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Birmingham Board of Education Rejects State Control

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday Night the Birmingham Board of Education (BOE) was supposed to vote on a state Department of Education mandated plan to save the cash strapped City School System millions of dollars and eliminate over one hundred positions including many layers of unnecessary education supervisors and bureaucrats.

The Board of Education however had different plans.  The board allowed opponents of the plan, including Alabama State Representative John Rogers (D) from Birmingham to speak for over an hour denouncing the plan, City School Superintendent Craig Witherspoon, and former State Superintendent Ed Richardson.  Richardson was appointed Chief Financial Officer of the Birmingham School System by State Superintendent Tommie Bice and the state Board of Education after the state voted to take over the mismanaged city school system.  After allowing the audience to give speeches, the Board voted 5-3 to fire embattled Superintendent Witherspoon and replaced him with Samuetta Drew (Chief of Operations and former head of Special Education).  When Richardson was addressing the Board about the staff reduction, the Birmingham BOE adjourned to Friday without addressing the savings plan or the start of the school year.

It was reported by Marie Leach with the Birmingham News that Supt. Bice had overruled the firing by the Birmingham BOE, however the Board acted swiftly.  The Birmingham BOE changed the locks on the Birmingham BOE building and disabled the security badges of the state intervention team so neither they nor Witherspoon could get in the building.  All the schools are the property of the state of Alabama, not the local boards.  Later, acting Superintendent Drew relented and agreed to allow the State Intervention team back in to the building.

The City of Birmingham spends the seventh most money per pupil of among systems in Alabama; but has the fifth worst graduation rate in the state (55%).  The system has been hemorrhaging students for years as parents concerned about their children’s future have fled the system for other systems.  Critics of the Birmingham BOE blame the poor performing schools for why the City is unable to lure major employers like Hyundai, Volkswagen, or Airbus.

Because thousands of students have left the system, the state appropriation (which follows the students) for Birmingham’s poorly regarded City Schools has dropped accordingly each year.  Birmingham has long maintained more supervisors, assistant superintendents, and managers than any other school system in the state.  While the Birmingham BOE has reluctantly laid off hundreds of non-tenured teachers over the years, it has resisted all calls to let go those central office functionaries, who for the most part serve no purpose but who often make over $100,000 per year.

Every school system in the state is required by law to maintain a cash reserve equal to 30 days of expenses. For Birmingham that would require them to have $17 million.  The BOE only has $2 million and they refused to submit a plan to the state to make cuts to replenish their reserves.  When the Birmingham BOE would not pass a state plan to come up with the necessary cuts and would not pass their own plan, either the State Board of Education authorized Superintendent Bice to takeover the chronically underperforming school system.

Leach is reporting via Twitter that retired federal judge U.W. Clemons (Witherspoon’s attorney) has filed a motion to get a judge to issue a restraining order to prevent Witherspoon’s firing.

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Acting Superintendent Drew is holding a press conference at 3:00 pm today.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with six and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook.

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Crime

Seven inmates, seven workers test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Alabama Department of Corrections on Tuesday said in a statement that seven more prison workers and seven additional inmates have tested positive for COVID-19. 

Four workers and one woman serving at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women all tested positive for coronavirus, according to an ADOC press release. There are 16 confirmed cases among staff at the facility. 

The woman serving at Tutwiler prison continues to be asymptomatic and was tested pre-operation for a scheduled surgery, according to the release, which states she has been moved to “medical isolation” and the dormitory where she was housed has been placed on on level-one quarantine, meaning inmates will be monitored for symptoms and have temperature checks twice daily. 

Other positive test results came back for a worker at Ventress Correctional Facility, another at the Alex City Community Based Facility and Community Work Center and one at the Birmingham Community Based Facility and Community Work Center, according to ADOC. 

Four inmates at the St. Clair Correctional Facility who also tested positive for COVID-19 were living in the same small area within the prison’s infirmary as an inmate who previously tested positive for the virus, according to the release. That living area remains on level-two quarantine, meaning inmates remain there for all daily activities, and the entire infirmary at St. Clair remains on level-one quarantine.

One inmate at the Kilby Correctional Facility and another at the Frank Lee Community Based Facility/Community Work Center also tested positive for  COVID-19. 

The man serving at Kilby prison was housed in the facility’s infirmary, and was transferred to a local hospital after showing symptoms of the virus, where he tested positive, according to ADOC. Kilby’s infirmary has been placed on level-one quarantine.

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The inmate at Frank Lee developed symptoms of COVID-19 and was taken to the Staton Correctional Facility to an area under level-two quarantine, where he subsequently tested positive, according to the department. He was then taken to medical isolation at Kilby prison,  and the facility was placed on level-one quarantine. 

There have been 68 confirmed cases among prison workers in the state, while 17 have since been cleared to return to work. 

Ten of the 19 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates remain active, according to ADOC. As of Monday the state has tested 176 of Alabama’s approximately 22,000 inmates, according to the department.

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State files lawsuit against Birmingham for removing Confederate monument

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall filed a new lawsuit against the city of Birmingham Tuesday for removing a Confederate monument in Linn Park.

Local officials in Alabama’s largest city, which has a majority black population, removed a 115-year-old Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument in the city’s Linn Park after protestors and demonstrators vandalized it Sunday.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin ordered the monument removed during the waning hours of Jefferson Davis day Monday, a state holiday honoring the Confederate leader.

“This action is a very, very powerful symbol of our city’s desire to move beyond the pain of the past and uniting into the future,” Woodfin said Tuesday, adding that the city would not disclose the monument’s new location due to security concerns and to protect it from further vandalism.

