Female private school counselor, 25, arrested after admitting to sex with underage student

A counselor at a $20,000-per-year South Carolina day school was fired and arrested after admitting she had sex with an underage student, police officials said.

Kenleigh Prendergast, who worked at Spartanburg Day School, was arrested just after midnight Saturday and charged with sexual battery for having an inappropriate relationship with a student who was 16 or 17 years old.

Investigators said the relationship began in January 2018 and ended a few days before it was reported to deputies on March 25.

Fox Carolina reports that Prendergast admitted to deputies that she was texting, calling and using Facetime with the student before eventually meeting the student at her private counseling practice and home.


In a statement, Spartanburg Day School, which is a nationally accredited independent school for students in grades 3K to 12, said Prenergast was hired as a school counselor in August of 2017.

“Effective immediately, Ms. Prendergast’s employment with the school has been terminated.”

“SDS puts the safety and wellbeing of our students above all things, and will cooperate fully with the Sheriff’s Office throughout this process,” the school said.

The investigation is ongoing, officials said.

Teens begin Mississippi-to-Memphis march in honor of King

Wearing aqua-colored T-shirts and hydration backpacks, a group of teenagers on Saturday launched a 50-mile walk from northern Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee, a tribute to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

Escorted by police cars, support vans and a portable restroom, six middle school, high school and college students, along with two adult mentors, began their march in rural Dundee. Their journey along Highway 61 will take them past Mississippi Delta fields and farms, then the casinos of Tunica, before they meet friends and family on the Tennessee-Mississippi line Tuesday.

The decision to walk 50 miles (80 kilometers) was deliberate; the distance represents one mile for each year since King was gunned down while standing on the balcony of the old Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. The teens, who are from Pearl and Richland, will discuss issues related to race and civil rights as they make the slow trek to Memphis.

They range in ages from 14 to 19. Five are black. One is white.

“It’s a way to show people that you can have friendships with different people of different backgrounds, different races, on all levels,” said Damonte Steele, a 15-year-old sophomore at Pearl High School.

Steele is in ROTC at Pearl High School with his 18-year-old friend Benjamin Rutledge, who is white. Rutledge said King “changed a lot of our viewpoints here in America.”

“I like doing events that challenge me and improve my character, and allow me to meet people too,” Rutledge said.

The group gathered at the post office in Dundee, one of many small communities nestled in the flatlands along the Mississippi River in the northern part of the state. Their police escorts inched along as the band trudged down the side of the road known as the Blues Highway.

They plan to walk about 10-15 miles per day until they reach their destination. The group will take part in community meetings after they finish for the day, and will spend their nights in hotels, said organizer Jarvis Ward.

The teens will convene a youth rally Tuesday. On Wednesday, they will take part in activities at the National Civil Rights Museum, located at the site of the former Lorraine Motel.

“Our hope is to not only honor all that Dr. King achieved, but to be part of continuing his work,” said Ward, president of the Pearson Foundation, a community service organization based in Pearl. “We want to show how racial justice, economic justice and racial reconciliation can be advanced in and by the next generation.”

Motorists slowed down Saturday to look at the eight people walking on the highway. One trucker honked his booming horn.

Linda Stanton watched the group as she and her dog stood outside her trailer, one of the few structures stationed along the highway in the Dundee area. Stanton, 54, said the teens’ effort was special.

Why are teachers striking? The answer may surprise you

West Virginia teachers are striking over better pay and benefits.

The nine-day teacher strike in West Virginia may soon be followed by walk-outs in Oklahoma and Arizona over low wages and potential increases in the cost of benefits.

We shouldn’t be surprised. For more than 20 years, teacher salaries have not even been keeping up with the cost of inflation.

West Virginia, which has become a national flashpoint, makes for a good case study, and one available in my recent report for EdChoice, “Back to the Staffing Surge.” Like virtually all states, West Virginia has significantly increased its public school expenditures in recent decades. Using publicly available data, since 1992, and adjusting for inflation, West Virginia public schools have increased spending by 39 percent per student to $12,512 per student by 2014, while average teacher salaries fell by 3 percent during that time period.

