If you are a veteran who has a VA disability rating and an employment handicap, you may be entitled to Veteran Readiness and Employment (previously known as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment) services under Chapter 31 of the GI Bill (VR&E). These services include - but are not limited to - counseling, training, education and job placement assistance.
The following services may be provided through the VR&E program:
Eligibility and entitlement for VR&E are two different things. You may meet eligibility criteria, yet not be entitled to services. The first step in the VR&E process is to be evaluated to determine if you qualify for services. To receive an evaluation for VR&E services, you must have received a discharge that is other than dishonorable and have a service-connected disability rating of at least 10% - or a memorandum rating of 20% or more from the VA.
Period of Eligibility - Like many VA benefits VR&E has a limited period of eligibility. The basic period of eligibility in which VR&E services may be used is 12 years from the date of separation from active military service, or the date the veteran was first notified by VA of a service-connected disability rating, which comes later.
The basic period of eligibility may be extended if VA determines that a veteran has a Serious Employment Handicap.
If you are eligible for an evaluation under the Veterans Readiness program, you must complete an application and meet with a Veterans Readiness Counselor (VRC). If the VRC determines that an employment handicap exists as a result of a service-connected disability, you will be entitled to services. You and the VRC will then continue counseling to select a track of services and jointly develop a plan to address your rehabilitation and employment needs.
You and your Veterans Readiness Counselor will work together to:
The rehabilitation plan will specify an employment or independent living goal, identify intermediate goals, outline services and resources needed to achieve these goals. You and the VRC will work together to implement the plan and achieve successful rehabilitation.
If the VRC determines that you are not entitled to services, her or she will help you locate other resources to address any rehabilitation and employment needs identified during the evaluation. Referral to other resources may include state vocational rehabilitation programs, Department of Labor employment programs for disabled veterans, state, federal or local agencies providing services for employment or small business development, internet-based resources for rehabilitation and employment, and information about applying for financial aid.
Subsistence Allowance - In addition to receiving a monthly payment while attending training through VR&E, you may also qualify for a monthly subsistence allowance. This is paid each month during training and is based on the rate of attendance (full-time or part-time), the number of dependents, and the type of training. For example a full-time attendee with two dependents could receive up to $955.92 a month. View the current VR&E Subsistence Allowance Rates.
If you're eligible for both Veterans Readiness and Employment benefits and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits you can choose the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s monthly housing allowance instead of the VR&E subsistence allowance.
Employment Handicap - An Employment Handicap is defined as an impairment of the veteran's ability to prepare for, obtain or retain employment consistent with his or her abilities, aptitudes, and interests. The impairment must result in large part from a service-connected disability. For veterans rated at 20% or more, a finding of employment handicap results in a finding of "entitled."
Serious Employment Handicap (SEH) - A Serious Employment Handicap is defined as a significant impairment of a veteran's ability to prepare for, obtain, or retain employment consistent with his or her abilities, aptitudes and interests. The SEH must result in the most part from a service-connected disability.
Note: For veterans rated at 10% disability and for veterans whose 12-year period of basic eligibility has passed, the finding of an SEH is necessary to establish "entitlement."
Suitable Employment - Work that is within a veteran's physical and emotional capabilities and is consistent with his or her pattern of abilities, aptitudes, and interests.
Non-Paid Work Experience (NPWE) program - NPWE provides eligible veterans and service members the opportunity to obtain training and practical job experience concurrently. This program is ideal for veterans or service members who have a clearly established career goal, and who learn easily in a hands-on environment. This program is also well suited to veterans or service members who are having difficulties obtaining employment due to lack of work experience. NPWE programs may be established in federal, state, or local (e.g. city, town, school district) government agencies only. The employer may hire the veteran or service member at any point during the NPWE.
Learn more about the VA's Non-Paid Work Experience (NPWE) program.
Whether you need a guide on how to use your GI Bill, want to take advantage of tuition assistance and scholarships, or get the lowdown on education benefits available for your family, Military.com can help. Subscribe to Military.com to have education tips and benefits updates delivered directly to your inbox.
Even before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, getting an education was tough for the young woman from Kandahar.
Ms. A. says she endured violence, street harassment, and “daily threats on the way from men” – never mind family poverty – “so that I could be someone in the future, and get freedom and independence.”
But nothing prepared her for what she witnessed in late December, when a phalanx of Taliban gunmen came to her university to halt her final exam, as they enforced a new decree that banned women from higher education.
“I could not believe my eyes that it could be true,” recalls Ms. A., who asked that her full name not be used, for fear of retribution. Scores of fighters with assault rifles blocked the university entrance and tore through classrooms, as if on a military operation, prompting male students to shout at them to permit the female students to enter.
“It was so scary,” says Ms. A, whose hands and one foot were badly bruised when the Taliban hit students with their guns and dispersed them with live fire. “I still remember their wild eyes and long hair; I can’t forget their horrible faces and actions.”
Video of the clash taken by a classmate shows one male student getting pulled to the ground by a black turban-wearing Talib, who kicks and beats him hard as gunshots sound.
Such violent episodes have played out in different forms at universities across the country, illustrating the collision between Afghan women’s expectations of contributing publicly through education, work, and greater freedoms, and the ultraconservative Taliban’s demands that they stay at home, be subservient to their husbands, and disengage from society.
The women’s expectations were raised during 20 years of American and Western military and donor presence, which sought to build civil society. Now, a year and a half after the Islamist Taliban swept to power, earlier Taliban promises of allowing girls and women to study at high school and university and to work outside the home have been snuffed out by one edict after another that activists say are driven by misogyny.
Yet while Afghan women say their lives have grown darker under the Taliban, they nevertheless are often still struggling to find ways to get by, and cling to their determination to get an education and to work.
Still, as Afghans cope with the toughest winter in a decade, with widespread hunger made worse by a banking and financial crisis and the cutoff of donor funds to the Taliban, there is shock at how the Taliban have prioritized their zealous shrinking of the role of women. Much United Nations and Western relief work is in limbo, for example, over a separate Taliban ruling that bans Afghan women from working for them.
Among many other exact and restrictive edicts, women have been banned from visiting parks and gyms.
“Is it a sin being a girl? Is it a sin to learn? Is it a sin just to exist and breathe?” asks Ms. A. Those questions, she says, have addled her and even made her suicidal, as anger grows in her family about its own sacrifices to invest in her education, which now “appear a waste of time and money.”
Her existential pondering echoes across several interviews, conducted by The Christian Science Monitor over secure messaging apps and with the promise of anonymity, with young women in three regions of Afghanistan. Two had jobs working with the U.N. or international nongovernmental organizations while also pursuing advanced studies. All of that is now on hold.
