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Teacher says plan to reduce social studies 'dangerous for democracy'

Within the past few weeks, the United States and Iran have traded missile attacks, the House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump and a photo emerged of state correctional officers giving a Nazi salute.

Amid all this, the West Virginia Board of Education is proposing to allow county school systems to reduce social studies standards for high school students.

This could severely limit the time teachers can spend on key historical moments, like the Holocaust, plus eliminate the historical context needed for students to understand current events, like wars they may join after graduation.

The proposal was drafted with the help of 109 outside stakeholders, according to the West Virginia Department of Education. Only one was a high school social studies teacher.

Currently, counties can offer a single U.S. history course, but are required to also provide a two-course path.

The state school board’s proposal, Policy 2510 — which the public can view and provide their opinions on until 4 p.m. Jan. 24 at wvde.state.wv.us/policies — would allow counties to eliminate the two-course option. It would also cut the requirement for a fourth social studies credit.

Among what’s lost when U.S. history is made one course: standards requiring students to assess the results of America’s Middle Eastern foreign policy; critique the Afghan and Iraq wars’ effectiveness in the War on Terror; and outline the Patriot Act and debate whether its civil rights’ infringements are necessary.

John Quesenberry, president of the West Virginia Council for the Social Studies and a teacher at Raleigh County’s Woodrow Wilson High, said he thinks the proposal is “dangerous for democracy.”

“We’ve got the Revolution, Civil War, Civil Rights Movement, Cold War, War on Terrorism,” he said. “I mean, there are so many areas students are going to miss out on, mistakes that were made … inspirations they can draw on.”

Joseph Strickler, a senior at South Charleston High, took the two-course path and said he didn’t recall being taught anything past the Obama administration’s killing of Osama bin Laden.

“In one course, I feel like it would be very rushed for the teacher who has to teach it, and it would be a lot of stress, maybe,” he said. “But I would have to see how it works out.”

Also in the one-course plan, the Holocaust is demoted from its own standard to being an example in a more broad standard about World War II human rights abuses.

Teachers interviewed for this article differed on whether all examples in a given standard (the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps, stereotypes and propaganda are the examples in the human rights abuses standard) are supposed to be taught, or if they’re optional.

The state Department of Education didn’t say whether the listed examples were mandatory.

If the proposal passes and their county decides to only offer the one-course path, educators would have to further prioritize how to teach the history and place in the world of a country that has existed for over 200 years — not counting its 400-plus years of European settlement. Even the two-course path standards start with European settlement, not Native American settlement over 10,000 years ago.

“Going at such a rapid pace for all of U.S. history would just ... you would have no downtime to really stop and get in-depth with some complex things and topics that deserve quite a bit of time,” Eric Starr, who teaches social studies at Tug Valley High, in Mingo County, said. “For instance, I’m getting ready to start teaching about the economic systems of the Cold War.”

The state has less way of knowing the potential effects of its proposal, or how well the two-course path is working, since it eliminated statewide social studies standardized testing.

In 2013-14, the last school year of that testing, only 37 percent of West Virginia students were deemed at least proficient in social studies — the lowest rate since 2009-10.

Adena Barnette, a social studies teacher at Jackson County’s Ripley High and a social studies council board member, said she knows not all her students are going to be political science majors or lawyers.

“But every kid that I encounter in my classes, each and every one of them, will be a citizen,” Barnette said. “And the bulk of what they know about our history and citizenship, they’ll learn in high school social studies classes.”

Aside from the impact on U.S. history, the proposed changes would also let counties allow students to more easily avoid taking World Studies, which goes from prehistory to the 1800s. Another normal-level social studies course, including psychology, sociology and others, could take its place.

“Trying to make World Studies optional, in the face of an ever-globalizing world, you’re setting West Virginia students up for disaster,” Starr said.

State school board President Dave Perry said he supports the proposed changes.

“I think the social studies is in keeping with the intent of the entire policy change, to allow flexibility to students to schedule more individual needs,” he said.

He also said he thinks the Nazi photo is terrible, but doesn’t think it’s attributable to high school social studies credits.

