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Mother says preschool banned daughter, other students from using term ‘best friend’

A Georgetown, Massachusetts, preschool is causing controversy by banning students from using the term “best friend.”

WFTXT reported that mother Christine Hartwell said she is outraged after a teacher at Pentucket Workshop Preschool told her 4-year-old daughter she couldn’t call one of her classmates her “best friend.”

The preschool defends its stance, saying banning the term promotes inclusion in the classroom, while Hartwell said it can end up having a negative affect on her daughter.

“How do you police a 4-year-old from expressing their feelings?” Hartwell told WFXT. “It’s outrageous. It’s silly (and) it hurts.”

>> Read more trending news 

Hartwell said she first learned of the ban after her daughter Julia came home from school one day acting differently. Julia told her mother she was upset because her teacher told her she couldn't call one of her classmates her best friend.

“When I asked her what was wrong, she said she was really sad about what her teacher did that day,” Hartwell said.

Hartwell said her daughter is now hesitant to call anyone her best friend, adding that she and her husband went to the director at Pentucket Workshop to find out more about the policy. Hartwell said it’s not spelled out in the school handbook.

The preschool sent a letter to the Hartwell family in response to the issue, saying they’ve done research on the pros and cons of using the term best friend, and that they’ll continue to discourage children from using it in group settings.

“It has been our experience (which spans decades) that the use of the term ‘best friend,’ even when used in a loving way, can lead other children to feel excluded (...) which can ultimately lead to the formation of ‘cliques’ and ‘outsiders,’” the letter said in part.

Hartwell said having a best friend allow a child to feel more secure at school, and she is removing Julia from the preschool to find a new one where her daughter can still call someone her best friend.

“I want her to be able to express her thoughts and feelings in a healthy way, as children should,” said Hartwell.

The school said it has no comment on the issue.

Teacher suspended for making pancakes for students during state tests

A Pennsylvania teacher was suspended last week after he cooked breakfast for his students as they took state assessments.

LancasterOnline reported that Kyle Byler, an eighth-grade teacher at Hand Middle School, was suspended without pay and warned that he would be fired for “causing a distraction” while his students took the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSAs. 

Byler told local media that he brought an electric griddle to school the morning of April 10 and cooked each of his students a whole-grain pancake to eat while they took their exams. An assistant principal walked in and questioned why he was making the children breakfast.

>> Read more trending news

The teacher, who many parents consider the “eighth-grade dad” at the school, was called into a meeting with administrators within 24 hours and told he would be fired, LancasterOnline reported

Byler said in an interview Monday that he did not understand what he did wrong. The state education department does not have a rule against serving food during the PSSAs.

Pennsylvania Department of Education spokeswoman Nicole Reigelman told LancasterOnline, however, that “those activities would likely interfere with ‘actively monitoring’ the assessment, which is a key task.”

Byler said the pancakes did not deter the students. 

“At no point was it any distraction for any of the students,” Byler said. “They worked their butts off.”

A student told the news site that the assistant principal was the only distraction.

“The moment she walked in, everybody turned,” Alizea Rodriguez told LancasterOnline. “She was the distraction. Not pancakes. Not Byler.”

Rodriguez and other students were distraught when Byler was not in class the next day. Many of those students showed up at a Tuesday night school board meeting, at which Byler expected to learn his fate. 

School district officials dismissed the claim that he was to be fired Tuesday, saying that there was never a dismissal action on the meeting agenda and that a teacher cannot be fired without the board approving a written notice setting a hearing in the matter. None of that had taken place.

“Nor will it occur in this situation, as the personnel matter has been resolved with the employee, who is scheduled to return to work,” School District of Lancaster officials said in a statement

The district statement said that free breakfast and lunch are offered to all students every day, including testing days. 

“Moreover, the Pennsylvania Department of Education strictly requires that teachers who proctor PSSA testing focus their full attention on monitoring students during the test,” the statement read. “All teachers serving as PSSA test proctors receive specific training on testing protocol. Had permission been sought by a teacher to cook in the classroom during PSSA testing and serve food to the students, the response would have been that such activities would distract the teacher from the required duties as a test proctor.”