“They will marry me off and that is the end of my every dream, [but] I don’t want to stop fighting for my education. I don’t want to stay backward,” says Ms. A. Still, she acknowledges that working and applying her studies “is not possible in Afghanistan for the next several years.”
Such restrictions imposed on Afghan women have drawn widespread global rebuke.
After a late January visit to Afghanistan, for example, U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said the ban on women working for the U.N. and relief agencies was “a potential death blow” that could have “catastrophic” results.
“Afghanistan is going through a savage winter, the second under the Taliban,” Mr. Griffiths told reporters at a press conference. “Last winter, we managed to survive. I don’t know if we can do this indefinitely, not with these bans.”
Mr. Griffiths said the Taliban promised him that new guidelines would enable women to work in humanitarian operations, and the U.N. was “asked to be patient.” But even though the Taliban reportedly permit women to work in the health sector, officials in Kandahar ordered that those working in local clinics must be accompanied by a male guardian.
Taliban restrictions have confined Ms. S. to her family home in the capital, Kabul. She started school in 2005 and was at the top of her class every year until graduation, when she aced the national Kankor exam, chose advanced study, and later took a high-profile job.
She stopped work when the Taliban came to power, and was identified by the Taliban as someone who took part in protests to preserve women’s rights that took place shortly thereafter.
“I had an immense fear that the Taliban will arrest me, because I was leading a women-based civil society organization,” says Ms. S. “Whenever I got home, my family was thinking about me.”
Disappointed but unbowed, Ms. S. “decided to get back on my feet.” She started a master’s program in business administration.
“I had promised my parents that I would study and serve my family and my country,” she says.
But when she was about to take the final test in December, there was instead a lesson in rough Taliban enforcement.
“The teachers were trying to prevent the Taliban from entering, but they came into our class,” recalls Ms. S. “We were very scared. We said to them, ‘Please let us pass our exam.’ But they took our books from our hands. They were very disrespectful and forced us out of the university.
“All of us women were crying, and I came home crying and disappointed. I threw away all of my books. I hate pens and notebooks,” she says. “I think that all my dreams have been lost and I have wasted my efforts.”
Similar frustration is voiced in northwest Afghanistan, where Ms. N. also describes how her final exams in Mazar-e-Sharif were blocked by the Taliban – and how one commander has now complicated her life even more.
When the Monitor first spoke to Ms. N., she described living “free like a bird” before the Taliban seized power, as an activist working for women’s and children’s rights.
But then her family’s economic situation deteriorated so far, with her father unable to keep his butcher shop open under Taliban rule, that he was forced to supply away her 15-year-old sister in an underage marriage early last year – partly to pay Ms. N.’s university fees. Ms. N. said she could “never forgive herself” for that outcome.
As a personal form of resistance, Ms. N. then doubled down on her medical studies. But even that option has now evaporated.
When the Taliban banned women from higher education, her university decided to conduct all exams secretly within a week – three months early.
Yet within 10 minutes of starting the exam, “Taliban fighters entered the test room with great aggression and started beating the professors and women,” recalls Ms. N. “They beat us ceaselessly, tore our test papers, and violently dragged us from the test room.”
And that is not the only Taliban problem Ms. N. has to contend with. A commander once saw her enter university, took a photograph, and forced a university administrator to supply up her contact details.
The Taliban commander “calls and sends me messages, warning me, ‘If you don’t marry me, I will kill you and your father,’” says Ms. N. He goes to her house in a distant village once or twice a week, pressing her father for her hand.
“We are witnessing the Taliban in our society using women like slaves,” says Ms. N. “In our village, Taliban commanders want to marry for the second or third time. If the girl is not satisfied, the Taliban force her.”
The cumulative result for Ms. N. is that renewing hope is a challenge, compounded by not enough money to pay for her father’s medical treatment – or even to pay for much food or heat in the house.
“Our only effort was to acquire knowledge to save our nation and society from this bad misery,” says Ms. N.
“By banning women from education and work, the Taliban again want to make women’s lives dark. ... If a woman is not educated, then she will raise illiterate children to society, and we will not be able to solve our problems.”
Hidayatullah Noorzai contributed to this report.
In March, 1939, Hitler moved into Czechoslovakia and welded Bohemia and Moravia into a German protectorate. Eichmann was immediately appointed to set up an emigration center for Jews in Prague. (“In the beginning I was not too happy to leave Vienna, for if you have installed such an office and if you see how everything runs smoothly and in good order, you don’t like to supply it up,” Eichmann told the police examiner.) Prague was somewhat disappointing, although the system was the same in both cities: “The functionaries of the Czech Jewish organizations went to Vienna and the Viennese people came to Prague, so that I did not have to intervene at all. The model in Vienna was simply copied and carried to Prague. Thus the whole thing got started automatically.” But the Prague center was much smaller, and “I regret to say there were no people of the calibre and the energy of a Dr. Löwenherz.” But these (as it were) personal reasons for discontent were minor compared to mounting difficulties of another kind. Hundreds of thousands of Jews had left their homelands in a matter of a few years, and millions waited behind them, for the Polish and Rumanian governments now left no doubt in their official proclamations that they, too, wished to be rid of their Jews. (They could not understand why the world should get indignant if they followed in the footsteps of what one of their officials called a “great and cultured nation.”) The opportunities for Jews to find refuge within Europe had been exhausted long before, and now the avenues for overseas emigration clogged up, so even under the best of circumstances—that is, even if war had not interfered with his program—Eichmann would hardly have been able to duplicate “the Viennese miracle” in Prague. He knew this very well. Certainly Eichmann could not have been expected to greet his next appointment with any great enthusiasm. War broke out on September 1, 1939, and one month later Eichmann was called back to Berlin to succeed Müller as head of the Reich Center for Jewish Emigration. A year before, this would have been a real promotion, but now was the wrong moment. No one in his senses could possibly think any longer of a solution of the Jewish question in terms of forced emigration; not only was there the difficulty of getting people from one country to another in wartime but now, through the conquest of Polish territories, the Reich had acquired two or two and a half million more Jews. It is true that the Hitler government was still willing to let its Jews go (the order that stopped all Jewish emigration did not come until the fall of 1941), and if the Final Solution had been decided upon, nobody had as yet given orders to that effect, though Jews in the East already were concentrated in ghettos and were also being liquidated by the Einsatzgruppen—the mobile killing units of the S.S. that operated in the rear of the Army. It was only natural that emigration, however smartly organized in Berlin in accordance with Eichmann’s “assembly line” principle, should peter out by itself—a process Eichmann described by saying, “It was like pulling teeth; tendency: listless, I would say, on both sides. On the Jewish side because it was really difficult to obtain emigration possibilities to speak of, and on our side because there was no bustle and no rush, no coming and going of people. There we were, sitting in a great and mighty building, amid a yawning emptiness.” Evidently, if Jewish matters, Eichmann’s specialty, remained a matter of emigration, he would soon be out of a job.
