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Outrage over the decision to close 10 Charlotte-Mucklenburg schools, with predominantly minority and low income students, by a white majority school board has lead to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

According the Charlotte Observer, seven complaints were filed after the November vote by the school board to close schools that serve mostly black, Hispanic and low-income students.

"Opening a complaint for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination on the merits of the case," education department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said in an e-mail. "Rather, the office is merely a neutral fact-finder. It will collect and analyze all relevant evidence from the parties involved in the case to develop its findings."

Officials at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have said they are aware that the cuts have a lopsided effect on minority families, but insist that the decision was based on low enrollment and academic weakness, not race.

As the L.A. Times reports, for a district that's being branded as segregators for the closing, the district's recent policies have made progress to close the achievement gap between inner city minorities and suburban white students.

When superintendant Peter Gorman took his job in 2006, he lumped some low-performing schools into an "achievement zone," making them eligible for more funds, staff and professional development. He also put into place a successful policy in which his best-performing principals were encouraged to take reassignments in low-performance schools.

Between 2005-06 and 2009-10 school years, district records show that black students in grades 3 through 8 narrowed the achievement gap between white students by nine points. Latino students showed improvements as well.

However, given a looming $100 million shortfall, closing the schools made more sense to the school board in order to pay successful teachers.

Those in suburbs have also felt that they pay the price for bettering inner city schools. They typically lose star principals when they are reassigned to the inner city, and suburban classrooms are overstuffed due to more spending on poor students.

Parents like DeAndra Alix, whose son Deon is a freshman at the soon-to-be-shuttered E.E. Waddell High School, have repeatedly tried to get the school board to redraw its boundaries to allow unused classrooms in the inner city to be filled by suburban students from crowded schools.

"What this is doing is awakening a beast in hibernation," she said: "The civil rights movement."

Fox Editor Told Journalists Not to Use The Term "Public Option"

An e-mail supposedly leaked from Fox's Washington managing editor Bill Sammon, illustrates how Sammon instructed the network's journalists not to use the term "public option" when covering the health care reform debate last Fall, according to Media Matters.

Instead, Sammon outlined a number of other phases to be used:

1) Please use the term "government-run health insurance" or, when brevity is a concern, "government option," whenever possible.


2) When it is necessary to use the term "public option" (which is, after all, firmly ensconced in the nation's lexicon), use the qualifier "so-called," as in "the so-called public option."

3) Here's another way to phrase it: "The public option, which is the government-run plan."

4) When newsmakers and sources use the term "public option" in our stories, there's not a lot we can do about it, since quotes are of course sacrosanct.

According to Media Matters, the day the e-mail was sent, journalists on Fox's Special Report used Sammon's recommendations instead of "public option," as had previously been used.

Sammon spoke to The Daily Beast and said that he felt the term "public option" "is a vague, bland, undescriptive phrase," and that after all, "who would be against a public park?"

The Onion publishes fake news stories, but it's sister pop culture news source The A.V. Club takes its audio-visual criticism seriously. It was, then, with much pain that editor Keith Phipps released an apology Dec. 9, announcing that one of its writers had published a fabricated review for Genious Imagined: The Life and Work of Alex Toth in the "Comics Panel" section of its website on Nov. 5--a book that even to date is not yet finished.

In the apology, Phipps wanted to assure everyone that the book's publisher, IDW, had no part in the review, and that the writer of the review would no longer be working with The A.V. Club.

"We've always asked you to trust us," Phipps added. "And we believe that one breach in ethics is all it takes to break that trust."

Leonard Pierce, a freelance writer with The A.V. Club for the past three years, admitted in a post on his blog to concocting the review, saying he had based it off of "secondary sources and second-hand information."

"That I had never done it before and will never do it again is meaningless," Pierce said in the post. "The fact is, I did it, and by doing so, I scuttled twenty-plus years of tireless work as a writer and did my reputation near-irreparable harm."