LancasterOnline reported that about 100 concerned residents, including both parents and teachers, turned out at Tuesday’s board meeting to support Byler. 

“It takes a village to raise children,” mother of two Crystle Martinez said. “He’s part of that village.”

Students and teachers were not Byler’s only fans. Officials at Holiday Inn Express sought to gift him and his students a one-touch pancake machine -- like those on the breakfast bars in Holiday Inn Express hotels -- and enough pancake batter to get them through the remainder of the school year. 

“As a hotel brand that knows how important an energizing breakfast is to being ‘THE READIEST’ for the day ahead, Holiday Inn Express salutes Byler for taking the initiative and making pancakes for his students,” said Lauren Schuster, manager of PR firm Weber Shandwick. 

“The brand welcomes this teacher back to school, and hopes he and his students enjoy their very own one-touch pancake machine as much as Holiday Inn Express guests do,” read a statement from the company. 

It was not clear if the school district would allow Byler to put the pancake machine in his classroom. 

Police: Mother facing charges after student, 7, attends school with cocaine in system 

An Ohio woman is facing charges after her 7-year-old child allegedly was high on cocaine while attending class Monday, police said.

>> Read more trending news

The child is a student at North Elementary School in Urbana, one of the district’s kindergarten and first-grade schools, and was acting very unusual in the late morning, police and school officials said.

“The student was drowsy, groggy and they thought there might be a blood sugar question,” Urbana Superintendent Charles Thiel said.

Thiel said the student’s classroom was quarantined and administrators called 911.

The student was taken to Urbana Mercy Health Hospital, where it was determined the substance in the student’s system was cocaine.

The child received treatment and was later released, but it’s not known whether the student has returned to school after the incident.

“It’s a terrible situation for one of our youngest students to have to be in an environment in which the ingestion of an illegal substance occurs,” Thiel said.

The child’s mother appeared to be under the influence of multiple drugs, including cocaine and fentanyl, when she showed up at the hospital, according to police.

Police said it’s likely the student inhaled the drug prior to the start of the school day while staying at a Springfield home.

The mother is currently being held at Tri-County Jail and is facing multiple felony drug abuse charges, police said.

Texas schoolwork asking for 'positive aspects' of slave life 'unacceptable'

U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio, took to Twitter on Thursday to call out a San Antonio school assignment about slavery that he called “unacceptable.” 

>> Read more trending news

Castro tweeted an image of the assignment, which asked students to list both positive and negative aspects to living as a slave. 

The charter school where the assignment came from, Great Hearts, has since responded in a statement on Facebook saying that it would conduct an audit of the textbook the assignment at its Monte Vista North campus came from and decide whether or not to use the textbook in the future. The statement also said that the assignment had only been used by one teacher, at one campus: 

"We fully intend to make sure something like this does not happen again and will keep parents posted as we address this issue further," Great Hearts said of the incident.

Unauthorized field trip could cost Ohio high school teacher her job

An Ohio high school teacher is facing possible termination for taking 50 students on a college visit in March that was not approved by the school.

>> Read more trending news

The future employment of Trotwood High School teacher Khalilah Forte will be considered by the Trotwood City School Board in a special meeting Thursday. According to documents from last week’s meeting, the board plans to vote on whether or not to renew Forte’s teaching contract, effective May 24, the day after students’ last day of school. 

Community leaders and parents said Forte was helping students who don’t have the chance to experience a college visit. They also said parent and local organizations raised the money for the trip. 

The Rev. James Washington, pastor of Phillips Temple Church, said he knows Forte personally and that “she loves children, she loves the instruction of children and she loves what she does.” 

Washington also said Forte was trying to help the children. 

According to the letter, which also was posted to social media, a Trotwood principal warned Forte she could lose her job if she took students on the unsanctioned trip.

Neither school district officials nor Principal David White would comment on the situation. Forte also said she was unable to comment. 

Florida high school teacher killed in car accident after trip to Disney World

Florida students were mourning a high school teacher who was killed in an automobile accident Saturday while returning from Walt Disney World with her husband.