It was not until the outbreak of the war that the Nazi regime became openly totalitarian and openly criminal. One of the most important steps in this direction, from an organizational point of view, was a decree, signed by Himmler on September 27, 1939, that fused the Security Service of the S.S., to which Eichmann had belonged since 1934, and which was a Party organ, with the regular Security Police of the state, in which the Secret State Police, or Gestapo, was included. The result of the merger was called the Head Office for Reich Security (the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or R.S.H.A.), and Heydrich was its first chief; after Heydrich’s death, in 1942, an old acquaintance of Eichmann’s from Linz, Dr. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, took over. By Himmler’s decree, all police officials—not only of the Gestapo but also of the Criminal Police and the Order Police—received S.S. titles corresponding to their previous ranks, whether or not they were Party members, and this meant that overnight one of the principal arms of the old civil service was incorporated into the most radical section of the Nazi hierarchy. As far as I know, no one protested, or resigned his job. (Himmler, the head and founder of the S.S., had since 1936 been Chief of the German Police as well, but the two apparatuses had nevertheless remained separate until now.) The R.S.H.A., moreover, was only one of twelve Head Offices in the S.S., the most important of which, in the present context, were the Head Office of the Order Police (the Hauptamt Ordnungspolizei), under General Kurt Daluege, which was responsible for the rounding up of Jews, and the Head Office for Economy and Administration (the Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt, or W.V.H.A.), under Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl, which was in charge of concentration camps and was later to be in charge of the “economic” side of the extermination.
The “objective” attitude—talking about concentration camps in terms of “administration” and about extermination camps in terms of “economy”—was typical of S.S. habits of thought, and was something that Eichmann, at the time of his trial, was still very proud of. By its “objectivity” (“Sachlichkeit”), the S.S. dissociated itself from such “emotional” types as Streicher (that “most unrealistic fool,” as Eichmann called him) and also from certain “Teutonic-Germanic party bigwigs who behaved as though they were clad in horns and pelts,” to quote Eichmann in the police examination. Since Eichmann did not like such nonsense at all, he admired Heydrich greatly, and he felt a lack of sympathy with Himmler because, among other things, the “Reichsführer S.S. and Chief of the German Police” (as Eichmann invariably referred to him), though boss of all the S.S. Head Offices, had permitted himself “at least for a long time to be influenced by it.” During the trial, however, it was not the accused who succeeded in carrying off the prize in “objectivity;” it was the counsel for the defense. A tax and business lawyer from Cologne who had never joined the Nazi Party, Dr. Servatius was nevertheless able to teach the court a lesson in what it means not to be “emotional” that no one who heard him is likely to forget. The great moment—one of the few great ones in the whole trial—occurred during the short oral plaidoyer of the defense, after which the court withdrew for four months to write its judgment. Servatius declared the accused innocent of charges bearing on his responsibility for “the collection of skeletons, sterilizations, killing by gas, and similar medical matters,” whereupon Judge Halevi interrupted him. “Dr. Servatius,” the Judge said, “I assume you made a slip of the tongue when you said that killing by gas was a medical matter,” at which point Servatius replied, “It was indeed a medical matter, since it was prepared by physicians; it was a matter of killing, and killing, too, is a medical matter.” And, perhaps to make absolutely sure that the judges in Jerusalem would not forget how Germans—ordinary Germans, not former members of the S.S., or of the Nazi Party—even today can regard acts that in other countries are called murder, he repeated the phrase in his “Comments on the Judgment of the First Instance,” prepared for the review of the case before the Supreme Court, stating that not Eichmann but one of his men, Rolf Günther, “was always engaged in medical matters.”
Each of the Head Offices was divided into sections and subsections, and the R.S.H.A. contained six (later seven) main sections. Section IV, headed by Müller, who was an S.S. Gruppenführer, or major general (the equivalent of the rank he had held in the Bavarian Police), was the bureau of the Gestapo. Its task was defined as “combatting opponents hostile to the state,” of whom there were two categories, and who were therefore dealt with by two subsections: Subsection IV-A, which handled matters concerned with Communism, Sabotage, Liberalism, and Assassinations, and Subsection IV-B, which handled matters concerned with Sects; that is, Catholics, Protestants, Freemasons, and Jews. Each of the categories in this subsection received an office of its own, designated by an arabic numeral, and Eichmann, in March of 1941, was appointed to the desk of IV-B-4 in the R.S.H.A. Since his immediate superior, the head of IV-B, turned out to be a nonentity, his real superior was always Müller. Müller’s superior was Heydrich, and later Kaltenbrunner, each of whom was, in his turn, under the command of Himmler, who received his orders directly from Hitler.
In addition to his twelve Head Offices, Himmler presided over another organizational setup, which also played an enormous role in the carrying out of the Final Solution. This consisted of the Higher S.S. and Police Leaders, who were in command of regional organizations; their chain of command did not link them with the R.S.H.A.—they were directly responsible to Himmler—and they always outranked Eichmann and the men at his disposal. The Einsatzgruppen, on the other hand, were under the command of Heydrich and the R.S.H.A.—which, of course, does not mean that Eichmann had anything to do with them. The commanders of the Einsatzgruppen also invariably held a higher rank than Eichmann. Technically and organizationally, Eichmann’s position was not very high; his post turned out to be such an important one only because the Jewish question, for purely ideological reasons, acquired a greater importance with every day and week and month of the war, until, from 1943 on, in the years of defeat, it had grown to fantastic proportions. In these years, his was still the only office that officially dealt with nothing but “the opponent, Jewry,” but actually he had lost his monopoly, because by then all offices and apparatuses—state and Party, Army and S.S.—were busy “solving” the Jewish problem. Even if we concentrate our attention only upon the police machinery and disregard all the other offices, the picture is absurdly complicated, since we have to add to the Einsatzgruppen and to the Higher S.S. and Police Leader Corps the commanders and the inspectors of the Security Police and the Security Service. Each of these several groups belonged to a separate chain of command that ultimately reached Himmler, but they were equal with respect to each other and nobody belonging to one group owed obedience to a superior officer of another group. The prosecution, it must be admitted, was in a most difficult position in that each time it wanted to pin some specific responsibility on Eichmann, it was obliged to find its way through this labyrinth of parallel institutions. (If the trial were to take place today, this task would be much easier, for the political scientist Raul Hilberg, in his book “The Destruction of the European Jews,” published in Chicago in 1961, has succeeded in presenting the first clear description of this incredibly complicated machinery of destruction.) Furthermore, it must be remembered that all these organs, wielding enormous power, were in fierce competition, which was anything but a help to their victims, since their ambition was always the same—to kill as many Jews as possible. This competitive spirit, which, of course, inspired in each man a great loyalty to his own outfit, has survived the war, only now it works in reverse: it has become each man’s desire to exonerate his own outfit at the expense of all the others. This was the explanation that Eichmann gave when he was confronted with the memoirs of Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz, in which Eichmann is accused of doing certain things that he claimed he never did and was in no position to do. He admitted easily enough that Höss had no personal reason for saddling him with deeds of which he was innocent, since their relationship had always been quite friendly; Höss, he insisted—in vain—wanted to exculpate his own outfit, the Head Office for Economy and Administration, by putting all the blame on the R.S.H.A. Something of the same sort happened in Nuremberg, where the various accused presented a nauseating spectacle by accusing each other (though none of them blamed Hitler). Still, this was not done merely to enable a man to save his own neck at the expense of somebody else’s; the men on trial represented altogether different organizations, which had a long-standing, deeply ingrained hostility to one another. Eichmann always tried to shield Müller and Heydrich, and Kaltenbrunner as well, even though Kaltenbrunner had treated him quite badly. No doubt, one of the chief mistakes of the prosecution was that its case relied too heavily on statements of former high-ranking Nazis, dead or alive; it did not see, and perhaps could not be expected to see, how dubious these documents were as sources for the establishment of facts. The judgment itself, in its evaluation of the damning testimonies of other Nazi criminals, paid no attention to this question of loyalties, but it did take into account the fact that (in the words of one of the defense witnesses) “it was customary at the time of the war-crime trials to put as much blame as possible on those who were absent or believed to be dead.”
