Friday, January 30, 2015

Eureka School District Settles ACLU Lawsuit

Posted By on Fri, Jan 30, 2015 at 3:23 PM

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Eureka City Schools has settled a civil rights lawsuit alleging pervasive and systemic discrimination against minority students, agreeing to an action plan aimed at improving conditions in the district's schools.

Filed in December 2013 by the Americans Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the National Center for Youth Law, the lawsuit alleged district administrators ignored complaints of racial taunting and bullying and disproportionately disciplined minority students, and that district staff made racially and sexually insensitive comments to students.

In a press release announcing the “wide-ranging settlement” today, the National Center for Youth Law said the district has agreed to “establish goals for enhancing multi-cultural curricula, providing students with disabilities appropriate accommodations and services, and reducing race and disability based disparities in discipline and transfers to alternative schools.” Additionally, the release states the district has agreed to contract with an independent research group to conduct a district-wide assessment with a specific focus on issues surrounding racial and gender equity in student discipline. The assessment’s findings will be detailed in a report to be made public and presented at a district school board meeting.

“After receiving feedback, the group will issue a final assessment report no later than May 1, 2015, which may include recommendations about changes to policies and practices to improve school climate,” the release states. “Within 90 days after accepting the report, the Board of Trustees will review and accept for approval the recommendations and determine how best to implement them.”

In entering into the settlement, the district did not admit liability, and officials have disputed some of the lawsuit’s allegations since it was filed.

At the time same time they filed suit, the national center and the ACLU also announced the filing of a complaint with the United States Department of Education containing a host of allegations against the Loleta Elementary School District, including rampant racism toward Native American students and that former Superintendent and Principal Sally Hadden made racially insensitive statements to students, physically hit students and failed in her duties as a mandated reporter. In January of last year, the department informed the ACLU it was launching an investigation into that complaint.

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That investigation remains ongoing, according to a spokesperson, who added that the department attempts to resolve all complaints within 180 days but “some cases will take longer to resolve than others based on the complexity of the issues at hand.”

In the press release announcing the settlement, Eureka City Schools Superintendent Fred Van Vleck said the lawsuit’s outcome and the measures the district will take under the agreement will ultimately benefit students. He was not immediately available for comment this afternoon.

When filing the lawsuit, attorneys representing the ACLU and the national center told the media they were seeking monetary damages for the four plaintiffs in the case, in addition to a corrective action plan from the district. Reached this afternoon, National Center for Youth Law senior attorney Michael Harris said he couldn’t comment on whether payouts to the plaintiffs were a part of the ultimate settlement.

“I’m not allowed to talk about that,” Harris said. “Both the defendants and the plaintiffs have agreed not to say anything about whether there were damages awarded as a part of the settlement.”

For more information about the lawsuit, see past Journal coverage here. And read the full press release from the national center below.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 29, 2015


EUREKA – Eureka City Schools has reached a settlement agreement that resolves a lawsuit filed last year by the National Center for Youth Law and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. Under the agreement, the district will implement a community-wide collaborative process aimed at cultivating a positive and inclusive school climate where all students feel welcome and safe.

The wide-ranging settlement was reached following a collaborative process involving the parties and their attorneys. The lawsuit alleged discrimination against Native American and Black students and accused administrators of failing to stop racial and sexual harassment. The settlement is not an admission of liability, and district officials have disputed a number of allegations in the lawsuit since the time it was filed.

“We are pleased that school officials in Eureka are willing to take these positive steps, and are hopeful that this agreement will result in Eureka City Schools being a place where all students, regardless of race, gender, or disability will receive equal educational opportunities and the chance to reach their full academic potential,” said Michael Harris, senior attorney for the National Center for Youth Law.

Eureka City Schools Superintendent Fred Van Vleck said, “The settlement will benefit students. The measures the district will take under the agreement are good for the students and we welcome them.”

Under the settlement agreement, the school district agrees to establish goals for enhancing multi-cultural curricula, providing students with disabilities appropriate accommodations and services, and reducing race and disability based disparities in discipline and transfers to alternative schools. The district also will also contract with an Oregon-based research group to conduct a district-wide assessment of the school climate, with a particular focus on any issues related to racial/gender equity and student discipline.

This research group will prepare a report detailing the findings of its assessment and present their findings by March 1, 2015, at a special meeting of the Board of Trustees dedicated to soliciting feedback from the public about the report and about school climate in general. The report will be made available to the public at least 72 hours before the special meeting.

After receiving feedback, the group will issue a final assessment report no later than May 1, 2015, which may include recommendations about changes to policies and practices to improve school climate. Within 90 days after accepting the report, the Board of Trustees will review and accept for approval the recommendations and determine how best to implement them.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

City to Shutter Squires' Blue Heron

Posted By on Tue, Jan 27, 2015 at 3:48 PM

Following a standoff with defiant property owners Floyd and Betty Squires, the city of Eureka is condemning the couple’s Blue Heron Lodge, a 15-room motel on the south side of town.