So while school districts had cash to spend, teachers were seeing money actually leave their wallets. So where did that additional money go?

Like public schools in virtually all states, West Virginia public schools increased its staffing of non-teachers far in excess of what was needed to accommodate changes in enrollment, which fell by 12 percent between 1992 and 2015. Despite the decline in student population, West Virginia public schools increased employment of non-teaching staff by 10 percent during this 23-year period, from 17,533 to 20,029—an increase of almost 2,500 personnel as the West Virginia public schools saw their student population decline by almost 40,000 students.  These increases include new assistant principals, district officials, curriculum specialists and teacher aides.

What could West Virginia public schools have done with $232 million in annual savings? For starters, they could have given all of their teachers an increase in compensation of $11,620 per year—much more than the teachers recently received.

Succinctly put, taxpayers spent a lot more per student, but teachers did not get a raise relative to the cost of living. Instead, schools hired more non-teachers—while student enrollment was falling.  As of 2015, West Virginia public schools had significantly more staffing—of both teachers and non-teachers—relative to the national average.

In West Virginia alone, a cautious estimate of the cost of this increase in non-teaching staff is more than $232 million annually, out of a total K-12 education budget of $3.5 billion, of which about one-third goes to teacher pay. What could West Virginia public schools have done with $232 million in annual savings? For starters, they could have given all of their teachers an increase in compensation of $11,620 per year—much more than the teachers recently received.

In my research, I have found that the surge of non-teaching staff in public schools has been occurring across America since at least 1950 and, at least since 1992, to no measurable positive relationship between this increased staffing and student outcomes. National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Long Term Trend scores for 17-year old public school students fell by three points (Reading) and were literally flat (Mathematics) during the post-1992 staffing surge.  Studies have even found that children today are more advantaged than students decades ago, negating any argument that schools need more staff because students are “harder” to educate now.

When the staffing surge is pointed out, policymakers place blame at different levels of government. In reality, all three levels of government have been responsible for this staffing surge. Levels and rates of change in staffing vary widely across (and within) states—indicating the staffing surge was not entirely due to federal or state mandates.

Shoring up short-term salary increases for our educators is a great first step, but one that doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

Now is the time to begin a serious policy conversation not just about how much they make, but about how we got here in the first place. Whether it’s West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona or elsewhere, it’s time for public school advocates to tell the truth about real increases in taxpayer resources and where they’ve been spent.

Part of that conversation is looking at outcomes for students – there is a lack of a relationship between these staffing increases and student achievement – and identifying some of the fixes that could address the underlying problems. States should look to expand school choice and create incentives for schools to compete for teacher talent and students in a more open marketplace.

Empowering parents to choose the best educational fit for their kids—and allowing the funding that goes with those students to follow them—puts those families, not bureaucrats, in the driver’s seat in deciding where and how school dollars are spent. And if schools aren’t paying teachers what they believe they deserve, those teachers should have the right to teach elsewhere—and be paid for their hard work.

The West Virginia teachers have been languishing in a system that for so long has been rigged against them. It’s time to fix the system to help them, and the students they teach.

New Asian-American, Brazilian apostles make Mormon history

The Mormon church made history and injected a bit of diversity into a previously all-white top leadership panel on Saturday by selecting the first-ever Latin-American apostle and the first-ever apostle of Asian ancestry.

The selections of Ulisses Soares of Brazil and Gerrit W. Gong, a Chinese-American, were announced during a twice-annual conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. The choices triggered excitement among a contingent of Mormons who for years have been hoping for the faith’s top leadership to be more representative of a religion that has more than half of the its 16 million members outside the United States.

“It’s a sign that the church is for everyone,” said Guilherme De Castro, a 37-year-old Mormon from Brazil who was in attendance for the announcement. “It doesn’t matter where you are from or the way you look.”

The selections come during a two-day conference happening as the faith grapples with heightened scrutiny about its handling of sexual abuse reports and one-on-one interviews between local lay leaders and youth. Mormon leaders hadn’t spoken about the topic as of Saturday afternoon, but a person in attendance yelled several times, “Stop protecting sexual predators,” as new people were announced to second-tier leadership posts.