When Eichmann entered his new office, in charge of Subsection B-4 of Section IV of the R.S.H.A., he was still confronted with this uncomfortable dilemma; namely, that, on the one hand, “forced emigration” was the official formula for the solution of the Jewish question, and, on the other hand, emigration was no longer possible. For the first (and almost the last) time in his life in the S.S., he was forced by circumstances to take an initiative—to see if he could not, in his words, “give birth to an idea.” According to the account he gave the police examiner, he was blessed with three ideas. All three of them, he had to admit, came to naught. Everything he tried on his own invariably went wrong—nothing but frustration. It was a hard-luck story if ever there was one. The inexhaustible source of troubles, as he saw it, was that he and his men were never left alone—that all these other state and Party offices wanted their share in the “solution,” with the result that a veritable army of “Jewish experts” had cropped up everywhere and were falling over themselves in their efforts to be first in a field of which they knew nothing. For these people Eichmann had the greatest contempt, partly because they were Johnnies-come-lately, partly because they tried to enrich themselves in the course of their work, and often succeeded, and partly because they were ignorant, not having read, as he had, any “basic books.”
Eichmann’s three dreams turned out to have been inspired by the two “basic books” (Herzl and Böhm), but it was also revealed that two of the three were definitely not his ideas at all, and with respect to the third—well, “I do not know any longer whether it was Stahlecker [Franz Stahlecker, his superior in Vienna and Prague] or myself who gave birth to the idea; anyhow, the idea was born.” This last idea was the first, chronologically. It was the “idea of Nisko,” and its failure was for Eichmann the clearest possible proof of the evil of interference—the guilty person in this case being Hans Frank, Governor General of the area in Poland the Nazis designated the General Government. In order to understand the Nisko plan, we must remember that right after the conquest of Poland, the Polish territories were divided between Germany and Russia. The German part consisted of the Western regions, which were incorporated into the Reich, and the Eastern area, including Warsaw (Russia got an area still farther east), which at first was treated as occupied territory and later became the General Government. As the solution of the Jewish question at this time was still “forced emigration,” with the aim of making Germany judenrein (Jewclean), it was natural that Polish Jews in the Western regions, together with whatever Jews remained in other parts of the Reich, should be shoved into the General Government, which, whatever it may have been, was not considered to be part of the Reich. By December, 1939, evacuations eastward had started, and over the next two years roughly a million Jews—six hundred thousand from the incorporated area and four hundred thousand from the Reich proper—arrived in the General Government. If Eichmann’s version of the Nisko adventure is true—and there is no reason not to believe him—he or, more likely, his Prague and Vienna superior, S.S. Brigadeführer Dr. Franz Stahlecker, must have anticipated the eastward deportations by several months. This Dr. Stahlecker (Eichmann was always careful to supply him this title) was in Eichmann’s opinion a very fine man, educated, full of reason, and “free of hatred and free from chauvinism of any kind;” in Vienna, he used to shake hands with the Jewish functionaries. A year and a half later, in the spring of 1941, this educated gentleman was appointed Commander of Einsatzgruppe A, and afterward he managed to kill by shooting, in little more than a year (he himself was killed in action in 1942), two hundred and fifty thousand Jews—as he proudly reported to Himmler himself, rather than to his own chief, Heydrich. But that came later, and now, in September, 1939, while the German Army was still busy occupying the Polish territories, Eichmann and Dr. Stahlecker began to think “privately” about how the Security Service might get its share of influence in the East. What they needed was, as Eichmann later put it, “an area as large as possible in Poland, to be carved off for the erection of an autonomous Jewish state in the form of a protectorate,” for “this could be the solution.” And off they went, on their own initiative, without orders from anybody, to reconnoitre. They went to the Radom district, on the San River, not far from the Russian border, and they “saw a huge territory, the San River, villages, market places, small towns,” and “we said to ourselves: That is what we need and why should one not resettle Poles for a change, since people are being resettled everywhere?” This, they said, would be “the solution of the Jewish question”—firm soil under their feet—at least for some time. Everything seemed to go very well at first. They spoke to Heydrich, and Heydrich agreed with what they said, and told them to go ahead. It happened—though Eichmann, in Jerusalem, had completely forgotten it—that their project fitted in very well with Heydrich’s over-all plan at this stage for the solution of the Jewish question. On September 21, 1939, he had called a meeting of the heads of departments of the R.S.H.A. and the Einsatzgruppen (they were already operating in Poland) and had given general directives for the immediate future: Jews were to be concentrated in ghettos; Councils of Jewish Elders were to be established; and all Jews were to be deported to the General Government. Eichmann had attended this meeting as representative of the Center for Jewish Emigration—as was proved at the trial by means of the minutes, which Bureau 06 of the Israeli Police had discovered in the United States National Archives, in Washington. Hence, Eichmann’s (or, more probably, Stahlecker’s) initiative amounted to no more than a concrete plan for carrying out Heydrich’s directives. And now thousands of people, chiefly from Austria, were deported helter-skelter into this godforsaken place, which, an S.S. officer explained to them, “the Führer has promised the Jews [as] a new homeland.” The officer went on to tell them, “There are no dwellings; there are no houses. If you build, there will be a roof over your heads. There is no water; the wells all around carry disease; there is cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. If you bore and find water, you will have water.” As one can see, “everything looked marvellous,” Eichmann said, except that the S.S. expelled some of the Jews from this paradise into Russia, and others soon had the good sense to escape of their own volition. But thereafter, Eichmann complained, “the obstructions began from the side of Hans Frank”—whom they had forgotten to inform, although this was “his” territory. “Frank complained in Berlin, and a great tug of war started. Frank wanted to solve his Jewish question all by himself. He did not want to receive any more Jews in his General Government. Those who had arrived should, he said, disappear immediately.” And they did disappear; they were actually repatriated, which had never happened before and never happened again, and those who returned to Vienna were registered in the police records as “returning from vocational training”—a curious relapse into the pro-Zionist stage of the movement.
