- Associated Press - Monday, October 15, 2018

The Kansas City Star, Oct. 15

12 KC public schools students have been killed or shot this year. Where’s the outrage?

Five former Kansas City Public Schools students and recent graduates have been shot and killed in 2018. All were minorities. At least seven other current students have been injured by gunfire since August.

Their stories should shock and outrage this city. Instead, the response has been silence.

Antonio Jones was a straight-A student. The 18-year-old was shot and killed in July, two months after he graduated from Central Academy of Excellence. Just last week, 18-year-old Zyhame Jones was found shot to death in the middle of Sheffield Park on the city’s northeast side. He was four credits shy of graduating from high school.



In Kansas City, the violent deaths of teenagers are now met with a quiet resignation. But imagine that 12 Shawnee Mission School District students had been shot this year. What would the reaction be if this had happened in Overland Park or Blue Springs or Lee’s Summit?

Why haven’t these shootings spurred a community-wide commitment to reduce violent crime and protect Kansas City students?

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell said he couldn’t recall the loss of so many students in a calendar year - even in the much larger urban districts where he’s worked.

Bedell was an administrator in Baltimore County Public Schools, which have about 113,280 students, and in the Houston Independent School District, which has about 214,175 students.

Kansas City Public Schools’ student population is about 15,570.

“How does that happen?” Bedell asked.

Poverty, economic disparity and a sense of hopelessness are contributing factors, Bedell said.

Still, “the amount of murders with a district this size in comparison to those districts is shocking,” he said. “I was a high school principal for three years in Houston in a pretty rough community, and I didn’t have a single kid in my school murdered. We constantly have to get our grief counselors inside our schools here. It’s sad.”

Bedell is working to address the issue by expanding the district’s Success Mentoring Program. That alone won’t solve the problem, though. Civic organizations, corporate leaders, elected officials and the philanthropic community must team up to develop innovative approaches to combat the violence that has disproportionally affected minority youth in Kansas City.

Bedell hopes the mentoring program will help. But at least 600 students are waiting to be paired with a mentor. About 60 percent of those waiting are minority male students. Men of color are needed.

The bloodshed must stop, Bedell said. But district leaders can only do so much to curb the violence - particularly once students leave school and return to their neighborhoods.

“An unstable community only enhances violence,” he said.

Violence changes the culture of Kansas City schools. The district offers trauma support and grief counseling. But is that enough?

Annette Lantz-Simmons of the Center for Conflict Resolution doesn’t think so. The center’s employees teach conflict resolution skills in two of the district’s four high schools and in both middle schools. Staff worked in two other high schools in the district last year. The classes are just a small part of the equation. But Lantz-Simmons would like the grant community to be more heavily involved.

The goal should be to take the training to each school in the district. But that requires more funding.

“We have pushed to get some of the city’s biggest donors to pool their money together,” she said. “It needs to be a district-wide cultural shift.”

Lantz-Simmons is right. Reducing violence must be our collective priority, and that requires resources and a commitment from an array of local leaders.

Kansas City can’t effectively educate students if we can’t ensure their safety.

____

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct 14

A disturbing Associated Press report shines a light on what happens to immigrant children separated from their parents and forced into foster-care settings mandated by the U.S. government. In a small number of cases, foster-care networks have yanked permanent custody of young children from their natural parents to serve the adoption wishes of American families.

These horrendous separation policies predated the Trump administration. The fact that Democratic and Republican administrations were responsible for such atrocities means both parties are responsible for fixing it. The Trump administration has, however, made the problem worse by escalating the family-separation policy while coldly telling parents that permanently losing their children might be the price for entering this country illegally.

Perhaps worse is that pious, pro-family, pro-life groups like Bethany Christian Services have become enablers for policies that are anything but Christian and pro-family. Separating children from their parents, then putting them up for adoption, destroys lives and leaves indelible psychological scars.

A 3,900-word Associated Press investigative story tells the nightmare of Araceli Ramos Bonilla, a Salvadoran mother who was abused, threatened and badly beaten by the father of her then-toddler daughter, Alexa. Ramos decided to flee with Alexa to the United States in 2015. They were separated by authorities after being arrested in Texas.

Ramos was deported. Alexa was handed over to Bethany Christian Services, which enthusiastically answered the government’s call for foster-care help. Sarah Zuidema, a former Bethany supervisor, told the AP: “They just felt that if these kids could know Jesus, everything would be OK.”

Enormous constitutional questions arise when the government seizes children and hands them over to groups seeking to indoctrinate them religiously. Ramos was assumed to be some kind of heathen. She said she was forced to sign away custody of her child before being deported back to El Salvador. Her persistent pleas for help from U.S. authorities went nowhere.

The Department of Homeland Security played dumb about the case, telling the AP it was unaware of “anyone contacting embassy or consulate in a foreign country to be reunified with a child. This is unsurprising given the fact that these parents made a knowing decision to leave their child in a foreign country.”

Ramos wasn’t alone. In Missouri, another case involved a baby separated from a Guatemalan mother arrested in an immigration raid. A seven-year legal battle ensued, and the mother lost permanent custody to the child’s adoptive U.S. family. In Nebraska, the AP reported, another Guatemalan mother prevailed and got her kids back, but only after an expensive, five-year court battle.

Yes, illegal immigration is an offense under the law. But it has never been, and never should be, an offense punishable by such Dickensian measures. These are tactics that made Argentina’s dictatorship so abhorrent. Has the U.S. government stooped to that level?

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