The outburst came one day after about 1,000 current and former Mormons marched to the church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City, delivering petitions demanding an end to closed door, one-on-one interviews between youth and lay leaders where sexual questions sometimes arise.

The church changed policy this week to now allow children to bring a parent or adult with them to the interviews, but protesters said that doesn’t go far enough to keep children safe. The change came as part of more revisions to sexual abuse reporting guidelines following recent revelations that a former prominent missionary leader was accused of sexually assaulting two women in the 1980s. The ex-leader denied the allegations.

It was the first conference presided over by new church President Russell M. Nelson. His choices for the two open leadership spots sparked hope that the 93-year-old former heart surgeon will focus on the globalization of the faith during his tenure. He is set to embark on a trip in April to visit eight cities in Europe, Africa and Asia, including Hong Kong.

The last time there were openings on the quorum, in October 2015, the church chose three Utah men. Past church president Thomas S. Monson, who died in January, was leading the church at the time. The religion believes church presidents choose new Quorum members with the help of divine revelation.

The choices mark the strongest statement in favor of global diversity by senior church leadership since 1978 when the church lifted a ban on black men in the lay clergy, allowing the church to spread to Brazil, Africa and elsewhere, said Mormon scholar Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California. He said most people were hoping for at best one new non-white leader, so the double selection will be welcomed with enthusiasm throughout the religion.

The announcement sparked a wave of tweets and other social media posts, some by Mormons who said they never thought they would see the day.

Soares and Gong join a panel called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that, before Saturday, was made up entirely of white men from the U.S. with the exception of one German, Dieter Uchtdorf.

The all-male panel sits below President Nelson and his two counselors and helps set church policy and oversees the faith’s business interests. The new appointees start as junior members, but they could someday become church president because the group’s longest-tenured member ascends to president when the current one dies.

They join a quorum undergoing a substantial turnover following a string of deaths as previous leaders succumbed to the effects of aging. Five of the 12 panel members have been appointed in the past three years. Prior to 2015, it had been six years since a new quorum member was chosen, and more than a decade since the leadership council had two openings.

Like the previous 12 men chosen for the panel, Soares and Gong were serving in a lower-level leadership called Quorum of the Seventy that that has served as a farm system for the governing body.

The 59-year-old Soares was an accountant and auditor for multinational corporations in Brazil before joining church leadership, according to a church biography. He was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The 64-year-old Gong worked for the U.S. State Department, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies and Mormon-owned Brigham Young University before being selected for the lower-tier church leadership panel. He was born in Redwood City, California. His grandparents immigrated to the United States from China.

The new selections reflect the “rising focus of church leadership on the world outside the United States, where the church is growing most rapidly,” said Mormon scholar Matthew Bowman, an associate professor of history at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

With 1.4 million members, Brazil has the second-most Mormon in the world along with Mexico, according to church figures. Both rank behind the United States, which has about 6.6 million members.

Nelson has long had a special interest in China, Bowman said. He speaks Mandarin and spent time there during his professional career. It’s possible Nelson is hoping Gong’s selection could help establish a stronger foothold in the Asian country that currently doesn’t officially recognize the religion and only allows certain activities, Bowman said.

It is estimated that there are at least 10,000 church members in mainland China, most of which are native Chinese members, though there are no official church estimates because the Chinese government does not recognize the religion, said Matt Martinich, an independent Mormon researcher.

Of the 116 highest-ranking church leaders serving in several tiers, 40 percent of them were born outside the U.S, said Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor to President Nelson, on Saturday.

The diversity in leadership should help broaden conversations about race and ethnicity and add new prisms through which the gospel is viewed, said Ignacio Garcia, a professor of Western and Latino history at Mormon-owned Brigham Young University.

Making a sports analogy, Garcia said the religion has many great minority leaders on the “bench”(mid-tier leadership councils) and now for first time, two in the “starting lineup” (Quorum of the Twelve).

It’s likely an indication of the religion’s future since indigenous members are who will help sustain the church going forward, Garcia said.

“Those are the ones that are growing: black and brown and Asian,” he said. “That’s the future of the church.”