University lecturers and other higher education workers at all 150 UK universities completed three days of strike action Thursday. The 70,000 University and College Union (UCU) members are striking for better pay and conditions and against the gutting of their pensions.
This week’s industrial action completes nine of a scheduled 18 days of intermittent stoppages being held in February and March.
The UCU is seeking to end the strike with a sellout deal and is involved in negotiations with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) at the conciliation service Acas. It is joined in the talks by other unions in dispute with university employersthe EIS, the GMB, UNISON and Unite. Ahead of the talks, UCU leader Jo Grady said, “Our union is determined to reach a negotiated settlement which allows staff to get back to work and students to continue their studies uninterrupted.”
Prior to the latest strikes, the UCU bureaucracy insisted a below-inflation pay offer from UCEA was put to an electronic ballot, even while saying it was “worth only 5% for most UCU members.” In the survey, over 30,000 members voted to throw out the offer by a margin of 80 percent.
The UCU calculated that the employers would return with a slightly increased pay deal the bureaucracy could again put before the membership, claiming this as its extraction a victory. The union complained in a statement on February 8, “Despite staff emphatically rejecting the 5% pay award, employers have not yet responded with an improved offer.”
The employers have no interest in making any concessions, despite the first national strike by university workers taking place almost four months ago. A UCU statement noted that the employers “have admitted it would cost just 3% of their reserves [more than £44 billion] to settle UCU’s pay claim.”
Simon is a Professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield. He explained, “There’s been an ongoing, long-term issue around the massive reductions in the worth of the pensions in the Universities Superannuation Scheme. The other issues are low pay, casualisation, pay inequalities, particularly gender-based pay gap, and job security.
“Lots of our colleagues are on various short-term, insecure contracts with hourly rates. This is something that’s grown over the course of my career from an exception to being the norm. We want a return to a proper profession where you can make a decent living.
“Stress levels make things really hard. This round of strike action is 18 days which is a huge challenge for many members of staff to participate in financially, but it shows the level of determinations that there are so many people out here in this important action.
“The Conservative government doesn’t want to negotiate as they hate universities and higher education. Generally, they’re setting out their stall to defeat strikes across a whole host of different sectors.”
Simon said of rail, National Health Service and other workers involved in ongoing industrial action, “I do very much see this as part of the same struggle. What’s happened in the railways and in schools is part of the same story as what’s happening in universities.
“I hope for these to be united in a broader political movement… We had a one-day action in common with teachers and other educators. I think there are prospects for us to be more united… Being part of that bigger struggle is good for us because people care about nurses and teachers in ways that they haven’t thought of academics. There’s greater strength in bringing these disputes together.”
Asked his view on billions of pounds being made available to fund NATO’s war in Ukraine, Simon responded, “Economically, there is a link between military spending and budgets for social services such as education. We’re dealing with a government that, even in terms of the history of the Tory party, has moved a long way to the right. It’s unsurprising that they’re boosting militarism. I wish our priorities were different, as it means money not going into hospitals, schools, and universities.”
Patrick, a Mathematics and Physics lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, said, “The attacks on the education system has an effect on my colleagues here that’s most visible in terms of workloads and work intensification. This has always been one of the driving priorities for me and a lot of my colleagues since we were out on strike before the pandemic in 2018 and 2019 and the issue has not gone away.
“There is a common struggle amongst us and workers at Sheffield Further Education (FE) Collegeand at the University of Sheffield International College (USIC)over work intensification. Before I worked here, I worked at USIC and at an FE college in the North East so I know how hard they’ve got it. I left the job because I had no time to myself. I’d done my contracted hours by Thursday morning.
“Strike action by all these sections of educators is long overdue. Their workload situation isn’t too different to teachers in primary and secondary schools… At USIC, the main issue is the paltry annual increase in wages compared to inflation.
“It would be really positive to join up our common industrial disputes across the UK… More broadly, I’m in favour of a more generalised mass movement of workers across the continent against austerity.”
Donna, a UCU rep at Sheffield Hallam University said, “There’s been a rise of fixed-term, insecure, short-term contacts. We have junior staff who may have degrees, masters’, PhDs and they’re sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring to get a few hours work. If there’s nothing here in Sheffield, they may go to Nottingham Trent or Sheffield College, as they may be on the books at several places. It’s exhausting having to do this.
“My predecessors came over from Ireland and they’d stand on the street corner in the hope that a builder would supply them a day’s labour. It’s the equivalent today.
“I was a part of the last cohort of students that didn’t have to pay tuition fees and loans and who got a full grant. Now I’m teaching people from working-class backgrounds that can’t afford to travel for higher education, who are still shelling out nearly £10,000 per year for their course.
“Infrastructure is being systematically underfunded. I work in a building that has had two ceiling collapses in the past six months. The very fabric of our teaching environment is falling apart.
“The humanities are being attacked, with some arts and education courses being cancelled. Other courses are being combined. There is a government and university management drive to build courses around business requirements and employability. They decide that arts and humanities aren’t vocational, so the educational diet offered to students here is limited, focussed on sport, management, tourism and hospitality, and health. These are valid subjects, but you can whistle if you want philosophy or history.
“They’re looking for other markets such as recruiting international students who pay higher fees… They see international students as ‘units of income,’ which I’ve heard them referred to as in meetings. They’re monetising education for international and domestic students.”
Lecturer Gary on the picket line at Huddersfield University has worked in software engineering in the Department of Computing and Engineering for 20 years. He said, “In the arts and humanities, where they had significant redundancies last summer that school has a large number of people on short term contracts. They’ve closed most of the linguistics, have closed some of the other areas of arts and humanities. There's not much left now in drama or textiles and other areas.
“The vice chancellor at this university is paid more than many Oxbridge colleges. It’s hard to get solid financial data because the accounts are not always published on time, but it can’t be short of £400,000 plus his pension and chauffeur-driven Jag.”
But for teaching staff, “Pay has been cut by some 20 percent over the last 10 years. It is the equivalent to working for free for about one day a week.”
