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Atlanta mom files complaint alleging daughter’s grade school segregated Black students

A woman in Atlanta filed a federal complaint alleging civil rights violations at her daughter’s elementary school because it segregated Black students from their classmates.

The woman, Kila Posey, 43, who is Black, said she learned last year that Principal Sharyn Briscoe of Mary Lin Elementary School was separating the school’s 12 Black students in the second grade from their classmates.

The topic came up last spring, Posey said, when she was talking with Briscoe — who is also Black — about teachers who would be a good fit for her daughter. Posey said in an interview Wednesday that she asked Briscoe about placing her daughter with a certain teacher and that Briscoe told her “that’s not a Black class.”

“As a Black parent, what I’m hearing is my kid doesn’t have the options of six teachers that may work with her learning style. … I only get two [teachers]. How is that right? A white parent can get all six.”

Mary Lin Elementary School in Atlanta.Google Maps

Posey said Briscoe told her that she separated Black students into the same classes to build a community. Posey said Black second-grade students had access to only two of six teachers.

Posey’s attorney, Sharese Shields, said the complaint was filed late last month with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. The crux of the complaint is that the principal and the school violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination, exclusion and benefits on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs that receive federal assistance.

“It’s a bit shocking that in 2021 that you would have a public school administrator engage in that practice, particularly given that administrator is a Black woman herself,” Shields said. “As an administrator, she should be well-versed in the law and know that you can’t treat one group of students based on race differently than other groups of students.”

Briscoe did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Atlanta Public Schools said in a statement Wednesday that it “does not condone assigning students to classrooms based solely on race.”

“When we learned of allegations of this conduct occurring during virtual instruction at Mary Lin Elementary School in August 2020, the district conducted a review and took immediate and appropriate action at that time to resolve the issue,” the statement said. It is unclear what actions the school system took.

As part of the complaint, federal officials were sent two audio files that Posey said she recorded in secret. The first was during a conversation with an assistant principal at the school last August, in which the administrator “admitted that she was aware Ms. Briscoe had developed a second-grade class roster based upon, in part, the race of the students,” the complaint said.

The second recording occurred in March during an interview with a district administrator who also acknowledged that Briscoe “had indeed designated classes for black students,” the complaint said.

In the complaint, Posey writes that she is a 17-year veteran educator who operates a business that provides after-school activities.

Posey’s husband is a school psychologist at Mary Lin Elementary School. The couple have two children at the school.

A spokesman for the Education Department did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

Shields said it is unclear how “long-standing” or “widespread” Briscoe’s practice has been. Shields and Posey said they were unsure whether the school has stopped segregating some students by race.

The strategy of designating certain classes for Black students needs to be stopped, and the “entire leadership team” should be removed, the complaint said.

Thinking back about her initial feelings when her daughter’s principal told her about Black classes, Posey said it was “mind-blowing.”

“That was the summer of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and all the names,” she said. “We marched all around the world, and I’m having a conversation with somebody who looks exactly like me about Black classes. That was unbelievable.”

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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