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Murphy transitioning away from PARCC testing

ATLANTIC CITY — Gov. Phil Murphy announced the first steps New Jersey will take this school year to begin transitioning away from the current statewide student assessment.

During a news conference Tuesday at Golden Nugget Atlantic City, Murphy and state Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet introduced a set of proposals to phase out the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test administered to New Jersey students annually.

Murphy characterized PARCC as “high stakes, high stress” for students and said the assessment forces educators to “teach to standardized tests.”

The proposals do not eliminate standardized testing completely, the governor said, but rather put the state on a “clear path away from PARCC.”

“By making the transition in phases, we can ensure a smooth implementation in schools across the state and maintain compliance with current state and federal requirements,” Murphy said.

Among the proposals introduced are reductions in the length of testing for all grades by nearly 25 percent and the weight the assessments have on teacher evaluations.

The state Board of Education also will be asked to consider streamlining graduation requirements by reducing the number of required tests in high school from six to two (Algebra 1 and English/Language Arts 10), ensuring that educators and parents receive test data in a more timely manner and providing flexibility for first-year English learners on the language proficiency test.

“It’s time we put the focus back where it belongs, which is on classroom instruction,” Murphy said.

The governor said getting back to flexibility for in-class instruction is a national trend and that New Jersey “wants to not just be part of that trend but a leader.”

Repollet said recommendations were collected by the Department of Education during a two-month, 21-county tour in which the department held approximately 75 in-person sessions, three live webinars and heard from more than 2,300 education stakeholders.

“My staff and I went on a listening tour across the state to ensure that we understood the scope of interest, and we moved forward having considered the needs of students, educators and broader community members in building the next generation assessment system by New Jersey, for New Jersey,” Repollet said.

Murphy made the elimination of PARCC testing in New Jersey one of his campaign issues in 2017 and said he still opposes the assessment. But, rather than completely eliminating PARCC, Murphy said it needed to be done in phases.

The changes will be implemented for the 2018-19 school year.

Repollet said a second phase of community outreach will occur during the upcoming school year “focusing on the more complicated questions and issues with implementation that we encountered during the listening tour.”

Vassar Square resident Arnold Lautt, 75, says most residents have been quiet and have kept to themselves about the homicides. ‘It’s probably one of the safest places there is. I feel very comfortable living here,’ he says. ‘Things happen, what are you going to do? It’s unfortunate, but things happen.’

Grossman doubles down after NRCC pulls endorsement over Facebook post

South Jersey congressional candidate Seth Grossman doubled down on his candidacy after the National Republican Congressional Committee pulled its support, saying he will not drop out of the race and NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers should resign for not supporting “pro-Trump candidates.”

The committee pulled its support after a Grossman Facebook post from Dec. 30, 2014 surfaced of him sharing an article that said black people “are a threat to all who cross their paths.”

Grossman said Tuesday he should have read the article more closely before posting it and that he disavows the “hateful generalizations” it makes about people of color. But, he said, he thought it was important to share at the time because it defended police officers in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

“In 2014, I saw an urgent need to protect and defend our police officers and to tell the truth about some of the violent thugs our police officers had to deal with every day,” Grossman said. “That is why on Dec. 30, 2014, I shared the post ‘Confessions of a Public Defender,’ which described the culture of violence that has infected far too many black teenagers in our inner cities.”

The Facebook post was found by a Democratic-leaning SuperPAC, American Bridge to the 21st Century, and shared with the website Media Matters for America.

The withdrawn endorsement was first reported by Media Matters and confirmed by NRCC spokesman Chris Martin.

“Bigotry has no place in society — let alone the U.S. House of Representatives,” Stivers said in a statement. “The NRCC withdraws our support of Seth Grossman and calls on him to reconsider his candidacy. The people of New Jersey’s 2nd District deserve an inclusive Republican candidate who will be a trusted conservative voice in Congress.”

Grossman originally posted the article with the following comment:

“Oy vay! What so many people, black, white and Hispanic, whisper to me privately but never dare say out loud publicly. Back in the Old Country, people were very careful about what they said for fear of retaliation. At one time, America was a free country and people were not afraid to express their true thoughts. Am just posting this as an individual and not on behalf of any organization.”

On Tuesday, Grossman told The Press of Atlantic City he received the article in 2014 from former Congressman and retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Allen West, who is black.

He took aim at Media Matters.

“Media Matters was the cheerleader for the fake news ‘Hands Up. Don’t Shoot’ big lie. That big lie was repeated by all so-called mainstream news outlets and Hollywood celebrities,” Grossman said. “Those Media Matters lies had deadly effect. The number of police officers killed in the line of duty (in 2014) increased by 24 percent to 126.”

Grossman won the June 5 Republican primary for the nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Frank LoBiondo. He will face Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew in November’s general election.

John Weingart, the associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said local Republicans are now in a tough spot, but he doesn’t think it will necessarily hurt Republican candidates running for municipal or county-level elected offices in the general election.

“It could drive up turnout on the Democratic side, but I don’t think you’re going to have a Republican look at Seth Grossman and say, ‘Oh I don’t like him, so I’m not voting for any Republicans,’” Weingart said. “It’s also still early in this process, so Republicans will have time to minimize the damage.”

Atlantic County Chairman Keith Davis said Grossman made a “serious error” by sharing the article but added Grossman is not a racist.

“You can say many things about Seth Grossman, but the man doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” Davis said. “He made a serious error by linking to this horrendous webpage that he has now disavowed. I take him at his word. But he’s no more racist for doing that than Senator Van Drew is a homophobe for opposing gay marriage or a xenophobe for opposing sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants.”

Democrats, meanwhile, swiftly condemned Grossman’s comments and questioned why the NRCC didn’t pull its support sooner.