At Manchester Metropolitan University, lecturer Matt said, “We’re just not given enough time to do everything which needs to be done. You know, we’re supposed to do world-quality research, offer world-class service, do a lot of admin, keep things moving and we’re just not giving enough time to do it. We've had a 25 percent pay cut since 2008. For a lot of younger colleagues, especially further down the scales, that is hitting them very hard.”
This article was produced by Our Schools. Jeff Bryant is a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm.
“I am the type of parent who always made sure my kids had the good teachers and always took the right classes,” said Esther Kempthorne in an interview with Our Schools. So, in 2014, when she moved with her husband and two daughters to their new home in Washington County, Maine, in a bucolic corner of the state, near the Canadian border, she made it a top priority to find a school that would be the right educational fit for their children.
“We settled in Washington County hoping to supply our children the experience of attending one high school, making lasting friendships, and finally putting down some roots,” said Esther’s husband, Nathan, whose career in the military had sent the Kempthorne family traveling the world, changing schools more than 20 times in 17 years. “Both of our children were born on military bases while I was on active duty with the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force,” said Nathan, whose role in military intelligence often meant that he was deployed to high-risk assignments in war zones.
“We said that when we got to Maine, we weren’t going to keep bouncing from school to school,” said Esther.
But after some firsthand experience with the education programs provided by the local public schools, the Kempthornes decided to investigate other options the state offers. One of those options was the state’s provision that allows parents who live in a district that doesn’t have a school matching their child’s grade level the choice to leave the public system and transfer their children to private schools, with the “home” public school district picking up the cost of tuition and transportation, subject to state allowance.
Because the rural district the Kempthornes lived in did not have a high school, they took advantage of that option to enroll their daughters—at taxpayer expense—in Washington Academy, an elite private school founded in 1792 that offers a college track curriculum and access to classes taught by faculty members from a nearby university.
Their decision to leave the public school system for Washington Academy seemed all the better when Esther, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Mexico, got a full-time job teaching Spanish at the school.
Thinking back on how the Kempthorne family negotiated the school choice landscape in Maine, Nathan recalled, “I thought we were finally going to be okay.”
But the Kempthornes weren’t okay. Far from it, in 2021, the Kempthornes found themselves in the front seat of their car while they were traveling in another state, using Nathan’s iPhone to call in via Zoom and provide testimony to a Maine legislative committee on why Washington Academy, and other schools like it, pose significant threats to families like theirs and how the state needs to more heavily regulate privately operated schools that get taxpayer funding.
Fighting through tears, they spoke of “racism” and “bullying” at Washington Academy and the school administration’s unwillingness to acknowledge and address the school’s culture.
In his written testimony, Nathan wrote of “a disturbing pattern of systemic racism and institutionalized oppression, harassment, and bullying behavior based on race, ethnicity, country of origin, gender, and sexual orientation that has occurred for years at [Washington Academy].”In her letter of resignation from the school, presented to the committee, Esther wrote of a school environment where she and her daughters, who identify as Hispanic, experienced “racist, anti-immigrant sentiments.” She wrote, “As the racist anti-immigrant rhetoric became more mainstream, we had to teach our daughters how to defend themselves without our intervention, and they did. However, such self-defense has been exhausting and stressful for my children, and it should not be their responsibility to constantly deflect harassment; rather they should be guaranteed a safe educational environment by school leaders.”
Although their daughters eventually graduated from Washington Academy and went on to college, the family became totally uprooted because of their experience at the school. Nine years after building their dream home in rural Maine, they now find themselves living in an apartment in New York City, embroiled in a years-long battle with Washington Academy and Maine officials, which has absorbed countless hours of their time and thousands of dollars of their life savings.
Esther has been unable to reenter the classroom as a full-time teacher due to the lingering effects of the traumatic experiences she had from teaching at Washington Academy, and both parents and daughters speak of long-term adverse mental health effects stemming from the years they spent at the school.
“We sold everything,” Nathan said in his spoken testimony to the committee. “We lost everything in your state and we left for our safety. Our children are completely traumatized. They lost all their friends.”
The Kempthornes’ story about the consequences of leaving the public education system for a private school is a cautionary tale about what can happen when a system designed to provide parents with taxpayer-supported private school options fails to consider the potential risks when students and parents transfer to these schools that are less subject to government oversight.
Their story is even more significant given the current trend across the country where states have increasingly been adopting charter schools, voucher programs, education savings accounts, “backpack funding,” and other so-called school choice options that use taxpayer money to fund alternatives to the public system.
These options are favored by politicians on the right and left, and, at least one state, Arizona, has a voucher program called the Empowerment Scholarship Account Program, which every student in the state is eligible to tap.
This rapid expansion of school choice options is taking place even though there is ample anecdotal evidence and a growing body of research showing that parents in a school choice marketplace often make questionable choices they sometimes come to regret.
As the Kempthornes came to learn, private education providers that are not governed within the public domain pose legal problems that parents often either don’t know about or don’t understand, and local and state government officials often either have no authority to intercede on parents’ behalf or are reluctant to assert what little authority they do have.
The Kempthorne family’s saga, which is still enduring, is a sharp counterpoint to advocates who promote school choice as a simplistic solution for families without acknowledging that transferring taxpayer-funded education services from the public to the private realm will actually complicate parents’ and students’ lives.
The first time Esther became fully aware of the racist culture simmering below the privileged veneer at Washington Academy was when, a week after Donald Trump had won the 2016 presidential election, a student stood up in her class and asked when she would be “going home,” which she took to mean as being a reference to her Mexican heritage.
When she described the incident to her family, her story seemed to trigger her daughters to recount how frequently their peers had told them to “go back to where you came from” and to make references to “build the wall” and other anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Trump campaign.
“It got really weird really fast after Trump got elected,” Nathan told Our Schools. “What had been less overt got more direct.”
“Because I am from Mexico and was the only Hispanic and [adult] of color in the school, I knew why this was happening,” Esther said. While she understood that “impressionable” teenagers might “parrot” what powerful influencers like Trump say, she felt adults in the school had a responsibility to address the situation. But when she started talking to her colleagues about it, her fellow teachers and school staff members dismissed her concerns with comments about “kids just being kids” and saying that the behaviors were just the “latest fad” that would end soon. Some chided her for being “political.”
“This was painful for me because I was, after all, the only person of color [on the staff] and the only one bringing up the issue,” Esther said.
In 2019, after a shooting in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart, in which victims were targeted for their Hispanic heritage, the Kempthornes asked to talk to Washington Academy administrators and faculty about the treatment of nonwhite students in the school.
Esther suggested that there should be a school-wide buildup to national events related to race, such as National Hispanic Heritage Month and Black History Month, but it became apparent to her that if that were to happen, she would have to lead it, and that made her feel vulnerable.
