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APtop story
Parents question whether shooting drills traumatize kids

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Long before an ex-student opened fire on his former classmates in Parkland, Florida, many school districts conducted regular shooting drills — exercises that sometimes included simulated gunfire and blood and often happened with no warning that the attack wasn’t real.

The drills began taking shape after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. But 20 years later, parents are increasingly questioning elements of the practice, including whether the drills traumatize kids.

April Sullivan was pleasantly surprised by an “I love you, Mom” text from her daughter last May, even though she knew the eighth-grader wasn’t supposed to be using her cellphone during school in Short Pump, Virginia. But she did not know that her child sent it while supposedly hiding from an intruder. The girl didn’t know the “code blue” alert was a drill.

“To find out later she sent that text because she was in fear for her life did not sit well with me,” Sullivan said.

Henrico County Public Schools have since changed the way they conduct drills, making clear at the start that the events are not real and notifying parents as the drill begins or right after, district spokesman Andy Jenks said.

The backlash underlines the challenges administrators face in deciding how far to go in the name of preparedness.

Thirty-nine states require lockdown, active-shooter or similar safety drills. Other states have less explicit requirements or leave it to districts, according to the Education Commission of the States. A Mississippi task force has proposed twice-yearly active-shooter drills.

But even as the drills become routine for many of the nation’s 51 million elementary and secondary public school students, there is no consensus on how they should be conducted, experts said. No data exists, for example, to show whether a drill with simulated gunfire is more effective or whether an exercise that’s been announced in advance is taken less seriously than a surprise.

“Some hard data on each question are needed with urgency,” said University at Buffalo professor Jeremy Finn, who gathered experts from around the country to evaluate school security measures at a conference in Washington, D.C., in October.

After Columbine, lockdowns that involved bolting the door and crouching quietly out of sight became the norm. In 2013, the Department of Education recommended giving staff latitude to evacuate, barricade classroom doors or, as a last resort, fight back by throwing things or rushing the attacker.

“Do you really want it to be your kid who’s the one who takes the bullet and winds up with a plaque in the lobby of the school saying he went down as a hero?” asked Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, parent Nanette Adams, who disagreed with the decision to adopt a widely used safety protocol during a September drill at her 15-year-old son’s high school. The protocol is known as ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.

“To me, this just seems like an indirect admission on the part of the schools that they really have no control over who gets into the building, and the school security officer isn’t enough to keep the place safe so we need to hold the kids accountable for doing it,” she said.

In 2014, the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of School Resource Officers issued joint guidance that cautioned that while drills have the potential to save lives, those “not conducted appropriately” can cause “physical and psychological harm to students, staff and the overall learning environment.”

After public criticism of the unannounced Short Pump drill and others, the Virginia House of Delegates last month considered, but defeated, legislation requiring schools to give parents advance notification. The bill’s Democratic sponsor, Schuyler VanValkenburg, a high school teacher, said opponents argued that the heads-up would hinder safety by letting students take it less seriously.

“I think that’s baloney. They’re very aware of what can happen in this day and age. They all see the news. They all see social media,” said Sullivan, whose daughter declined to be interviewed by The Associated Press but described the drill for Richmond television station WWBT a few days later.

“I thought I was probably going to die that day,” she said. “We hear the door handle jiggling up and down and then we see the door open, and it’s our resource officer telling us it’s a drill.”

When her son’s school fired blanks during a drill, Adams questioned whether it was really necessary to expose children to the sound of gunfire. Others complained that such realistic exercises can take a toll on classroom learning even after the drills are done.

Mo Canady, executive director of the school resource officers’ group, recommends districts save the most intense exercises for staff only. As the decision-makers, he said, “they need to know a little more what that’s going to feel like.”

For students, lower-stress drills that have them listening to instructions and running through the motions, like traditional fire drills, should be the focus, he said.

“We need to be as prepared as we can,” Canady said, “but it doesn’t mean that we’ve got to terrify students to get them prepared.”

APtop story
What to watch at the 143rd Westminster Kennel Club dog show

NEW YORK — The 143rd Westminster Kennel Club dog show begins judging this morning, with Pyrenean shepherds, Pembroke Welsh corgis and pugs among the early arrivals.