“It’s been 29 days since the media first broke the story of Seth Grossman’s hateful rhetoric. If the NRCC had done a cursory Google search, or even visited their chosen candidate’s website or Facebook page, they’d know what most voters in South Jersey already know. Seth Grossman is unhinged and unfit for office,” Michael Muller, the chief strategist for Van Drew, said in a statement. “Chairman Stivers and the NRCC clearly didn’t have a moral compass 29 days ago, it’s hard to believe they just found religion. This is obviously due to Seth’s abysmal fundraising.”

Son discovered mother, sister dead in Ventnor homicides

VENTNOR — An overnight trip to Atlantic City ended in a grim discovery for Richard Rosen, of New York, who found the bodies of his mother and sister dead inside their luxury highrise condo, victims of an apparent homicide.

“I was shocked they were both dead on the floor,” Richard Rosen, 50, of Brooklyn, told The Press of Atlantic City in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Rosen had tried to call his mother, Elaine Rosen, 87, and sister Michelle Gordon, 67, on Sunday at their residence at the Vassar Square Condominiums in Ventnor. There was no answer. After going to the condo and knocking but still getting no answer, he found a security guard to let him in the apartment.

Elaine Rosen and Gordon were the victims of apparent blunt-force trauma, and police are continuing to search for their killer, according to a statement released Monday by Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner.

No arrests have been made, Tyner said. The Prosecutor’s Office has not offered information on a suspect.

The deaths are believed to “be an isolated incident and there is no apparent danger to the public,” according to the prosecutor’s release.

“It’s very unlikely that anything like this would happen. I don’t understand,” Rosen said.

Rosen described his mother and sister as “simple, quiet people.”

He does not know who could have killed them.

Outside the condominiums Tuesday, Arnold Lautt sat on a bench to get some fresh air. Lautt, 75, has been living at the condominiums for six years. He said most residents have been quiet and have kept to themselves about the homicides.

“It’s probably one of the safest places there is. I feel very comfortable living here. Things happen, what are you going to do? It’s unfortunate but things happen,” Lautt said.

Lance Cohn was walking out of the condos where he stops in for breakfast once a week. He said the homicides wouldn’t stop him from grabbing a meal next week.

“I don’t have a second thought about coming here for breakfast. I come here once or twice a week. It’s the Boardwalk. This is about the best location and the safest location,” said Cohn, 64, of Ventnor. “(But) I am a little bit shocked, I would say. It’s surprising.”

Locksmiths were at the building Monday with police, though it is unclear which units they were changing the locks for.

The Vassar Square Condominiums dub themselves “The Queen of the Ventnor City Boardwalk” and have 212 units.

The doors beyond the main lobby to the elevators and stairs are kept locked, so only people with a key can get into the residence section of the building.

According to public records, Rosen sold unit 802 in the building in 2016 for $100,000.

The joint investigation is continuing between the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes Unit and the Ventnor City Police Department.

Autopsies for both women were scheduled for Tuesday.

Staff Writer John DeRosier contributed to this report.

Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer 


Cape May County files lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers

Cape May County has followed an example set nationwide by hundreds of municipalities to sue the drug companies related to the ongoing opioid epidemic.

“We have seen the effects that opioids have had in our community,” Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton said in a statement. “We are going after the source of the problem alongside the efforts we are making in our county to reduce addiction.”

At least 32 Cape May County residents suffered opioid-related overdose fatalities in 2016. The numbers for last year show 206 people in Cape May County overdosed, and 33 of those individuals died, said Denis Brown, an administrative aide to the Cape May County freeholders.

Nationwide, the government estimates more than 116 people die daily due to an overdose on opioids. About 11.5 million people had misused prescription opioids and 2.1 million had an opioid use disorder, based on 2016 data, Brown said.

The lawsuit was filed July 5 in Superior Court, but the county did not reveal its action until July 9. The lawsuit states that despite the companies knowing long-term use can cause addiction, they misrepresented the dangers and attempted to minimize the known risks. The information from the press release is the only comment that the county has at this time, Brown said.

Part of the county’s contention is a that misleading advertising campaign, which started in the late 1990s, continues to convince doctors, patients and others that the benefits outweigh the risks in using opioid medication, according to the statement.

The national law firm of Simmons Hanly Conroy, based in New York City, is handling more than 200 municipalities in states that include California, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania when it comes to the multi-district opioid litigation. Simmons Hanly Conroy is not representing Cape May County.

In January, Paul Hanly, of Simmons Hanly Conroy, was appointed co-lead counsel of the multi-district opioid litigation to oversee all federal litigation brought against pharmaceutical companies and physicians involved in the marketing of prescription opioids. Those cases are being heard in federal court in Ohio.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit last year against opioid manufacturers and this year against opioid distributors for alleged fraudulent marketing and practices fueling opioid diversion respectively.

“They knew they were wrong, but they did it anyway — and they continue to do it. Despite all evidence to the contrary about the addictive nature of these pain medications, they are doing precious little to take responsibility for their actions and to tell the public the truth,” said DeWine in a statement.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed an action in state court on May 15 against some of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers and distributors for their role in the national opioid crisis.

“The complaint I filed today, seeks to hold some of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers and distributors responsible for their role in this crisis and seeks payment for the pain and destruction their actions have caused Florida and its citizens,” said Bondi in a statement.

Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. is one of the manufacturers named in the Florida lawsuits. Janssen Pharmaceuticals maintains its actions in the marketing and promotion of these medicines were appropriate and responsible.

“The labels for out prescription opioid pain medicines provide information about their risks and benefits, and the allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated. In fact, our medications have some of the lowest rates of abuse among the class of medications,” Janssen Pharmaceuticals said in a statement.