While administrators pledged to address the issue of racism in the school, it became apparent to the Kempthornes that some school staff were reluctant to admit there was a problem. Ultimately, the Kempthornes maintain little was done other than to mention the issue during a student assembly.
“I felt very alone,” Esther said.
Matters took a decidedly scarier turn in March 2020, when Esther found a noose hanging from a window shade in her classroom. Initially, she didn’t know what it meant.
“In Mexico, a noose is a confession of suicidal thoughts,” she said, so she wondered if its presence was related to the mental health of one of her students. But her school was about to go remote due to COVID, and she didn’t mention the incident to school administrators or anyone else.
It was only after she heard about a news story from Deer Isle, Maine, about a noose discovered hanging from a utility line, that she mentioned the incident to her husband who told her about the racist threat the symbol was meant to convey. That made her recall exact incidents in which students brought Confederate flags to school, and she put the two things together.
The Kempthornes’ youngest daughter, Natalia (now Natalia Kempthorne-Curiel), asked current and former Washington Academy students to send her their stories about incidents of discrimination occurring at the school, which she compiled and sent in a letter to the school’s administration.
Several anecdotes mentioned in Natalia’s letter stem from a Black Lives Matter rally that students helped organize in which, “Students and former students at the rally lined up their trucks with big American flags waving in the back and drove past the Black Lives Matter protest multiple times yelling ‘go home,’ flipping them off, and playing ‘Dixie’ loudly over their truck horn[s].”
“Multiple students reported that white students routinely flew Confederate flags on school grounds,” read another entry in the letter, “with no repercussions.”
International students at the academy seem to have been a particular target for abuse, according to several comments included in the letter, and “were afraid to report acts of racism or xenophobia because they feared retaliation, and because the perpetrators would not be held accountable for their actions.”
In addition to her letter, Natalia also posted an online petition accusing Washington Academy and its board of trustees of creating “a systemic and institutionalized culture of discrimination within our school” and calling for the school administration to take several steps to address “harassment and discrimination” in the school.
Feeling disappointed in the school’s response to their grievances, the Kempthornes embarked on an extensive campaign to contact a broad range of officials and organizations outside of the school.
Local officials, many of whom had business and professional relationships with Washington Academy board members and administrators, were slow to respond to the family’s complaints or took no action at all. The Maine Education Association, the statewide union Esther had joined, claimed it was prevented from interceding on her behalf because the school is private.
Written appeals the family made to 19 members of state government—including a U.S. senator, a U.S. House representative, committee chairs in the Maine House and Senate, the Maine Department of Education commissioner, the Maine attorney general, and the governor—to request support received responses that ranged from merely officious to sympathetic, but failed to result in any concrete actions.
The state legislative hearing that the Kempthornes provided testimony to was so hastily thrown together that Nathan and Esther weren’t able to schedule their appearances in advance, so they had to call from the front seat of their car, while they were traveling out-of-state.
Even though Maine has a statutory provision that prohibits discrimination, the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC), which is responsible for enforcing it, proved to be reluctant to apply its regulatory authority to a prestigious private academy. (In an apparent conflict of interest, at the time the Kempthornes were making their appeals, Arnold Clark was chair of the MHRC and an attorney working out of an office from the same address as attorney Dennis Mahar, who serves on the Washington Academy board of trustees and once served as the board’s president, according to Nathan.)
The Kempthornes hired an attorney for their case, but the legal fees eventually exceeded their wherewithal.
Even their closest friends in the community demurred from speaking out on their behalf.
With their oldest daughter already having moved away from home and attending college, and Natalia eligible for early graduation from Washington Academy, the Kempthornes began to think about moving away. When close acquaintances advised them to leave for safety reasons it seemed to solidify their decision and in August 2020, they put their house up for sale and left Maine.
But their contempt for Washington Academy remains. “Neither as a parent or a teacher did I ever get a [written communication] from Washington Academy’s Head of School Judson McBrine or Assistant Headmaster Tim Reynolds [now retired] that they were aware of the open discrimination and were taking steps to address it,” said Esther. It wasn’t until after her resignation, in July 2020, and more than a month after her daughter Natalia had reported intense discrimination, that Esther received a short email from McBrine to discuss her resignation letter.
In September 2020, a local television station reported that at least one of Nathan’s letters about the noose incident had prompted Washington County lawmakers to request the state attorney general to conduct an inquiry into the matter. McBrine is quoted as saying, “We will not tolerate racism at Washington Academy.”
In January 2021, local news outlet WGME reported that Washington Academy had hired an outside investigator to conduct an investigation about the noose incident. The investigation “could not substantiate the allegation, according to an attorney representing the school,” WGME reported.
The lawyer the school chose to conduct the investigation worked for Eaton Peabody in Bangor, which specializes in representing employers, not employees, according to its description of the firm’s experience in handling labor and employment cases. The investigating attorney, Sarah Newell, also represents employers, according to her legal profile, which spotlights her successful litigations, including that she “[s]uccessfully defended a disability discrimination case before the Maine Human Rights Commission,” and, “[s]uccessfully defended a nursing home in labor arbitration.”
Also, after the Kempthornes left Maine, in August 2020, Washington Academy announced in November 2020 that it had hired a firm to conduct an “equity audit” of the school, the results of which were posted on the school’s website in May 2021. To conduct the audit, the school hired Boston-based Carney Sandoe and Associates, a firm that, according to its website, works exclusively with “independent, private, boarding, and charter schools,” mostly on faculty recruitment and leadership searches.
According to the Kempthornes, no one from Carney Sandoe and Associates reached out for their input for the audit, but when Nathan heard of the audit, he contacted the firm’s diversity consultant at the time, Lawrence Alexander, who spoke briefly with Nathan, but never contacted Esther or Natalia.
“He really didn’t want to talk with us,” said Nathan.
Elizabeth Sprague first met Esther Kempthorne when a local advocacy group Sprague participated in invited Natalia to speak to the group about her environmental advocacy work at Washington Academy.
A few months after Natalia spoke to the group, Sprague came across an unsettling message on her social media feed from a follower who expressed feelings of being personally unsafe at work. In an exchange of messages that ensued, Sprague learned the follower was Esther, and the unsafe place was Washington Academy.
“When I found out it was Washington Academy, I was not surprised,” said Sprague. Other parents she knew had complained to her about the culture in the school. Two teachers at the school had spoken to her about feeling the need to self-censor their comments about the school’s culture because of religious fervor that was rife in the school, even though the school is officially nonsectarian.
