Schooled Reporting on education

Covington Catholic in the clear

Education | Independent report exonerates students accused of racism
by Laura Edghill
Posted 2/20/19, 03:35 pm

An independent report released last week appears to clear Covington Catholic High School students of any wrongdoing in a widely publicized confrontation with a Native American protester after last month’s March for Life in Washington, D.C.

The Catholic Diocese of Covington in northern Kentucky commissioned a Cincinnati firm to clarify the circumstances of the incident, which caused a national uproar. Footage from a viral video initially appeared to show the group of students from Park Hills, Ky., surrounding and chanting at Nathan Phillips, who had participated in the Indigenous People’s March the same day as the March for Life. Social media exploded in a frenzy over the video, calling the students racist and shaming junior Nick Sandmann, who can be seen in the video grinning and standing inches away from Phillips’ drum.

Additional footage revealed the students, who had gathered at the Lincoln Memorial after the March for Life to board buses back home, did not initiate the contact with Phillips and instead attempted to remain neutral in a confusing situation.

Four investigators spent 240 hours interviewing chaperones and students and pored over 50 hours of related internet activity. Though they did not conduct a fresh interview with Sandmann, they used his statement written immediately following the incident. The team was unable to speak with Phillips despite numerous phone calls, emails, and a visit to his residence in Ypsilanti, Mich., where they waited six hours for his return and ultimately left him a note requesting an interview.

The report painted a much different picture than mainstream media accounts last month. It said that most of the students and chaperones present were focused not on Phillips but on a nearby group of demonstrators affiliated with the Black Hebrew Israelites, who were “saying offensive things to anyone who walked by and not just the students,” according to the report. The Covington students started doing school chants to drown out the group. Some of the students thought Phillips was coming to join in their chants when he approached them with his drum. None of the teens or chaperones who were interviewed said they felt threatened by Phillips, and the report found no evidence that the students made racist or offensive remarks to either Phillips or the Black Hebrew Israelites.

The report also noted that many of the Covington students seen wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats associated with President Donald Trump in the video bought the hats at the March for Life rally, and no school policy prohibited them from wearing political apparel on the trip.

Attorneys for Sandmann filed a defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post in federal court on Tuesday, saying the newspaper was “one of the first, if not the first, mainstream outlet to expand coverage of the Jan. 18 incident from social media to mainstream media.” The suit accuses of the Post of negligence for not looking further into the circumstances of the video before reporting on it, according to The Washington Times. Sandmann is seeking $250 million in compensatory and punitive damages, and lawyers indicated they might sue additional media outlets.

The Diocese of Covington said in a letter accompanying the investigative report that the inquiry exonerates the students. The diocese received criticism initially for condemning the perceived actions of the students, then backtracking once longer video footage reframed the confrontation.

“In truth, taking everything into account, our students were placed in a situation that was at once bizarre and even threatening,” Bishop Roger Foys wrote. “Their reaction to the situation was, given the circumstances, expected and one might even say laudatory.”

Associated Press/Photo by David Zalubowski Associated Press/Photo by David Zalubowski Teachers rally outside South High School in Denver on Feb. 11.

Sweeping the nation

Oakland Unified School District teachers are poised to strike on Thursday, making the Bay Area district the latest participant in a wave of educator activism. The union’s requests echo many heard across the country over the last year for higher pay, more counselors and nurses, and smaller class sizes.

Denver teachers reached a tentative deal just last week that secured an 11 percent pay raise plus built-in cost-of-living increases for teachers. And in West Virginia, teachers staged a walkout on Tuesday, nearly a year to the day after their nine-day strike last year launched the nationwide movement. The strike, in protest of proposed legislation that promotes school choice, forced nearly all of the state’s 55 counties to cancel school for the day.

The legislation in question in West Virginia would give the teachers a 5 percent pay raise on top of a 5 percent boost they already received as part of the strike resolution in 2018. It also would open the door for statewide charter schools and establish education savings accounts that could be used for private schools. Teachers have decried the latter two provisions, saying that they are retaliation for their strike action last year. The state House of Delegates voted Tuesday to table the bill indefinitely, but the teachers said they would keep the strike going one more day to make sure the legislature didn’t try to resurrect the effort. Another education bill up for discussion Wednesday in the House would fulfill the promise of another 5 percent raise. —L.E.

Facebook/Starship Technologies Facebook/Starship Technologies Starship Technologies robots at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Va.

College cravings

Two hot trends—driverless vehicles and on-demand delivery—have merged to produce one hot commodity for college students.

Famished students at northern Virginia’s George Mason University can now order up their favorite double-shot latte, a couple of study group pizzas, or even a dozen fresh doughnuts delivered compliments of a sturdy, cooler-sized robot. Rolling on six wheels and hailing from San Francisco–based Starship Technologies, the robots take orders from an app and then deliver the food. Hungry students pay a $1.99 delivery fee per order. The robots received hundreds of orders on their first day last month.

Ryan Tuohy, senior vice president for Starship Technologies, said the combination of naturally curious students and campus layouts with plenty of sidewalks and wheelchair ramps make the setting ideal for the business model.

The partnership involves the campus food service, Sodexo, which works with name-brand vendors Starbucks, Blaze Pizza, and Dunkin’. The company hopes to include convenience store items and even textbooks in future deliveries.

Though the knee-high robots draw amused looks and spark impromptu photo sessions, they have not caused any pedestrian accidents. The robots are “super deferential,” Tuohy said, and are programmed to stop rather than cause a collision. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura Edghill is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Thu, 02/21/2019 03:08 am

    Ok, so Covington is in the clear.  Strange that a report would even be necessary.  But notice that not an ounce of ink or accountability is directed by anyone against the Black Hebrew Israelites.  Christians and conservatives are under a microscope, but liberals are rarely held to account for anything.

  • DS
    Posted: Thu, 02/21/2019 08:44 am

    People, please stop making comments on what WORLD is not posting. Just be thankful that you are getting Christian conservative news at all. Think of the people who only get what liberals want them to.

    While I'm on the subject, thank you for the article, Laura Edghill.

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Fri, 02/22/2019 01:20 am

    If that was directed at me Daniel, then I wasn't speaking of World.  I was speaking of all media anywhere in the world.

  • VISTA48
    Posted: Fri, 02/22/2019 08:41 am

    I have to say that I am in favor of Sandmann's lawsuit against the Washington Post. The one-sided narrative too often eviscerates the truth, and if we are to have a free press, we must also have a responsible press. When there is abuse, they should be taken to task in a court of law.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Fri, 02/22/2019 10:56 pm


  • Rudy49
    Posted: Sun, 02/24/2019 08:20 pm

    Regarding teachers striking for smaller class sizes, there is a lot of research that shows that reducing class size has minimal impact on improving student outcomes unless significant changes are made in how teachers teach. There are many minimal cost strategies for classroom instruction that have a far greater positive impact on student growth regardless of class size. Put those  practices in place and then reduce class size for maximum impact.