Harvard scrubs ‘Puritans’ from alma mater because it is not ‘inclusive’

Campus Reform correspondent Emily Hall explains

“Puritans” are no more at Harvard University.

The Ivy League purged the word from its alma mater, “Fair Harvard,” taking out the reference to the English Protestants who founded the nation’s oldest institution of higher education.

The song’s lyrics were revised in 1998 to make it gender inclusive, and Tuesday the university changed the last line, which previously said, “Be the herald of light, and the bearer of love, till the stock of the Puritans die.”

The Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging made the decision to take out “Puritans” from the “living symbol” opting for the line: “Till the stars in the firmament die.”

“The metaphor…fails in its own aspiration to project a valuable Puritan commitment to education into the future,” school officials wrote in a statement. “The line reduces human experience to biology with the word ‘stock,’ and ties the commitment to education to ethnic lineage and to the rise and fall of racial groupings.”

Harvard sought suggestions from students, staff and alumni and a panel made up of professors and alumni chose the winner out of a pool of 168 suggested replacements. The new phrase was submitted by a 1984 graduate, the university said.

Officials said the new phrase affairs their motto, “Veritas,” which means “verity” or “truth.”

Two phrases that almost made the cut were “Till the shadows of ignorance die” and “Till the end of the ages draws nigh.”

The task force believes the new lyrics “convey the accessibility and value of the pursuit of truth to people from all backgrounds” and affirms “the university’s commitment to inclusive excellence.”

Malala returns to Pakistan hometown for first time since being shot in 2012, says it’s ‘happiest day of my life’

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai returned to her hometown in Pakistan on Saturday for the first time since 2012, when she was shot by a Taliban militant.

Her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, consoled a teary-eyed Malala, 20, upon her arrival.

“I am very happy that, after five-and-a-half years, I have set foot on the soil of my nation again,” she said, according to the Guardian. “Today is the happiest day of my life, because I have returned to my country. I have stepped foot on my nation’s soil again and am among my own people.”

The Pakistan army provided Malala a helicopter, which took her to Mingora, her hometown, from Islamabad, where she arrived on Thursday with her father and younger brother, the Guardian reported.

Amid tight security, Malala finally landed in the Swat Valley town. Security was also visibly beefed up in Mingora the previous day.

A Pakistani student of the school of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai writes on a board writes on a board, in her hometown of Swat Valley in Pakistan, Friday, March 30, 2018. A Pakistani women's activist says Malala Yousafzai, who is back in Pakistan for the first time since the Taliban shot her in 2012, is hoping to visit her Swat Valley hometown but that the trip depends on security clearances from the government.(AP Photo/Naveed Ali)

A Pakistani student of the school of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai writes on a board writes on a board, in her hometown of Swat Valley in Pakistan, Friday, March 30, 2018.  (Associated Press)

Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban in Mingora when she was only 15 years old in October 2012. The Taliban reportedly banned girls’ schools, music and television in their control of Swat Valley. Malala was targeted because she advocated for education for girls.

She received initial treatment in Pakistan and was later taken to Britain, where she continued her education and went on to win the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the youngest-ever prize winner and garnering international renown.

“For the betterment of Pakistan, it is necessary to educate girls and empower women,” she said.

Malala’s uncle, Mahmoodul Hassan, said she also plans to meet with her friends and relatives during her homecoming.

“I still can’t believe I am here,” she said. “It is literally a dream.”

She plans to return to Britain on Monday. After finishing her studies there, she said she plans to return permanently to Pakistan, the Telegraph reported.

Students of the school of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai flash victory sign in her hometown of Swat Valley in Pakistan, Friday, March 30, 2018. A Pakistani women's activist says Malala Yousafzai, who is back in Pakistan for the first time since the Taliban shot her in 2012, is hoping to visit her Swat Valley hometown but that the trip depends on security clearances from the government.(AP Photo/Naveed Ali)

Students of the school of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai flash victory sign in her hometown of Swat Valley in Pakistan, Friday, March 30, 2018.  (Associated Press)

School teacher instructs students to write anti-gun letters to Congress

Boys and girls at Hampton Middle School in Georgia were instructed by their teacher to write letters to lawmakers calling for stricter gun control laws.