Eureka Chief Building Official Brian Gerving said the couple — who for years have faced allegations of providing substandard housing in their more than two dozen rental properties throughout Eureka — has failed to apply for a lodging permit, as required by the city’s motel ordinance.

Journal attempts to reach the Squireses were not immediately successful, but Gerving said Floyd Squires has informed the city he has no intention of applying for the permit, arguing the Blue Heron Lodge is not actually a motel. Consequently, the city plans to serve a warrant of closure on the property Feb. 4, shuttering it and evicting its residents.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Kayaker Drowns in 'Terrible Tragedy'

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2015 at 4:56 PM

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A 24-year-old San Francisco woman drowned Sunday morning while kayaking on the Eel River with a group of friends.

Humboldt County Deputy Coroner Roy Horton said the woman, identified as Samantha Dweck, originally from Carlisle, Massachusetts, was with a group of about two dozen people that are members of a San Francisco running club that was taking a multi-day outing on the river. Horton said the group hit the river Saturday, spending the night at Fort Seward before taking to the water again Sunday morning.

The group — which was travelling together in nine kayaks and three canoes — came to the McCann Bridge at about 9:45 a.m. He said two canoes passed under the bridge before Dweck and a male friend attempted to follow in a kayak. “The current was very swift,” Horton said, adding that the kayak was pushed into one of the bridge’s girders, causing it to capsize. The kayak was then trapped upside down by the hydraulic pressure created from the current swirling around the girder. Dweck, who Horton said had been kayaking three or four times before this trip, couldn’t free herself from the kayak and drowned. Horton said Dweck and her friend were both wearing life jackets.

“It’s just a terrible tragedy,” he said.

See the full press release from the sheriff’s office below.

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EPD Investigating Fatal Broadway Crash

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2015 at 4:20 PM

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A senior citizen was killed Sunday evening when he walked into traffic on Broadway and was hit by a Ford van, according to Eureka police.

Oudom Douangdoa, 72, of Eureka, was believed to be walking westbound across Broadway about 40 feet north of the intersection with McCullen Avenue at about 6:18 p.m. when he was struck by the van, according to an EPD press release. Medical personnel responded to the scene, but Douangdoa ultimately died of his injuries.

EPD Capt. Brian Stephens said the driver of the Ford van remained on scene after the accident and has been cooperative with the investigation. Stephens said police believe drugs and alcohol may have been a factor in this collision and that possible impairment of both the driver and Douangdoa are being investigated.

He asked that anyone with information about the accident call EPD traffic officer Dave Chapman at 441-4036. “Hopefully someone will come forward and help us out,” he said.

See the full EPD press release below:

On January 23, 2015, at about 6:18 p.m., Eureka Police officers along with Humboldt Bay Fire and City Ambulance responded to a vehicle versus pedestrian traffic collision on Broadway near McCullen Avenue. Upon arrival, medical personnel located an unconscious male subject, began CPR and transported him to St. Joseph Hospital. The pedestrian, identified as Oudom Douangdoa, 72 of Eureka, succumbed to his injuries.

The preliminary investigation has lead the Traffic Accident Investigators to believe Douangdoa was walking westbound across Broadway approximately 40 feet north of the intersection with McCullen Avenue when he was struck by a full size Ford van that was traveling north on Broadway.

Drugs and alcohol appear to be a factor in this collision

This is an active and ongoing investigation and EPD is asking anyone who may have witnessed the collision or the events immediately before or after the collision to contact Traffic Officer Dave Chapman at 707-441-4036.

No further information is available at this time.  

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Arson Suspected in Summer Street Fire

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2015 at 11:40 AM

Humboldt Bay Fire crews responded to a fire on the 800 block of Summer Street in Eureka just after 11 a.m. Saturday. The single alarm fire sent heavy smoke billowing into the sky and could be seen from across town. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Humboldt Bay Fire crews responded to a fire on the 800 block of Summer Street in Eureka just after 11 a.m. Saturday. The single alarm fire sent heavy smoke billowing into the sky and could be seen from across town.
Humboldt Bay Fire investigators suspect arson was the cause of a blaze Saturday that destroyed a home in the 800 block of Summer Street, and has forwarded the case onto the Eureka Police Department.

Chris Emmons, a battalion chief with Humboldt Bay Fire, declined to discuss the specifics of how his department deemed the fire to be arson. “What I can say is there was definitive area of origin and what we saw led us to make a definite determination of arson,” he said.

Fire Chief Ken Woods said at the scene Saturday that an interview with the residence’s sole occupant led the department to deem the fire “suspicious.” That occupant was not home when the fire started, Emmons clarified this morning, but expressed “concern over some things.”