More than 2,800 dogs are coming in 203 breeds and varieties. Judge Peter J. Green is expected to make his pick for best in show Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, right around 11 p.m.

Before we get there, what else to watch:

Will my pooch ever win this pageant?

Anybody who owns a golden retriever or Lab or Chihuahua is absolutely sure the pet that curls up with them on the couch is the greatest dog in the world. No doubt about that. OK, then why are they, along with popular dachshunds and Dalmatians, always in the Westminster doghouse?

Total wins: zero. Underdogs, indeed.

Rather than any of the 57 goldens entered this year, the best in show bowl is more likely to wind up with a wired wire fox terrier or a perfectly primped poodle.

Goldens and labs, people call them “honest” dogs — what you see is what you get. Too common, maybe. Easier to cut a champion from a pile of hair, some say.

But doggone it, no fair!

A fashion faux paw

While dogs stroll at the Garden, models will strut the catwalk — it’s Fashion Week in the city. And whether showing on the green carpet or the runway, it’s important to dress for success.

For savvy handlers in the ring, that means no flowing silk or flyaway fringe or sparkly outfits that could distract from the dogs. Leave those ensembles for the fashionistas down the street.

Michelle Scott has twice won best in show at Westminster, guiding a Newfoundland and a German shorthaired pointer. Her couture always complements a dog’s coat.

As for trying a supermodel’s look in the show ring?

“Oh, they’re all so beautiful,” Scott said. “But those high heels and short, little outfits, I don’t think that would work.”

The big dog

Whiskey the whippet won the National Dog Show televised on Thanksgiving Day and the AKC event shown on New Year’s Day. At 3, he already knows how to handle all distractions of being in New York, having done well in two previous trips to Westminster.

Whippets are incredibly fast, but Whiskey’s path includes a speed bump — littermate and sister Bourbon is a contender, too.

Crowd-pleasing Biggie the pug is back after drawing a big cheer at the Garden last year. Grant the black cocker spaniel is the nation’s top-ranked show dog and Billy the Lhasa apso comes from Hawaii, where he surfs with his owner.

Flynn the bichon frise won last year and is now retired.

Yankee (golden)doodle

In the city where the Bronx Bombers rule the diamond, a bunch of Bronx bowsers have taken their swings in the Westminster ring. Newly minted Hall of Fame pitcher Mike Mussina sent his Irish setter while playing for the Yankees, famed slugger Lou Gehrig brought his German shepherd and current team president Randy Levine entered his yellow Labrador retriever several years ago.

“He’s like Derek Jeter. Very calm,” Levine said of his pet, Mitch.

Makes sense, this link between the national pastime and pooches. Baseball starts up this week, too, with spring training workouts — so along with pitchers and catchers, we’ll have pinschers and cockers.

top story
Shutdown looms as border talks break down over immigration enforcement

WASHINGTON — The nation faces the real possibility of another government shutdown at the end of the week, after bipartisan talks aimed at averting that outcome broke down in a dispute over immigration enforcement, lawmakers and aides said Sunday.

President Donald Trump’s border wall demands, which precipitated the record-long 35-day shutdown that ended late last month, were a secondary issue in the impasse that developed over the weekend, according to officials in both parties.

Instead, after looking promising for days, the delicate negotiations collapsed over Democrats’ insistence on limiting the number of unauthorized immigrants who can be detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The breakdown in talks made it unlikely that lawmakers will be able to finalize an agreement on Monday, as they’d hope to do so it could pass the House and Senate before Friday night’s deadline.

“I think the talks are stalled right now,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama, the lead Republican negotiator, said on Fox News Sunday. “I’m not confident we’re going to get there.”

The stalemate left the path forward to keeping the government open unclear.

There were some behind-the-scenes efforts to salvage the talks Sunday evening, but it was uncertain whether they would be successful.

The Homeland Security Department along with State, Agriculture, Commerce and a number of other federal agencies are currently operating on a stopgap spending bill that Trump signed Jan. 25. There’s little appetite for another short-term funding extension, but without some action by midnight on Feb. 15, those agencies will run out of money and begin to shut down again.