>> Read more trending news

Melanie Blodgett was killed and her husband, Les Blodgett, was seriously injured when their car was hit by another driver.

“She’s crazy about Disney. Her favorite place to go, her favorite place to be,” said Ashley Morin, a student at Middleburg High School.

The couple spent the day at Disney World on Saturday, just hours before she died. “She was one of the best teachers at Middleburg High School,” said Jordan Morris, another student at the school.

Students saluted her with what they wore Monday, as Mickey and Pumbaa were visible everywhere. And that was her other favorite place, Middleburg High School.

“She was just a really, really special teacher. She wasn’t a teacher, she was a friend,” Morin said.

“Her payment in life was impacting children and helping them, watching them go and help other people,” said John Padgett, Melanie’s brother, who said he is thankful for the time he had with his sister and thankful she spent her last day on earth doing what she loved.

“I’m so glad that I got to tell her that I love her. I didn’t know that it would be for the last time, but you know I have no regrets, and I’m so glad that for whatever reason we were able to have that moment,” he said.

“She made a huge impact in my life,” Morin said.

To help the family with funeral costs, visit the family's GoFundMe page.

Students learn how to do a real-life budget, see how much it costs to be an adult

High school students at a Texas school have found out just how hard it is to live within a budget thanks to a real-world simulation.

It’s called “Dose of Reality,” and students were assigned jobs with a certain income, based on national averages. From their monthly pay, they had to figure out how to pay for rent, car payments and credit cards along with food and any other expenses, KAUZ reported.

>> Read more trending news 

One student was a physical therapist with a monthly salary of $5,000. Another was a member of the armed forces, earning $1,399 a month. By the end of the simulation, he had only $100 left, KAUZ reported.

Garret Box told KAUZ, “It makes you want to know what you need and what you want. I didn’t have a pet or anything. I was riding a bike around. I was riding a bus and I didn’t have a vehicle.”

A junior who was given the job of a food-service manager, and a single mother, earned $2,400 a month. She said she had no idea what it cost to raise a child, paying for a child’s clothes, groceries and child care.

Avery Iles told KAUZ she now has a new appreciation for what her parents did for her family.

Parkland teacher faces charges after leaving loaded gun in public restroom

A chemistry teacher at the Florida high school where 17 people died in a mass shooting in February faces criminal charges after leaving a loaded gun in a public restroom, WPLG reported.

>> Read more trending news

Sean Simpson, 43, who teaches science at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, left his Glock 9mm in a stall at the bathroom at the Deerfield Beach Pier on April 8, and it was later fired by a homeless man who was allegedly intoxicated, according to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Simpson has a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Simpson was at the South Florida high school when Nikolas Cruz opened fire on Feb. 14, killing 14 students and three faculty members at the Parkland school.

Simpson told deputies that after realizing he had left the gun in the stall, he returned to get it and heard a shot. He then saw Joseph Spataro, 69, holding the gun, and Simpson took the weapon away from the man, WPLG reported.

Simpson was arrested and charged with unsafe storage of a firearm because the gun could have been found by a child at the public beach, CNN reported. The second-degree misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum of 60 days in jail. Simpson posted a $250 cash bond, WPLG reported.

Simpson declined comment to WLPG, but did say he did not believe his actions were a violation of school board policies.

Spataro was charged with trespassing and firing a weapon while intoxicated, deputies said. His attorney could not be reached for comment.

Simpson remains on the faculty at Stoneman Douglas High School and school officials are not expected to take action against him, The Miami Herald reported. Simpson said he supports the student activists fighting for gun control and traveled with them to Washington on March 24 for the March For Our Lives rally, the Herald reported.

"Safety and security remain the District's highest priorities," the Broward County School District said in a statement. "The District is aware of an incident, which occurred over the weekend at the Deerfield Beach Pier. At this juncture, no determination regarding employee discipline has been made, pending the final disposition of the charges."