The fabrication was first brought to light in an online article in Comics Comics on the morning of Dec. 9. The article revealed that Pierce praised Genius Isolated for being "handsome" and "beautifully designed," as well as "much better written than such works" at a time when Dean Mullaney was (and still is) working on the book's final design, and Bruce Canwell was still researching the text.

When reached by Comics Comics, Mullaney felt surprise, then confusion after first reading the review. "I thought perhaps I was on Earth-Two, where the book had already been published," he said.

So, what grade did this unfinished, unread book merit? Apparently, the highest grade The A.V. Club has to offer: an A.

Surfers Honor A Departed Comrade

The shores of Huntington Beach Pier in southern California swelled with more than 500 surfers, gathered for a ceremony in remembrance of famed surfer Andy Irons, who died Nov. 2, at age 32, in his hotel room of as yet unexplained causes, according to The New York Times.

Irons, one of only a few surfers to win three world titles, died just three days after withdrawing from a contest in Puerto Rico. With word of Irons' death, the contest was suspended so contestants could hold a "paddle-out," in which surfers form a floating circle, cast flowers, and reminisce about the deceased.

Before the actual paddle-out, a short service was overseen by pastor Sumo Sato just after noon. "All over the world there are surfers in the water right now remembering Andy and the joy we share in the waves," he said.

By the time surfers took to the sea, the waves had escalated to five to six-foot faces. Working past the breakers, surfers clenched their orchids in their teeth before emerging beyond the surf. There they formed a circle, joined hands, then raised them to the sky to let out shouts and whistles.

After the flowers had been thrown into the circle, Sato made his way to the center and led a chant of "Andy! Andy! Andy!" that echoed back to the shore.

Finally, the surfers pointed their boards upwards, turning them into drums. Leaving the orchids in their wake, they then made their way back to shore.

F.D.A. Takes Cigarette Warnings to Graphic New Levels

It appears the Surgeon General no longer carries enough clout to get people to kick their smoking habit, and gruesome images of toe-tagged corpses and stoma smokers are among those that may replace the traditional warning in the near future.

The F.D.A. unveiled 36 proposed warning labels Wednesday, featuring photos and drawings such as a mother blowing smoke at her baby, and a person using a cigarette as a syringe, with the warning "cigarettes are addictive." As The New York Times reported, a law passed last year gives the FDA, for the first time, the power to regulate, but not ban, tobacco outright.

Using a company to survey 18,000 smokers, federal regulators plan to narrow these 36 images down to nine by June, to then be placed on half the surface area of cigarette packs and cartons, and a fifth of all tobacco advertisements by Oct. 22, 2012

Health officials hope the new labels will energize anti-smoking efforts, which have been waning in recent years. Currently, about one fifth of Americans smoke, and while that number is down from 42 percent of Americans in 1965, the decline in smoking has stalled since 2004, according to The LA Times.

The U.S. was the first country to require written warning labels on cigarettes nearly 25 years ago, but other countries have since gone further, requiring such graphic depictions as cancerous lesions and gangrenous limbs displayed on all packs.

Supporters of the new labels point to the success of such measures in Canada, where smoking among those ages 15 and older dropped 3 percent between 2000 and 2002, as The Wall Street Journal points out. Though other measures, such as tax increases and limitations on public smoking were also carried out during this time, a 2001 survey by the Canadian Cancer Society found that 44 percent of those who quit did so because of the labels

Some tobacco companies have been quick to voice outrage at the new labels, saying they infringe on free-speech rights. "The use of graphic warnings makes no contribution to the awareness of these risks and serves only to stigmatize smokers and denormalize smoking," Anthony Hemsley said, a vice president at Commonwealth Brands, the maker of USA Gold cigarettes.

Strangely enough, Altria Group Inc., parent comany of the largest U.S. cigarette maker, Philip J. Morris, was the only big tobacco company to support the F.D.A. tobacco law, but did not comment on the proposed warning labels.

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