Teachers try to ‘cram’ info

The same day Gov. Jim Justice announced the firings of the correctional officers in the Nazi photo, Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, tweeted that, “Based on today’s news and reporting, now is not the time to decrease # social studies credits needed to graduate high school.”

Earlier, Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, told state schools Superintendent Steve Paine he found the proposal disheartening.

“I look at the picture and I think that could potentially be, as despicable as it is, an outcropping of students today aren’t [being] taught enough about history,” Weld said. “I don’t think the students realize the full breadth of the horrors of the Nazi regime.”

Starr teaches the WWI-to-present-day half of U.S. history, plus the single-course path.

“The one that goes in-depth, I only give a week with the Holocaust,” Starr said of the half of the two-course path he teaches.

In his one-course version, he said he just wrapped up the Civil War. As for the Holocaust, he said he anticipates spending less than one lesson on it in one day, probably with just one more day to touch on it during a content refresher.

“I’ll probably teach it in one big lesson that is WWII,” he said. “I will probably just have one large PowerPoint — very large PowerPoint — that is WWII and I’ll probably just give it a few slides with that and talk about the gravity of it and then move on.”

The one-course path also contains no mention of Vietnam, a war comparable to the United States’ current Middle Eastern conflicts.

The one-course path has a standard saying students should be able to “trace the events of the Cold War and confrontations between the United States and other world powers,” but nothing specifically requiring teaching about the Vietnam or Korean wars.

West Virginia Studies, which eighth graders take, does mention Vietnam. It’s included as an example, alongside the Civil Rights Movement and other things, of what should be taught in a broad standard requiring kids to “explain the economic, social, and political impact of twentieth century events on West Virginia.”

Gracie Allen, a South Charleston High freshman, said she doesn’t feel one year is enough time to learn U.S. history.

“Teachers — not all of them because there are some good ones — they try to cram all of this information in a really short time and then think we’re learning it, but we’re just remembering it for tests,” Allen said. “Like, we’re not learning anything. And if we had more time and it was more separated, then we would be able to actually learn instead of just remembering things and then forgetting them later.”

And she said her West Virginia Studies course didn’t teach much about U.S. history.

While the social studies standards require studying the U.S. Constitution, no grade, not even the high school two-course path, has standards specifically requiring studying impeachment.

Allen, at least, said she got to watch the impeachment proceedings in an elective class at her school.

Quesenberry, the teacher who leads the social studies council, said public high schools are one of the few places left where people are “forced to have to learn from and cooperate with people who may not always agree with us.”

“I had a class one year where we had the head of the state Young Democrats, we had someone who worshipped Glenn Beck, another who was head of the school’s teen Republicans and another was the niece of a Democratic Congressman,” he said. “And we would discuss and argue laws, interpretations of the Constitution, but they were so respectful of each other’s views. They didn’t always change their mind, but they considered those and they were exposed to these different ideas and why someone may have thought the way they did.”

But he said social studies is also about learning historical facts. He said current political debate seems to lack a shared set of facts.

“Then they can interpret them once they know that knowledge,” he said of teaching these facts, “but there are some objective facts, and if they’ve got that strong base of knowledge, I think it’s much less likely that you could be misled by someone else’s bias.”

Globetrotters bring trademark magic to Huntington

HUNTINGTON — The Harlem Globetrotters world-famous basketball team made its routine annual stop in Huntington Sunday. While the team is 94 years old, its show was anything but outdated.

The 2020 “Pushing the Limits” World tour kicked off in December and is expected to make 200 stops in North America and 30 countries this year, giving fans a chance to experience bigger moments and memories, including a live world record attempt at each game.

The 2020 tour features holders of 21 current world records. Many areas also featured glow in the dark performances.

The 2020 tour celebrates the 10th anniversary of the four-point shot, a shot 30-feet from the basket which they introduced to the sport in 2010.

When watching the Globetrotters play, it’s hard to tell who is having more fun — the crowd or the players. Sarah Carlson, of Huntington, had a gaggle of elementary-school aged kicks in tow as they exited the show.

“A couple of my kids started a basketball team last year and really got into it,” she said. “We took them to the show last year, and it really left them loving it even more. They were like, ‘Hey. I could do that if I practice, right?”