Atlanta charter school teacher suspended after students' blackface performance

An Atlanta charter school teacher deemed responsible for a second-grade Black History Month performance in which the students held blackface masks has been suspended without pay for a month.

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Rachelle Clay, a teacher at The Kindezi School, will serve the suspension through May 14. The school’s principal, Gilberte Pascal, and eight other teachers will receive letters of reprimand, according to documents obtained Friday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The discipline follows a March 29 program that included students reciting Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” while holding up the controversial masks, which mimicked the look of makeup worn by white minstrel show performers beginning around the 1830s. The production was “not done with ill intent” but “demonstrated a significant lack of professional judgement,” Kindezi Executive Director Dean Leeper wrote in a letter to school families. 

The school’s internal investigation found that some members of the second-grade team had reservations about the use of the masks but did not make their positions known to Clay or administrators. One person did not allow her students to wear the masks in rehearsal, though they were worn by students during the performance, sparking outrage from some parents and a viral video recording on social media.

Earlier this week, Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen called for the charter school that operates within the Atlanta Public Schools district to hand out “appropriate consequences.” A school district spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Kindezi’s investigation. 

911 dispatcher placed on leave following teen’s suffocation death inside van

A Cincinnati 911 operator who took a call Tuesday afternoon from a teen being crushed by a seat in his minivan has been placed on leave for not relaying a description of the van to officers searching for the 16-year-old.

Kyle Jacob Plush called 911 twice while he slowly suffocated to death. Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Issac said Thursday that he has initiated an internal investigation into everyone involved in handling the calls, but that dispatcher Amber Smith has been placed on administrative leave. 

Smith was placed on leave because dispatch records show that she did not relay to responding officers the make, model and color of Plush’s vehicle. The teen told her that he was trapped in a gold Honda Odyssey in the parking lot of Seven Hills School, where he was a student. 

City police officers searched the multiple parking areas on campus but did not see anything suspicious. A Hamilton County sheriff’s deputy who also checked the school’s parking lots saw a van, but did not spot anyone inside.

>> Related story: ‘Tell my mom that I love her if I die,’ teen pleads as van seat fatally crushes him

Issac said that investigators believe the van the deputy saw was Plush’s vehicle.  

Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office officials dispute that belief. 

“That’s simply not the case,” Chief Deputy Mark Schoonover said in a radio appearance Friday morning, WCPO in Cincinnati reported. “He did look into some vehicles. He looked into a van, but he never looked into the victim’s vehicle. He never located that.”

The chief said that a formal interview with Smith had not yet been conducted. He hoped that interview would help shed light on what went wrong. 

“The one thing that we do know is that on that second 911 call, something has gone terribly wrong,” Issac said during a news conference, which was streamed live on Facebook by WCPO. “This young man was crying out for help, and we weren’t able to get that information to the officers on the scene, and we need to find out why. 

“I’m not certain at this point if we’re talking about an equipment malfunction or some type of other user error, possibly, but we’re going to do an investigation to get those answers.” 

WCPO reported that officials are also looking into whether a move the 911 center was undergoing on the day of Plush’s death affected the ability to handle calls. 

Issac said that Smith did press a tone that indicated she was having trouble on the line. The tone could be heard in the audio of the 911 calls and dispatch traffic, according to reporters who have obtained the recordings. Local media have not made the audio public due to the graphic nature of Plush’s calls. 

WLWT reported that the dispatch report, a copy of which the news station obtained, shows numbers designating latitude and longitude, which police officials said are generated by a caller’s phone. Putting the numbers into a Google map dropped a pin almost exactly where Plush’s body was later found inside his van. 

Police officials said investigators are probing why the numbers were not mapped by 911 dispatchers, including Smith. 

Smith was honored last year for helping a 9-year-old girl trapped in a car with her parents, who had overdosed on heroin, WLWT reported. She found the girl by pinging the cellphone the child used to call for help.

It was unclear why that method was not used to find Plush. 

A reporter at the news conference asked the chief about the lag time between when Plush initially called 911 and when it was responded to by a dispatcher – more than four minutes later. 

