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Education
egg harbor twp. TRANSGENDER POLICY
EHT school board debuts amended transgender student policy

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — With a state law requiring the district to take action and members of the community expressing concerns, the township Board of Education created a compromise in its latest version of the district’s proposed policy for transgender students that was debuted at Tuesday’s workshop meeting.

The school board did not take a vote on the final reading of the policy, but many in the crowd of nearly 100 residents who attended this week’s meeting stood to speak about it.

Several of Tuesday’s attendees were dressed in purple, a color that signifies support for the LGBTQ community, and although they thanked the board for taking a step to implement the policy, several spoke out against a change regarding parental notification.

EHT Transgender Student Policy

The heavily amended proposal includes the elimination of language stating that “the school district shall accept a student’s asserted gender identity; parental consent is not required,” a sticking point for residents at last month’s meeting.

The policy now states that the superintendent or designee “shall ensure that students with gender identity or expression concerns and their parents/guardians shall be given the opportunity to discuss these issues and participate in the educational planning and programming for their students.”

“However, based on the age, grade, maturity, and other factors relating to the student, the superintendent or designee may notify parents/guardians about the student’s asserted gender identity or expression; prior to any staff member calling or referring to the student by a name other than their birth name or derivative,” the policy reads. “Students who do not want their parents/guardians to know about their transgender status shall be addressed on a case-by-case basis.”

Jake Sanders, a transgender resident of the township, told the school board that the reason the state-issued transgender policy guidance said parental consent is not needed for a student to be recognized as transgender at the school was because it could lead to family rejection, putting the student at risk.

Egg Harbor Township High School senior Sarah Serneabad, 18, a member of the Gay Straight Alliance club, said not passing a policy would put transgender students at risk of health problems from avoiding eating, drinking and using the bathroom while at school.

“The transgender community already has gone through an excessive amount of hardships,” she said. “I urge everyone skeptical of this policy to reconsider their stance on the issue.”

Township resident Mike Merlino said he spoke out against the transgender policy three years ago when it was up for a vote and he was still against it. He said it was not the will of the community, but rather a progressive, liberal agenda.

“It always seems that someone who screams the loudest is able to get their way,” Merlino said. “I don’t believe what we’re discussing here today is a reflection of our community.”

Others said they are not afraid of transgender students, but rather think that cisgender students would try to take advantage of the bathroom policy.

“When you have kids who know how to play the game, you’re going to have individuals who are going to take advantage of the protections afforded to others for their own jolly,” said resident George Moore.

Atlantic County Freeholder Caren Fitzpatrick attended the meeting and sat with several attendees dressed in purple.

“This is the law. You have to pass a policy. I think you’ve put a lot of thought into it. I applaud you being inclusive and caring for all the children in Egg Harbor Township,” Fitzpatrick told the board.

Assistant Superintendent Stephen Santilli, who presented the revisions to the transgender policy Tuesday night, said the opening paragraphs were modified to remove references to the law but keep intact the intent of the policy, which he said was about inclusion.

“My opinion is it kind of softened it a little bit,” Santilli said.

He said the changes to parental notification created a balance between a parent’s right to know information about their child and a particular child’s situation.

In addition, Santilli said members of the school board toured the schools’ bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities that would be affected by the policy to see where privacy improvements could be made.

The policy changes the language regarding access to facilities to make clear that any student who is uncomfortable using a sex-segregated restroom or locker room will be provided with an alternative.

“A transgender student shall not be required to use a locker room or restroom that conflicts with the student’s gender identity or expression consistently asserted at school,” the policy states.

The policy does not address concerns presented by residents about gender identity and school sports except to state that “all students will be allowed to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity and consistent with New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association NJSIAA by-laws.”

The final vote on the policy is scheduled for Nov. 26.


Washington
AP
Trump directed Ukraine quid pro quo, key witness says

WASHINGTON — Ambassador Gordon Sondland declared to impeachment investigators Wednesday that President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani explicitly sought a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine, leveraging an Oval Office visit for political investigations of Democrats. But he also came to believe the trade involved much more.