The fire started at about 11 a.m. Saturday, and fire crews arrived to find heavy fire visible from the home's second-story windows. They immediately attacked the fire, initially believing someone may have been inside the structure, and got it under control in about 30 minutes. No one was injured.

Local photographer Mark McKenna was on scene Saturday, and passed along these photos.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

EPD Officers May Start Wearing Cameras

Posted By on Sat, Jan 24, 2015 at 9:00 AM

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As the ripples of last year’s national and local police-involved shootings reverberate through the country, Eureka’s police department is considering outfitting officers with wearable cameras.

Chief Andrew Mills supports the idea, but said much needs to be sorted out before it will happen.

Mills’ plan is to repurpose $60,000 currently earmarked for police car dashboard cameras and use it for body cameras. That shuffle will require city council approval, but Mills said there are lots of legal questions to be answered first.


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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

We Mostly Flunk

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2015 at 5:41 PM

Old Town tidycat's buttkeeper. - PHOTO BY HEIDI WALTERS
  • Photo by Heidi Walters
  • Old Town tidycat's buttkeeper.

We’re a (mostly) sad, bad, hackalung lot up here in Northern California. According to the American Lung Association, “Progress in the fight against tobacco use is at a standstill in California and in most cities and counties in the North Coast …”

The association released its annual State of Tobacco Control report today, which shows that statewide, aside from a few locations, there’s been no movement toward advancing tobacco control policies.

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

El Pulpo Blazes the Rockies

Posted By on Sun, Jan 18, 2015 at 1:13 PM

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Humboldt County’s most famous fire-spewing octopus is at it again, having traveled into the Rockies to flame it up at Colorado’s Telluride Fire Festival.

El Pulpo Mecanico, the 26-foot-tall brainchild of local artist Duane Flatmo is one of the festival’s headliners and, with the event dubbings itself a “community celebration of excellence in interactive fire arts,” it seems a perfect fit.

To read El Pulpo’s full story, including how much work it takes to ship that thing hundreds of mile for an event, see the Journal’s prior story here. For more on the festival, check its website here.

And, if you’re in the camp that believes the only good octopus is the edible kind, give Jennifer Fumiko Cahill’s recipe a try.
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Saturday, January 17, 2015

‘Senseless is an Understatement': No Motive Found in Double Murder

Posted By on Sat, Jan 17, 2015 at 9:03 AM

Vincent Earnest Sanchez
  • Vincent Earnest Sanchez
It’s been almost a year since 29-year-old Vincent Earnest Sanchez picked up a shotgun and shot both his half-brother and a life-long family friend at point-blank range in a Eureka home, but it remains unclear why.

Sanchez was sentenced earlier this month to serve 40 years to life in state prison after pleading guilty to two counts of second-degree murder. A probation report recently released in the case offers the public its most in-depth look at what happened on March 24, 2014 in the Harris Street home of longtime Freshwater Farms owner Richard “Rick” Storre. But it seems to leave more questions than answers.

According to the report, Sanchez had been living with Storre — a longtime family friend — for about a year when, in February 2014, Sanchez’s maternal half-brother, 25-year-old Lance Delbert Henry, came to live with them. Around the same time, Sanchez purchased the shotgun, according to the report.

Police were called to Storre’s house shortly after 6 p.m. on March 27, 2014, after a friend stopped by to check on him and saw someone lying in a “large amount of blood.” Officers found Sanchez in the residence’s back yard, in a “makeshift, tarp-covered structure” and took him into custody. A short time later, police interviewed Sanchez and he recounted what had happened.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Facing Possible Removal, Newman Resigns Land Trust Post

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2015 at 11:29 AM

Aaron Newman
  • Aaron Newman
Facing the threat of a vote to remove him from office, Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District Commissioner Aaron Newman has stepped down from his seat on the Northcoast Regional Land Trust Board of Directors.

“There was just a difference of opinion that caused some discomfort on that board, so I didn’t want to be party to that,” Newman said this morning, adding that he’d “rather not” discuss the details of what caused his resignation from the board he’s served on for a couple of years.

But Board Member Clif Clendenen said the “difference of opinion” actually surrounded whether Newman should continue on as a board member after pleading guilty to three misdemeanor fish and wildlife violations that stemmed from allegations that he’d habitually poached abalone and lied to a state agency. Clendenen said the board’s intention was to hold a vote at its meeting Thursday on whether to allow Newman to remain on the board, but that Newman resigned Wednesday.

“We were thankful that Aaron chose to resign and spare us that,” Clendenen said. “I didn’t relish the idea, but I would have voted to remove him, with difficulty. Since the board vote didn’t occur, I can’t say what the outcome would have been.”

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