The city paid $1 to remove the monument, Woodfin said, adding that the city council would need to vote on whether to accept public donations to pay off any fines imposed by the state for removing the monument.

One public fundraiser has raised more than $60,000 in a day to support the city in removing the monument.

The monument has been at the center of a years-long legal battle between Alabama’s majority-white, GOP-led Legislature and predominately black local officials in Birmingham.

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Marshall filing the lawsuit seeking the $25,000 fine, if imposed, would effectively end the legal showdown over the monument.

“In balancing between the costs of civil unrest versus the costs of a civil fine, I think most would agree with me: the city should pay the cost of that civil fine to make sure that there is not any more unrest in our city,” Woodfin said.

Marshall filed the lawsuit against Birmingham for violating the state’s Memorial Preservation Act, which prohibits the removal of historic monuments including Confederate monuments.

This is the second lawsuit filed by the Alabama attorney general against the city of Birmingham over the Linn Park monument.

The lawsuit seeks additional penalties after the city lost a similar lawsuit filed by the state in 2017.

The Memorial Preservation Act was passed in 2017 by the Alabama Legislature to protect architecturally significant buildings, memorial buildings, memorial streets and monuments located on public property for 40 or more years.

The law effectively prohibited municipalities from removing Confederate monuments.

“The State of Alabama first filed suit against the City of Birmingham in 2017 after the City erected barriers around the monument in Linn Park. In November 2019, the Alabama Supreme Court sided with the State and determined that the City of Birmingham had violated the law and was subject to the Act’s penalties. However, the Court held that any violation of the Act was punishable only by a one-time fine of $25,000 per violation,” Marshall said in a statement.

Woodfin, amid nationwide protests, demonstrations and unrest over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, said he was willing to pay the fine to remove the monument, directing city workers to remove it Monday evening.

Legislation was filed in the 2020 session that would have amended the penalties provision of the act in response to the court’s ruling, but that legislation failed to become law.

“On Monday, I advised Mayor Woodfin that the removal of the 115-year-old Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument in Birmingham’s Linn Park would violate the law and that I would fulfill my duty to enforce it,” Marshall said.

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Health

Third patient at state’s Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Psychiatric Center dies from COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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A third patient at the state’s Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Psychiatric Center has died from COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Mental Health confirmed to APR on Tuesday. 

There remained 16 active coronavirus cases among patients at the state-run facility, said ADMH spokeswoman Malissa Valdes-Hubert in a message Tuesday.

Those patients are in various states of recovery, she said. 

Valdes-Hubert also confirmed that the members of the Alabama National Guard are to clean the facility on Thursday. 

Under the direction of Gov. Kay Ivey, the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, members of the Alabama National Guard have since early April decontaminated and sanitized state nursing homes. Guard members also cleaned the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home, which had a serious outbreak of coronavirus, killing more than 20 residents and infecting more than 100. 

Valdes-Hubert said the department is in the process of planning for recovering patients and will release more information when available. 

There were no confirmed cases at ADMH’s two other facilities in Tuscaloosa, Bryce Hospital and the Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility as of Tuesday, Valdes-Hubert said.

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National

Sewell implores Alabamians “to speak out and demand change without violence”

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama U.S. Rep.Terri Sewell said that her heart aches for George Floyd and that anger should be directed not to violence but to action.

“The heroes of the Civil Rights Movement showed us it is possible to change history without damaging property and torching businesses that our community members depend on, so I implore all Alabamians to speak out and demand change without violence,” Sewell said. “We cannot let violence distract from the legitimate anger and frustration that we must channel toward action. I pray for both peace and justice.”

Sewell posted a video message Monday in response to protests across the country, which have at some points, turned violent and chaotic. On Sunday, several reporters were attacked in Birmingham, and some businesses were vandalized.

The representative’s video message comes after Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed also called peaceful demonstration. Birmingham implemented a curfew in response to the riotous demonstrations Sunday evening, but the city also removed a Confederate monument from Linn Park.

“To all those who feel marginalized because of the color of your skin: I see you and I hear you,” Sewell said. “Your pain and hopelessness is legitimate — since the founding of our nation, our criminal justice system has failed our black and brown communities. My heart aches for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the countless others whose senseless deaths have not made the national news cycle.”

Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District and is the only black member of Alabama’s congressional delegation.

“As a daughter of Selma, I myself have struggled to reconcile with the moment in which we continue to find ourselves, over and over,” Sewell said in the video statement. “The Foot Soldiers who came before us fought to create a better future, but every day we are reminded that that fight is far from over. They sacrificed their lives in pursuit of an America that lives up to its ideals – an America that we have not yet reached more than 55 years later.”

Sewell said the racism that causes pain can be seen plainly in police brutality and in the staggering health disparities black communities have endured before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“It can be seen in thinly-veiled attempts to put African Americans in our place, holding on to and idolizing a time when our bodies were not our own,” she said. “And it can be seen in the state-sanctioned holidays and monuments that honor the leaders of the Confederacy, including today, ‘Jefferson Davis Day.’”

Sewell said she also knows that the vast majority of Americans across the country and in Birmingham are peacefully protesting for social justice.

“I wish I had all the answers and I could give us all the solutions we need,” Sewell concluded. “For now, I promise that I will work tirelessly to do absolutely everything within my power to bring peace and justice to our communities.”

“My Administration is fully committed that for George and his family, justice will be served,” President Donald Trump said on Monday. “He will not have died in vain. But we cannot allow the righteous cries of peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob.”

Floyd was killed while being arrested by the Minneapolis Police Department on suspicion of counterfeiting. The police officer who killed Floyd has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Activists say more widespread reform of policing and the criminal justice system needs to happen, and the other officers involved in Floyd’s homicide should also be charged.

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