Besides the U.S. offer of a coveted meeting at the White House, Sondland testified it was his understanding the president was holding up nearly $400 million in military aid, which Ukraine badly need with an aggressive Russia on its border, in exchange for the country’s announcement of the investigations.

Sondland conceded that Trump never told him directly the security assistance was blocked for the probes, a gap in his account that Republicans and the White House seized on as evidence the president did nothing wrong. But the ambassador said his dealings with Giuliani, as well as administration officials, left him with the clear understanding of what was at stake.

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’” Sondland testified in opening remarks. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”

The rest, he said, was obvious: “Two plus two equals four.”

Later Wednesday, another witness undercut a main Republican argument -- that Ukraine didn’t even realize the money was being held up. The Defense Department’s Laura Cooper testified that Ukrainian officials started asking about it on July 25, which was the day of Trump’s phone call with the country’s new president when he first asked for a “favor.”

Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union and a major donor to Trump’s inauguration, was the most highly anticipated witness in the House’s impeachment inquiry into the 45th president of the United States.

In often-stunning testimony, he painted a picture of a Ukraine pressure campaign that was prompted by Trump himself, orchestrated by Giuliani and well-known to other senior officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Sondland said he raised his concerns about a quid pro quo for military aid with Vice President Mike Pence — a conversation a Pence adviser vigorously denied.

Pompeo also dismissed Sondland’s account.

However, Sondland said, “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”

The ambassador said that he and Trump spoke directly about desired investigations, including a colorful cellphone call this summer overheard by others at a restaurant in Kyiv.

Trump himself insists daily that he did nothing wrong and the Democrats are just trying to drum him out of office.

As the hearing proceeded, he spoke to reporters outside the White House. Reading from notes written with a black marker, Trump quoted Sondland quoting Trump to say the president wanted nothing from the Ukrainians and did not seek a quid pro quo.

“I want nothing, I want nothing,” insisted the president, who often exhorts Americans to “read the transcript” of the July phone call in which he appealed to Ukraine’s leader for “a favor” — the investigations.

He also distanced himself from his hand-picked ambassador, saying he didn’t know him “very well.” A month ago, he called Sondland “a really good man and a great American.”

The impeachment inquiry focuses significantly on allegations that Trump sought investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son -- and the discredited idea that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election -- in return for the badly needed military aid for Ukraine and the White House visit.

In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was pleased that the “political battles” in Washington had overtaken the Russia allegations, which are supported by the U.S. intelligence agencies.

"Thank God,” Putin said, “no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore. Now they’re accusing Ukraine."

Another hearing in the impeachment inquiry gaveled open Wednesday evening with Cooper, a Defense Department official who had raised concerns about the suspended Ukraine aid, and David Hale, the No. 3 official at the State Department.

Sondland said that conditions on any potential Ukraine meeting at the White House started as “generic” but more items were “added to the menu including -- Burisma and 2016 election meddling.” Burisma is the Ukrainian gas company where Biden’s son Hunter served on the board. And, he added, “the server,” the hacked Democratic computer system.

During questioning in the daylong session, Sondland said he didn’t know at the time that Burisma was linked to the Bidens but today knows “exactly what it means.” He and other diplomats didn’t want to work with Giuliani. But he and the others understood that Giuliani “was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president.”

He also came to understand that the military aid hinged on the investigations, though Trump never told him so directly.

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier, has emerged as a central figure in an intense week in the probe that is featuring nine witnesses testifying over three days.

The envoy appeared prepared to fend off scrutiny over the way his testimony has shifted in closed-door settings, saying “my memory has not been perfect.” He said the State Department left him without access to emails, call records and other documents he needed in the inquiry. Republicans called his account “the trifecta of unreliability.”

Still, he did produce new emails and text messages to bolster his assertion that others in the administration were aware of the investigations he was pursuing for Trump from Ukraine.

Sondland insisted, twice, that he was “adamantly opposed to any suspension of aid” for Ukraine. “I followed the directions of the president.”

The son of immigrants who he said escaped Europe during the Holocaust, Sondland described himself as a “lifelong Republican” who has worked with officials from both parties, including Biden.