Missy Stevens, of Buffalo, whose son plays youth basketball, said she finds it difficult to travel out of state to watch professional basketball teams play, so they have made a yearly outing to see the Globetrotters.

“West Virginia gets ignored often, so it’s nice to know we can at least expect this each winter,” she said. “I know it’s not a competitive game, but the kids still love seeing it. It’s hard to find stuff to do this time of the year anyways.”

Spectators were invited to stay after the game and were offered a “Magic Pass” to the pre-game event, which allowed the audience to get up close and personal with the players, even learning how to spin a ball on their finger.

Even off the court, the Globetrotters bring joy to our area.

Sweet Lou II, playing in his second season with the team, made two stops in Huntington last December as part of the team’s Ambassadors of Goodwill program.

Lou visited students at Hite-Saunders Elementary School and children at Hoops Family Children’s Hospital. At the school, he encouraged students to reduce bullying and violence in school, while at the hospital, he visited patients and showed them some of the team’s ball handling moves.

The team will return to the Huntington area next January.

Not on form, but brawl over citizenship question continues

The U.S. Supreme Court decided a citizenship question won’t be on this spring’s census form, but that doesn’t mean the fight over it has ended in courtrooms across the country.

In Maryland, civil rights groups are trying to block an order from President Donald Trump to gather citizenship data through administrative records.

In New York, other civil rights groups are seeking sanctions against Trump administration attorneys for not turning over documents related to the citizenship question’s origins. Democratic lawmakers in the District of Columbia are fighting for similar documents, and Alabama officials are suing the Census Bureau to keep immigrants living in the country illegally from being counted during the process that determines the number of congressional seats each state gets.

All of the lawsuits touch on whether the number of citizens, instead of the total population, will be used for redistricting or apportionment — the process of divvying up congressional seats among the states after the 2020 census.

Opponents say doing so would dilute the influence of minorities and Democrats, which they argue was the true intent of the Trump administration’s desire to add a citizenship question in the first place.

The U.S. Constitution specifies that congressional districts should be based on how many people — not citizens — live there. But the legal requirements are murkier for state legislative districts.

“The country is changing demographically, and people in power believe that the only way to stay in power is to disadvantage minority voters,” said Andrea Senteno, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the civil rights groups that sued Trump in the Maryland case. “What we’re seeing now is a reflection of that. It’s really about political power in the long term.”

Supporters of the question say the U.S. should know how many citizens there are.

“It’s important for us as a country to know how many people are citizens,” U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican from Georgia, said last week during a congressional hearing.

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The administration had said the question was being added to aid in enforcement of a law that protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box. But the high court said the administration’s justification for the question “seems to have been contrived.”

Opponents argued it would intimidate immigrants, Hispanics and others from participating in the once-a-decade head count that determines how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is allocated and how many congressional seats each state gets.

House Democrats investigating the citizenship question’s origins said a Trump transition adviser was in contact with an influential Republican redistricting guru, Thomas Hofeller, when the citizenship question was being drafted in 2017. Hofeller, who died in 2018, advocated using voting-age citizens, instead of the total population, as the population base for redistricting. In documents that surfaced after his death, he acknowledged his intent was to help Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

In the District of Columbia, Democratic lawmakers sued Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General William Barr for refusing to provide information for their investigation.

The lawmakers say they need documents being withheld to determine whether Congress should take emergency action to protect the census from partisan political interference.

In New York, civil rights groups that helped win the Supreme Court case are seeking sanctions against Trump administration attorneys, saying they hid Hofeller’s role in concocting the citizenship question.

After the Supreme Court blocked the question, Trump issued an executive order for the Census Bureau to gather citizenship information through administrative records from federal agencies and the 50 states.

Gathering the citizenship data would give the states the option to design districts using voter-age citizen numbers instead of the total population, Trump said in his July order. A short time later, civil rights groups sued in federal court in Maryland, claiming the citizenship-data gathering was motivated by “a racially discriminatory scheme” to reduce the political power of Latinos and increase the representation of non-Latino whites.”

The civil rights groups said in court papers last week that members of the Trump administration “conspired to reduce the political power of people of color” by following Hofeller’s recommendation.