“You are trying to persuade lawmakers to have stricter gun laws to help prevent another school shooting from taking place,” the assignment declared. “For this assignment, you are writing a letter to the lawmakers of the United States. The purpose of this letter is to pressure lawmakers to have stricter gun laws in the United States.

Blue Lives Matter obtained a copy of the social studies assignment from a police officer whose son was in the classroom.

“I asked him what he had for homework that night, and he said he had to write a paper on gun control,” William Lee told Blue Lives Matter. “I looked at it, and I told my son, ‘No, you’re not doing that assignment.’ Then I emailed his teacher the next day and told him that my son would not be writing that.”

Good for Officer Lee!

The teacher told Officer Lee his son would be excused from the lesson and would not be penalized.

I reached out to Henry County Schools and they tell me the assignment was not a part of any approved curriculum.

“We would never approve of a politically biased assignment or directive given by a teacher,” the district spokesman told me.

He assured me the letters were not sent and there was never any intent to send them.

“This activity took the wrong approach in limiting the ability of students to share any thoughts outside of what was directed of them when the subject elicits many different viewpoints from people, including students,” the spokesman told me.

Henry County School, he said, does not advocate for or against gun control and had the lesson been submitted for approval — it would not have been approved.

“It is unfortunate that this isolated incident occurred, but we are appreciative of those individuals who brought it to our attention so we could take corrective action and stop it from continuing further,” the spokesman said.

The school district spokesman said the teacher has been spoken to and they tell me this will not happen again.

Let’s hope not.

Public school is supposed to be about education — not indoctrination.

Parents of teen who allegedly had sex romp in class with teacher, 27, say she should spend ‘life in prison’

The parents of a 13-year-old Arizona boy say the married teacher accused of performing sex acts on him in her classroom and her car is a “monster” who should “spend the rest of her life in prison.”

Brittany Zamora, a 27-year-old sixth-grade teacher at the Las Brisas Academy in Goodyear, remained in jail Friday on a host of charges, including multiple counts of felony sexual conduct with a minor and molesting a child, following her arrest last week.

“He was taken advantage of,” the boy’s stepmom told AZFamily. “She was just using him for her own grotesque benefits.”

Court documents released last week say the boy’s parents found Instagram messages between him and the teacher professing their love, and some were graphic, containing descriptions of specific sexual acts, FOX10Phoenix reported.

Zamora also sent the boy pictures of herself naked and in lingerie, according to court records viewed by The Arizona Republic.

In one exchange, the boy allegedly told her he wanted to have sex with her again.

“I know baby! I want you every day with no time limit,” she allegedly responded.

FOX10Phoenix, citing the documents, also said the victim told his parents that Zamora performed sexual acts on him in her classroom on March 8 and in her car the month before.

Police said they were contacted by the school’s principal on March 21 about the alleged misconduct and she was arrested last Thursday.

Zamora earlier had called to apologize to the parents but claimed she never had sex with their boy – and even, with her husband, pleaded to the boy’s father not to take the issue up with police, the documents added.

“He said that it started in a classroom chat group where she would talk to him, and then flirted with him, and it just progressed from there,” the boy’s stepmother told AZFamily.

“He told us they kissed and had sex,” added his father.

The boy reportedly became sad after allegedly becoming involved with the teacher and the parents accused the school of trying to sweep the case under the rug.

“You teach your kids there’s no such thing as monsters at all,” the father told AZFamily. “But in the real world, there are monsters. Brittany Zamora is a monster.”

He added: “I want her to spend the rest of her life in prison.”

Colorado school district aims for 4-day class schedule

A school district in Colorado is aiming for a shorter week in the upcoming academic year, giving students and faculty four days in the classroom rather than five.

District 27J public information officer Tracy Rudnick told ABC News that they filed an official application with the Colorado Department of Education, of which she said they “are pretty confident that it’s going to go through.”

“They have not turned down any other school district that has had applied,” Rudnick said. Word from the department could come in June, she told the outlet. Nearly 100 other districts in the state reportedly operate on the same schedule.

A variety of factors reportedly contributed to the district’s decision to file the application.