Dubbed one of the “three amigos” pursuing Ukraine policy, Sondland disputed that they were running some sort of “rogue” operation outside official U.S. policy. He produced emails and texts showing he, former special envoy Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry kept Pompeo and others apprised of their activity. One message from Volker said, “Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S.” He said, “S means the secretary of state.”

Democratic Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California said, “The knowledge of this scheme was far and wide.”

Schiff warned Pompeo and other administration officials who are refusing to turn over documents and testimony to the committee “they do so at their own peril.” He said obstruction of Congress was included in articles of impeachment during Watergate.

The top Republican on the committee, Devin Nunes of California, decried the inquiry and told the ambassador, "Mr. Sondland, you are here to be smeared."

Nunes renewed his demand to hear from the still-anonymous whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy led the House to open the impeachment inquiry.

Sondland’s hours of testimony didn’t appear to sway Trump’s GOP allies in the Senate, who would ultimately be jurors in an impeachment trial.

Mike Braun of Indiana said the president’s actions “may not be appropriate, but this is the question: Does it rise to the level of impeachment? And it’s a totally different issue and none of this has.”

“I’m pretty certain that’s what most of my cohorts in the Senate are thinking and I know that’s what Hoosiers are thinking — and most of middle America.”

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Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Laurie Kellman, Zeke Miller, Matthew Daly and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.


Local
Could Atlantic City become model for urban transformation?

ATLANTIC CITY — The slow but steady turnaround of the resort could serve as a model for other struggling urban areas.

Back-to-back sessions at Wednesday's annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference at the Convention Center focused on the steps the city has taken to correct systemic, long-standing issues that have stifled progress for decades.

The first panel focused on social justice initiatives, while the second detailed government and economic development strategies, with each led by Jim Johnson, former special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy for the Atlantic City transition.

Johnson, who moved on from his Atlantic City role last month to become New York City's corporate counsel, said the concept of "shared responsibility" among key public- and private-sector stakeholders is driving the resort's revitalization, particularly in areas of public safety, youth opportunities, government efficiency and city planning.

"If you're coming to some place, you don't start with what's wrong and pointing fingers," Johnson said. "You start with what's strong," noting that Atlantic City's civic and community organizations "were a key part of the glue that helped pull all of this together."

Atlantic City's Neighborhood Coordination Officer program was highlighted as one of the primary results of input from residents and business owners, who told Johnson's review team what they felt was needed in the city.

Police Chief Henry White said the NCO program has been an "overwhelming success," and the city is already planning to expand the number of patrol officers.

The panel also talked about how the formation of the city's Citizens Advisory Board has changed the way law enforcement and the community address and solve problems.

A renewed focus on the 10,000 young people in Atlantic City — whom Johnson characterized as "forgotten citizens" — has been a critical issue for several organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City and Stockton University's Center for Community Engagement. 

Johnson Report

Michelle Carrera, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club, said the goal is to "put young people at the forefront for them to thrive," while Merydawilda Colon, professor of social work at Stockton, said children need to have "constructive use of time," to enable long-term success.

The recently opened MGM Resorts International Teen Center for Economic Youth Development and College Readiness at the club saw an increase of nearly 100 kids per day, Carrera said.

Joe Jingoli, co-owner of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, and the Rev. Collins Days, of Second Baptist Church and Vision 2000, collaborated this summer to create a youth-work program that gave 20 at-risk kids jobs and a paycheck. Days said "not one kid re-offended since entering the program."

Jingoli said he would like to see the other eight Atlantic City casinos partner with community religious organizations to do the same next summer and bring the number up to 200.

Changing the way City Hall conducted business, both internally and externally, was the focus of the second panel. City department heads, including interim Business Administrator Anthony Swan, Information Technology Director Pat Quinlan and Planning Director Barbara Woolley-Dillon, addressed how mandatory ethics training for all employees and Certified Public Manager training have increased both professionalism and efficiency of local government.

"We will continue that so the business community can have faith that when we make a decision that ethics and ethics analysis is actually part of that decision-making process," Swan said.

Matt Doherty, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and Lance Landgraf, CRDA planning director, both talked about efforts the state agency is taking to work more closely with city government. 