In Alabama, state officials and Republican U.S. Congressman Mo Brooks sued the Census Bureau to exclude people in the country illegally from being counted when determining congressional seats for each state. Their 2018 lawsuit claims Alabama stands to lose a seat if people living in the country illegally are included, diluting the state’s representation in the Electoral College.

Even though the citizenship question won’t be on the 2020 questionnaire, its opponents said plenty of damage has already been done. But Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham said last month in an interview with The Associated Press that he doesn’t think the fight over citizenship will diminish participation.

“The citizenship question is over. We have experienced litigation, but I don’t think there’s any legacy to that,” Dillingham said. “We want to make sure that we reach everyone and that everyone gets counted.” ————

Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

Ryan Fischer/The Herald-Dispatch 

Oak Hill coach Norm Persin watches from the sidelines as the Oak Hill boy's basketball team takes on Coal Grove in the first game of the Beasts of the Southeast basketball showcase on Saturday, January 11, 2020, in Chesapeake, Ohio.

KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail/  

A mature bald eagle, one of seven eagles spotted during the survey, takes in the view from a perch along the Ohio River in New Martinsville.

Ex-drug company execs face reckoning in opioid bribery case

BOSTON — The founder and former top employees of a pharmaceutical company are facing a reckoning for their role in a bribery scheme that prosecutors say boosted sales of a powerful, highly addictive painkiller and helped fuel the national opioid epidemic.

Starting Monday, seven people who worked for Insys Therapeutics will appear in Boston to be sentenced by a federal judge.

The case against company founder John Kapoor and his associates was considered the first that sought to hold an opioid maker and its executives criminally liable for the drug crisis that’s claimed nearly 400,000 lives over two decades.

At least two other companies, a drug distributor in New York and another in Ohio, have since been hit with criminal charges. But prominent industry names — specifically OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family that owns it — have only faced lawsuits, which carry no threat of prison time, so far.

Prosecutors say officials at Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics paid millions of dollars in bribes to doctors across the country so they would overprescribe Subsys, a fentanyl-based oral spray meant to ease intense pain suffered by cancer patients.

Insys Therapeutics also deployed other questionable marketing tactics, according to prosecutors. One sales executive, who prosecutors said used to be an exotic dancer, gave a physician a lap dance at a club. And the company misled insurers to get payment for the drug, which cost as much as $19,000 a month.

Following a lengthy trial, Kapoor and four others were convicted last year of racketeering conspiracy. Two other defendants pleaded guilty.

Shortly after, the company reached a $225 million settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to end its criminal and civil probes.

Insys Therapeutics has since filed for bankruptcy protection, and it’s not clear whether the company will fully pay what’s owed. The company has been approved to sell off Subsys and its other drugs for about $30 million, but the it maintains its assets, all told, are worth only $175 million.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling, whose office is prosecuting the case, said Insys Therapeutics has already paid $5 million towards the $195 million civil settlement with the government. A $2 million criminal fine and $28 million forfeiture haven’t been paid.

While the defendants can face up to 20 years for the charges, prosecutors are seeking 15 years for Kapoor, arguing the former billionaire was the “fulcrum” of the scheme, according to recent court filings.

Kapoor’s lawyers counter their client was portrayed as a “caricature” of a mob boss but is really the “consummate immigrant success story.”

They say in their filings that the India-born exec developed Subsys after seeing his wife suffer and die from breast cancer. They’re seeking no more than a year and a day in prison for Kapoor.

For the other defendants, Lelling’s office is seeking sentences ranging from five to 11 years.

Michael Gurry, an Arizona resident who was a company vice president, will be the first sentenced on Jan. 13.

Richard Simon, a California resident who had been the company’s head of sales, will follow on Jan. 21, along with Joseph Rowan, of Florida, who was a regional sales director.

Sunrise Lee, a Michigan resident and the former regional sales director, will be sentenced on Jan. 22 along with Michael Babich, an Arizona resident and a former company CEO.

Kapoor will be sentenced Jan. 23 along with Alec Burlakoff, a North Carolina resident who was the company’s vice president of sales.

Babich and Burlakoff both pleaded guilty and were key witnesses for prosecutors.