“Is that a correct reading of the report, that it took that long before it got in the queue, before it was answered?” the reporter asked off-camera. “Isn’t that a long time if that is correct?”

“That is something that we want to find an answer to,” Issac said. “I don’t know right now, but that is something that is going to be examined.”

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil has ordered an investigation into his department’s handling of the calls. County prosecutor Joe Deters has also launched a comprehensive investigation into what led to Plush’s death. 

Plush, who was on the school tennis team, had a match after school the day he died. Investigators believe he was reaching for his tennis gear over the third-row bench seat in the van when the seat tipped backward and trapped him, upside down, in the hatch area with the seat digging into his chest. 

He used his iPhone’s voice command to call for help, indicating that he was unable to dial and speak directly into the phone. He could be heard calling for Siri multiple times during his second 911 call. 

The Washington Post, which obtained the audio of his calls, reported that his cries to Siri were the last thing recorded in his second call for help. 

“Hey, Siri. Hey, Siri,” Plush repeated over and over, the Post noted

Investigators believe his position away from his cellphone it impossible for Plush to hear the people answering his frantic calls. Smith also indicated in conversation captured on the dispatch audio that it was difficult to hear the teen, who she said sounded like he was far away from the phone. 

Plush also suffered from spinal problems and other medical conditions, according to WCPO. It was not clear if those issues contributed to his inability to free himself from his entrapment. 

A recall last year on seats in some Honda Odysseys, which concerned a failure of the second-row seats to properly latch, does not appear to apply to the Plush family’s minivan. The recall was for vans from 2011 to 2017.

The family’s Odyssey is a 2004, according to Honda. The Post reported that a company spokesman said there have been no recalls for the model Kyle Plush died in. 

Issac on Thursday provided a clearer timeline of what happened in the hours before Plush was found dead by his father, who located his body about six hours after the teen first called 911. 

Plush initially called 911 at 3:14 p.m., screaming for help and telling a dispatcher that he was trapped in his van in a parking lot at the school. 

“The caller said they were unable to hear the call-taker and repeatedly yelled for help,” Issac said. “There was also loud noise and banging that could be heard in the background on the initial 911 call.”

Plush was gasping for breath when he sought help. 

“I can’t hear you,” Plush told the dispatcher, according to the Post. “I’m in desperate need of help. I’m gonna die here.”

Because Plush could not hear the dispatcher, he could not answer the questions she was asking him. The call lasted just under three minutes before it disconnected, Issac said.

The dispatcher tried to call Plush back, but the call went to his voicemail, Issac said. 

“Hello, this is Kyle. I’m not available right now. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can,” the outgoing message said. 

Officers were dispatched at 3:21 p.m. to check the school’s multiple parking lots for someone in distress. Two officers arrived at the school five minutes later. 

They searched in vain for about 11 minutes before closing out the call and returning to service. 

Plush called 911 for the second time at 3:35 p.m., Issac said. Smith was the dispatcher who took the second call, during which Plush reiterated that he was trapped in his vehicle and could not hear the dispatcher. 

By this time, the teen had been suffocating for at least 21 minutes. 

Plush sounded weaker the second time he called for help, the Post reported. Creaking could be heard in the background as he struggled to breathe. 

“I probably don’t have much time left, so tell my mom that I love her if I die,” the teen said, according to the audio. “This is not a joke, This is not a joke. I’m trapped inside my gold Holda Odyssey van in the sophmore parking lot of Seven Hills (unintelligible).  

“Send officers immediately. I’m almost dead.”  

Issac said that the city police officers searching for him were still at the scene as Plush tried in vain to summon help. 

At 3:44 p.m., seven minutes after the Cincinnati officers left the parking lot, a Hamilton County deputy working a traffic detail called the dispatch office and said the officers had told him about the search. The deputy said he checked a van in the parking lot, but did not see anyone in it. 

“He then requested any additional information that was available so that he could do a secondary check of the area,” Issac said

Dispatch audio shows that Smith did speak to the deputy at the scene. A Sheriff’s Office spokesman said Friday, however, that the deputy received very little information from the dispatchers about what type of van to look for. 

