update as a national university by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The other three Georgia schools outperformed their previous rankings.

See the full story here.

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