Another funding lapse could affect many Americans within days, because one of the agencies that would go unfunded during the shutdown is the IRS, which is processing tax returns for millions of people. During the 35-day shutdown that began in late December, thousands of IRS officials refused to show up for work without pay, backlogging the tax filing process.

The president, who is scheduled to hold a rally in El Paso, Texas, on Monday night that’s likely to focus on his demands for more border security, referenced the disagreement in a tweet on Sunday.

“I don’t think the Dems on the Border Committee are being allowed by their leaders to make a deal. They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!” the president wrote.

Lawmakers on the 17-member conference committee had been trading offers over how much money could go to barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, and were looking at between $1.3 billion and $2 billion — far short of the $5.7 billion Trump had demanded.

The White House had begun to signal flexibility on that issue, even though Trump would end up with much less money than he sought, and the enhanced fencing or other barriers agreed to by Congress would fall short of the 200-plus miles of steel walls he’d wanted.

But throughout the talks, Democrats had also been focused on limiting ICE’s ability to detain unauthorized immigrants, which has become a major issue for the party because of their opposition to the Trump administration’s aggressive detention tactics. The Democrats’ proposal included a new limit on detention beds for immigrants picked up not at the border, but in the interior of the country.

Democrats wanted to cap that number at 16,500, which they said is around the level of interior detentions in the final years of the Obama administration, although it’s fewer than the number currently detained under the Trump administration’s enforcement policies. Republicans want to exclude a range of immigrants from the cap. These would be people convicted of, or charged with, a variety of crimes, ranging from violent felonies to misdemeanor drug offenses.

But Democrats said that would make the cap toothless, because it would allow ICE to round up numerous people who don’t have criminal records and hold an unlimited number of people who, in some cases, have been charged with misdemeanors.

Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., a member of the conference committee, defended the Democratic position on bed space.

“A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country,” Roybal-Allard said in a statement.

Democrats, newly in control of the House, have faced pressure from some liberals in their ranks to draw a much harder line in their negotiations over the border. Liberals including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have proposed entirely cutting funding to ICE, and refusing any additional money for border barriers whatsoever.

Democrats on the bipartisan negotiating committee have resisted those demands. But Republicans quickly seized on the new dispute over detention beds to try to lump all Democrats in with the most liberal elements in the party.

“Now, apparently, not only is it enough they want to abolish ICE. They want to abolish the bed spaces available to the country to house violent offenders, so they can be held and deported,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., said on Fox News Channel. “I promise you this. Donald Trump is not going to sign any bill that reduces the number of bed spaces available to hold violent offenders who come across our border. He can’t do that. He won’t do that, and you can take that to the bank.”

The fight over how many immigrants can be detained at once became extremely problematic in recent days, just as the White House began signaling to negotiators that it would be more flexible on how much money Congress appropriated for a wall along the Mexico border.

White House officials have become increasingly confident that by declaring a national emergency, Trump will be able to redirect billions of dollars in other federal funding to be used for a wall or barriers. One scenario they had prepared for was for Congress to pass a bill appropriating some money for border security and then use the national emergency declaration to loosen even more funds.

This could draw legal challenges from Democrats, landowners and other groups, but White House officials and some external advisers have said it was the best way to proceed.

A total breakdown in talks poses a new set of challenges, however. It dramatically increases the odds of another partial government shutdown beginning Saturday. This would prevent roughly 800,000 federal workers from being paid indefinitely.

During the last shutdown, which began Dec. 22, the White House relied on hundreds of thousands of federal employees to continue coming to work unpaid for more than a month in order for key government services to continue, including Border Patrol agents, Secret Service officers, airport screeners, and air traffic controllers.

Many of the federal employees, however, refused to show up for work and called in sick, including airport screeners and IRS officers, and it’s unclear what they would do if there’s another shutdown.

Though the odds of a government shutdown have increased markedly in the past 24 hours, negotiators have not said for certain that one will occur. That’s because even though there is less than one week left to complete a deal, they still have time to work something out, and often deadlines force legislators to compromise.