“No color or anything. It was a van,” David Daugherty said, according to WCPO. “A van could be a box van, a minivan, it’s pretty vague. We’re very sorry this happened. It’s very sad, but I believe that the Cincinnati PD officers on the scene and our deputy did everything they could with the information they had.”

>> Read more trending news

Issac said that Plush’s parents, Jill and Ronald Plush, received a phone call around 8 p.m. from a classmate of their son, who said that he’d seen Kyle walking toward the family’s van after school, but that Kyle had not shown up for his tennis match that afternoon. 

Jill Plush called 911. 

“My son never came home from school,” she said, according to Fox19. “We thought he was at a tennis match, and he never came home from school.”

The Plushes also used the phone-finding app for their son’s iPhone to trace him. The app indicated that he was in the Seven Hills School student parking lot.

That is where Ron Plush found his son inside the unlocked van, unresponsive and not breathing.

The Post reported that a passerby called 911 just before 9 p.m. saying that a man was running around the parking lot, screaming, “Call 911!” A night shift worker at the school also called for help, saying that he was with the boy’s father and that the teen was “turned over in his seat and stuck.”

“He’s been there for a while,” the caller said. 

Officers were dispatched to the scene at 8:59 p.m., Issac said. 

“Upon (officers’) arrival, they attempted life-saving measures, but were unable to revive Mr. Plush,” Issac said

Issac offered his deepest sympathy to the Plush family.

“This is an extremely tragic incident, and we want to convey that our thoughts and prayers go out to their family,” the chief said. 

Plush’s friends, classmates and teachers are reeling from the death of the boy that his elementary school principal described as “creative, vibrant and kind.” Patty Normille, head of Mercy Montessori, hosted a community prayer gathering for the teen Thursday night. 

WCPO reported that Normille described the boy as a “small guy with a big personality.” Despite his spinal problems, which limited his mobility, Plush loved sports and was on the school’s swim team. 

At his first swim meet, the other children were hesitant to enter the cold water, but Plush dove in, she said. 

He took that spirit with him to Seven Hills, where his sport was tennis. The mother of a friend of his wrote on Facebook that the match he failed to show up for was to be his first.

Jackie Taggart-Boyd said her son, Spencer, described his friend as the “most positive person he ever met.”

“I can tell you that Spencer spoke of Kyle often,” Taggart-Boyd wrote. “I only met him a couple of times, but every time Spencer told me a Kyle story, he ended it with, ‘I LOVE Kyle!’”

A Seven Hills School spokesperson said in a statement that Plush started attending the school in the sixth grade. 

“He was a young man of keen intelligence, good humor and great courage, and this whole community feels this loss very deeply,” the statement read. 

Counselors were on hand at the school to help students, faculty and staff deal with their loss. 

Plush leaves behind his parents, younger sister and a host of other relatives. Mourners offered love and sympathy to his family in the guest book with his online obituary

“I knew Kyle as a small boy and remember his constant smile and his absolute zest for life,” Dori Dreisbach wrote. “He wore a back brace when I knew him, but that did not stop him from playing and exploring with all of the other children. May God bring you peace and may your precious memories of Kyle bring you some measure of comfort.”

Another woman, Olivia Canada, wrote that the teen always had a special place in her heart.

“I always loved our chats at NatureCamp at Stanbery Park,” Canada wrote. “No camper could ever love nature and the outdoors as Kyle did.”

Condolences also poured in from strangers. Maureen Tyrrell wrote that she had never left a condolence message to someone she didn’t know before, but that the teen’s story touched her heart.

“I am a stranger, but please know that my heart is full of sadness to hear about the loss of your beautiful son,” Tyrrell wrote. “It sounds like he was a bright light in this world and touched many with his kindness, a rarity among 16year-olds. I am sure you will honor his memory by carrying his goodness, compassion and love for life throughout the rest of your lives.”

Plush’s visitation will be held Sunday afternoon at T.P. White & Sons Funeral Home in Cincinnati, with his funeral scheduled for Monday morning at St. Rose Church, the obituary said

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