Landgraf, who noted that CRDA has zoning and land-use authority over the city's Tourism District, said more market-rate housing was needed. 

"We're upside down," he said. "We are 70% subsidized housing and 30% market-rate. We need to flip that and get more people living here on a daily basis because that solves a lot of the evils."

Doherty said Murphy's administration has made it a priority for CRDA to keep more of its funds in the city and "use them in a way that has a direct positive impact on the lives of the residents who live here."

Bo Kemp, special adviser and consultant for Atlantic City, has worked in some of the country's most distressed urban municipalities. While discussing the recently launched Bader Field development concept, he said the "biggest thing we're fighting is disbelief."

Before the two panels started, Johnson was presented with a sheet cake that featured the cover of his transition report and was lauded by numerous colleagues for his 20 months of service in Atlantic City.

Photos from the NJ League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City

Crime
10-year-old dies from gunshot wounds at Pleasantville football game

A 10-year-old boy shot in the neck during last week’s Pleasantville High School football game has died, officials said Wednesday.

Micah Tennant, of Atlantic City, was shot during the third quarter of the Pleasantville-Camden Central Jersey Group II high school football playoff game Friday evening, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office said in a news release.

Charges against one of the six people arrested in the shooting have been upgraded to include murder.

"Words at this time seem so insufficient to portray the anger and outrage that our community feels regarding his loss," Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said of Tennant. "However, his spirit will live on in so many people that he inspired."

In addition to murder, Wyatt, 31, is charged with two counts of attempted murder, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.

The Press of Atlantic City knocked on the door of the home of Angela Tennant, Micah's mother, late Wednesday afternoon in Atlantic City. A man who would not identify himself confirmed Tennant lived there but said she was not home. He had no further comment.

Pleasantville Police Chief Sean Riggin posted his condolences to Micah's family and loved ones on the department's Facebook page. 

"I want to express our deepest sympathy and strongest possible support to the Tennant family on behalf of the men and women of the Pleasantville Police Department. The love and strength of Micah's family has been an inspiration to me, to our department, and to our entire community. No words can heal the suffering when a family loses a child — we can only do our best to ensure they know our prayers and sympathy are with them," the post said.

Prior to the resumption of the Pleasantville-Camden game Wednesday at a mostly empty Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, a moment of silence was held. Camden went on to win the game 22-0.

The public was not permitted to attend, and only guests of the two teams were allowed inside.

Micah, also known as Dew, was a fifth-grader at the Uptown Complex School in Atlantic City. Superintendent Barry Caldwell asked the community to keep Micah’s family in their thoughts and prayers.

“Micah was a vibrant, beautiful child with a kind and pure spirit,”  Caldwell said.

Also injured in the shooting were a 15-year-old and Ibn Abdullah. Wyatt allegedly shot Abdullah at 8:29 p.m. Friday in what officials called a targeted attack during the game. The next day, six men from Atlantic City and Pleasantville, including Abdullah, were charged in the incident.

The shooting left Abdullah with critical injuries, and the 15-year-old suffered a graze wound, police said. The teen was treated at a hospital and released, but Tennant was taken to Cooper University Hospital in Camden.

Abdullah was charged with first-degree unlawful possession of a handgun and certain persons not permitted to possess a handgun after police found a 9mm handgun in his waistband.

Shahid Dixon, 27, Michael Mack, 27, and Tyrell Dorn, 28, all of Atlantic City, and Vance Golden, 26, of Pleasantville, were each charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and certain persons not to possess a weapon. Dixon also was charged with eluding, authorities said.

Detention hearings for Wyatt, Mack, Dorn, Dixon and Golden are scheduled for Nov. 27 before Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr., court records show.

After the game, Pleasantville head football coach Chris Sacco gathered the team in an end zone for an emotional address.

"We told the team about Micah in school today," Sacco said. "It was tough to break the news to them, and the kids took it really hard. These kids needed something uplifting, and thankfully the Eagles came through for them."

Staff Writers Vincent Jackson, Lauren Carroll, Claire Lowe and David Weinberg contributed to this report, along with Press wire services.

PHOTOS from Pleasantville vs. Camden at Philadelphia Eagles stadium