“There are bumps in the road, but as long as we stay focused in a bipartisan way, bicameral way, to get this done, I’m hopeful we can get it done,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., one of the negotiators, said on Fox News Sunday. “Is it a done deal? No it isn’t, and we could end up in a train wreck, it’s happened before. But I don’t think anybody has an appetite for a government shutdown, and I think everybody wants to make sure our borders are secure.”

The impasse came as a coalition of sheriffs’ groups began lobbying lawmakers against limiting detention beds, calling the proposed cap “artificial” and noted the vast majority of the current ICE detainees — 72 percent — are required to be detained because of convictions or other reasons that mandate detention.

“Capping the number of detention beds utilized by ICE not only jeopardizes the integrity of the immigration system, but would cripple ICE’s ability to detain criminal aliens and other aliens who pose a risk to public safety or are a flight risk,” the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Major County Sheriffs of America said in their letter to congressional appropriators.

ICE has regularly exceeded the current quota set by Congress on immigrant detention, which is 40,520 beds — although that figure is treated generally as a floor, not a ceiling.

For instance, the number of people detained as of Wednesday was 49,057, including 46,590 adults and 2,467 families, according to statistics released by the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., a top congressional critic of the administration’s immigration policies. On Jan. 30, it was 48,088 — up from 46,492 on Jan. 16.

As of Sunday, a total of 48,747 were in ICE custody, according to an ICE official.

Ray Zaccaro, a spokesman for Merkley, said the figures show that the Homeland Security Department is “working outside of the framework approved by Congress.” He accused the administration of “not coming to the table with clean hands” as lawmakers try to hammer out a deal to avert another government shutdown.


The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report

Southern Baptist leaders condemn decades of sexual abuse revealed in investigation

“20 years, 700 victims”

So reads part of the headline of a sweeping investigation that has found years of sexual abuse perpetrated by hundreds of Southern Baptist church leaders against an even larger number of victims.

The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reported that nearly 400 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced sexual misconduct allegations in the past two decades. As many as 700 victims — some as young as 3 — were sexually abused, some raped and molested repeatedly, according to the report.

But instead of ensuring that sexual predators were kept at bay, the Southern Baptist Convention resisted policy changes, the newspapers found. Victims accused church leaders of mishandling their complaints, even hiding them from the public. While the majority of abusers have been convicted of sex crimes and are registered sex offenders, the investigation found that at least 36 pastors, employees and volunteers who showed predatory behavior still worked at churches.

The revelations, published Sunday, have not only led to a chorus of condemnation and calls for restructuring but have also pushed church leaders to grapple with the troubling history — and future — of the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

“We must admit that our failures, as churches, put these survivors in a position where they were forced to stand alone and speak, when we should have been fighting for them,” J.D. Greear, who was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention last summer, said on Twitter. “Their courage is exemplary and prophetic. But I grieve that their courage was necessary.”

The investigation comes amid a string of recent allegations of widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests and cover-ups by the church hierarchy. Just a few days earlier, Pope Francis acknowledged that members of the Catholic clergy had abused nuns for years.

The Southern Baptist Convention, a fellowship of more than 47,000 Baptist churches and 15 million members across the United States and its territories, is the country’s second-largest faith group after the Catholic Church.

Greear, who was not available for comment Sunday afternoon, addressed the investigation in forceful terms, saying in a lengthy Twitter thread that he was “broken” over what it had revealed and that it was a “heinous error” to apply Baptist doctrine in a manner that enabled abuse.

“The abuses described in this (Houston Chronicle) article are pure evil,” Greear wrote. “I join with countless others who are currently ‘weeping with those who weep.’ “

Greear called for “pervasive change” within the denomination, including taking steps to prevent abuse, fully cooperating with legal authorities when people reported abusive behavior and helping survivors recover. He did not go into detail about what those steps would be, except to say that “change begins with feeling the full weight of the problem.”

Greear also admitted that the church had failed to listen to abuse victims, although it is unclear whether he was indicating that he had known about allegations within the Southern Baptist Convention. He added: “We — leaders in the SBC — should have listened to the warnings of those who tried to call attention to this. I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure we never make these mistakes again.”

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the revelations are “alarming and scandalous.”