“We made this change, one, was for the clean and concise schedule,” Rudnick told the outlet. “It was also to recruit and retain highly-quality teachers. This new schedule appeals to teachers because their professional development is built into their day. They were using their personal time to prepare for the day. They’ll now have time in the morning before students come to school to either prepare individually or work into teams in educational lessons.”

The department of education confirmed to ABC News that the Commissioner of Education needs to approve in advance a district’s ability to have less than 160 days in the school year, in accordance with state law.

The district hopes to begin the modified schedule on Aug. 10, the first day of classes for students in the middle and high schools, ABC News reported. Kindergarteners and kids in elementary school will reportedly start on Aug. 14, while those in preschool will begin on Aug. 28. An average school week will run Tuesday through Friday, the outlet said.

Families will also be extended a childcare option for Mondays, according to the report, which will have a daily charge of $30 for each student and run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Daily class time will reportedly last an extra 40 minutes in order to meet the state mandated 1,080 hours of teaching per year.

First rule of weekend debate championship: No men allowed

The first rule of a North American debate tournament to be held in Vermont this weekend: No men allowed.

Some 150 debaters from 18 schools across the U.S. and Canada will compete in the special tournament, which is designed to be a safe space for women who complain of bias when they debate against men.

Although some men will be allowed to serve as judges, organizers say the tournament at the University of Vermont offers women a chance to hone their speaking and arguing skills and gain confidence and friends without being subject to sexism.

“There is also a lot of sexual predation that happens in the debate community,” said UVM debate director Helen Morgan-Parmett. “The tournament, I think, provides a safe space where people feel they are debating other women, and their bodies aren’t necessarily on display.”

College debating is one of the few intercollegiate competitive activities in which women and men compete directly against one another. While some women do win, the debaters say they have to be that much better than men to overcome bias on the part of many judges. And they point to statistics that show they are less likely to reach the top echelons of the activity.

“Like with a lot of collegiate activities, debate has a tendency to be male-dominated,” said UVM sophomore debater Miranda Zigler, of Boston.

The UVM event will be run using the British Parliamentary debating style, in which participants learn the topic they will be debating only 15 minutes before the competition begins. More traditional college debate, known as policy debate, uses a set topic for the entire season and the debaters must be ready to argue for or against. Both formats are judged by a panel.

Collegiate debate began to grow after World War II, and for the first decade or so men and women debated separately. That began to change in the late 1950s and early 1960s but still few women signed up, said Dallas Perkins, the former debate coach at Harvard University and now the spokesman for the National Debate Tournament, held earlier this month in Wichita, Kansas.

While women might face challenges, they have broken through to the top ranks. Two of the final four debaters at the national tournament this month were women.

Georgetown debate director Mikaela Malsin whose team lost in the finals this year and coached one of the women said she hadn’t heard of the women’s debate tournament. She said college debate is prone to the same sexism and misogyny that pervades American culture, and that far more men than women compete.

“We want it to be more inclusive and more accessible on its own terms rather than retreating or creating a separate space,” Malsin said. “I certainly think there is value to that kind of thing, but, like I said, I don’t think it would catch on quite as much in the policy world for the reason that I think women and people of color primarily want to keep pushing back and continue to elevate or improve the activity from within.”

What has evolved into the North American Women’s and Gender Minorities Debate Championship being held in Burlington this weekend began in Canada in the 1990s. It disappeared for several years but was revived in 2009, said Sarah Sahagian, the program director for the nonprofit group Speech and Debate Canada.

Even though women have made progress, the separate space is still needed, she said.

“I think even when I was a participant there were women who did well, there were women who won things, but on average, the average female debater did not do as well. Disproportionately, male debaters did better,” she said

The first women’s debate championship in the United States was held at UVM in 2015. The last two years it was back in Canada. Organizers now hope it can remain an annual event, alternating between the two countries.

The women at UVM recognize the women-only tournament can make them targets of people who feel they are asking for special treatment, but say it’s good to raise awareness of the issue.

“I think there is just no bad publicity,” said UVM debate coach Stela Braje, “especially if you’re trying to make a point.”