Sprague, who grew up in the Washington County area and has family members who’ve lived there since the 1600s, said Washington Academy has long been regarded as an “aspiring” school. Sprague attended the school in her freshman year of high school, and she had a family member who taught there. “He was very evangelical,” she said, and “proselytized” students in the classroom, with, apparently, no interference from the school administration.Washington Academy is one of several Maine “town academies” that benefit from what’s known as “town tuitioning,” in which private schools receive public funding from districts that “tuition out” students to the schools rather than paying to educate them in their “home” district. These Maine academies had from 80.4 to 99.3 percent of their student enrollments funded with public dollars in the fiscal
year 2020-2021. Most of them also obtain additional income by operating expensive residential programs that enroll students, often from countries outside the U.S.
The practice of using town tuitioning programs as alternatives to providing public schools started in Vermont, according to Education Week, but has since spread to New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, as well as Maine.
Supporters of these programs call them a “model of educational choice,” according to Education Week, and although supporters of vouchers haven’t always held up town academies as their ideal, they’ve more recently been describing them as the “oldest school choice program in the nation” and calling for expanding them so that all students are eligible to attend the town academies.
But the rationale for having town academies and funding them with public money seems to no longer hold, if it ever did.
“A common myth is that town academies in New England exist in rural areas which have a scarcity of public schools due to the relatively low population density of families with school-aged children and a lack of funding to support district schools,” according to Bruce Baker, an education professor at the University of Miami in Florida. “But that’s not the reality.”
According to Baker, many of these schools started in the early 1800s, or earlier, as private secondary schools for their communities prior to the existence of public high schools “and in many cases,” prior to the creation of the nation’s system of public common schools. “Some, like Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester, Vermont, were originally funded by local businessmen,” he noted.
Given that origin, town academies that are in operation today are “holdovers,” according to Baker, “of what were once proxy public schools that never converted to district public schools,” although a few have, such as Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans, Vermont, which converted from private to public in 2008.
Contrary to the town academy narrative, some of the schools are in communities that have sufficient populations to educate school-aged children. For instance, New Bedford Academy in New Bedford, Massachusetts, is located in a city with a population exceeding 100,000, according to the 2021 U.S. census. Norwich Free Academy is located in Norwich, Connecticut, a community with a population of more than 40,000.
Also, the notion that town academies are needed in Maine because public schools are few and far between seems hardly the case. “The distances between publicly funded town academies and competing public high schools in Maine is often negligible,” Nathan Kempthorne wrote in an email, pointing out that the distance between Washington Academy and Machias Memorial High School in Machias is only 4.2 miles, and John Bapst Memorial High School, a town academy in Bangor, is only 2.5 miles from Bangor High School and 2.1 miles from Brewer High School.
Public schools in rural communities are quite commonplace. “More than 9.3 million—or nearly one in five students in the U.S.—attend a rural school,” according to a 2019 report by the Rural School and Community Trust. “This means that more students in the U.S. attend rural schools than in the nation’s 85 largest school districts combined.”
Whereas rural public schools are subject to the same government oversight that all public schools are subject to, that oversight does not extend to private schools, even when they get a substantial portion of their funding from the public.
“In private schools, students end up losing basic constitutional rights and essentially don’t have due process rights,” Todd DeMitchell told Our Schools. DeMitchell is a professor emeritus at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester who studies laws governing school policies and the impact of court cases on these policies.According to him, if the Kempthornes had their children enrolled in public schools they would have had access to certain rights protected by the U.S. Constitution, including Title 6, which addresses race, and Title 9, which addresses discrimination on the basis of sex. Washington Academy, being a private school, is exempt from these protections.
DeMitchell pointed to a 1987 decision by a federal court that ruled a private academy in New Hampshire had the right to fire a teacher who, contrary to school policy, grew a beard, because the school argued successfully that it was “not a state actor,” according to DeMitchell. That ruling’s logic has been extended to a potential 2023 U.S. Supreme Court case in which a North Carolina charter school is arguing that it has the right to require girl students to wear skirts at school because it also is not a state actor. (Charter schools are also privately operated schools that are funded almost exclusively with public money.)
Along with their problematic funding rationale, town academies also have issues with being truly diverse and inclusive schools. For instance, they’ve “long struggled” to serve students with disabilities, according to Baker. And the student populations of these town academies tend to be more white and affluent than their surrounding communities, with any purported claims of student diversity being largely due to their enrollments of international students in residential programs.
According to a 2017 report on Vermont’s town academies by ProPublica, “Of the almost 2,800 Vermonters who use publicly funded vouchers to go to private schools in state, 22.5 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunch, according to state education data. (The data excludes out-of-state private schools.) By contrast, 38.3 percent of public school students in Vermont have family incomes low enough to qualify them for the lunch discount.”
These tendencies toward serving select populations of students likely lead to problems with creating an inclusive school culture, as is noted in a letter from “community members” of the John Bapst Memorial High School town academy in Maine.
Much like Natalia’s letter to Washington Academy, the letter from the John Bapst community members provides numerous testimonials of incidents and school conditions that reflect racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, misogyny, and economic discrimination.
“Many of the issues being brought to light within this letter are rooted in the demographics of John Bapst,” the document states.
“In hindsight, I clearly did not do enough research,” Nathan now admits. But is it really that simple?
Like most families, the Kempthornes feel they know what’s best for their children, including their education, but the couple perhaps seems especially amply prepared for that role.
Although Nathan had dropped out of high school, he joined the military and earned his GED, getting 96 percent of his credits while on active duty on base. He completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees using the GI Bill. “There was no way I was going to have a child and not have a college degree,” he said.
Esther received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from a university in Mexico and had frequently worked for the state department during their deployments. When she got part-time work in Maine, teaching Spanish in nearby Machias Memorial High School and Milbridge Elementary School, she seemed especially well positioned to research potential new schools for their children.
But after the Kempthornes enrolled their daughters in the local public school, it didn’t take long for them to realize their children were academically far ahead of their peers (Natalia skipped a grade in her elementary school). While the elementary school was “tolerable,” they were concerned their daughters would flounder in the local secondary schools.
Also, Esther and Nathan felt their daughters, who identified as Hispanic, would benefit from schools with a more racially diverse student population.
The reputations of the local secondary schools were not particularly sterling. Machias Memorial High School, where Esther taught, did not impress her, and a closer secondary school, Narraguagus Junior-Senior High School, was generally considered low performing among parents. Certainly, the reputations of those schools were not helped by the poor ratings they get on the popular school rating site Great Schools.
Also, the Kempthornes could not help but notice how under-resourced their local schools were.
According to an annual analysis of education funding compiled by the Education Law Center for the year 2022, Maine has an uneven track record in funding education. While the analysis gives the state a grade of “A” for the level of per-pupil revenue it provides to schools, compared to other states, it grades Maine an “F” for how the state distributes education funding to school districts with high levels of student poverty.
A similar school finance profile for 2019-2020 gives Maine’s financial commitment to schools 62 points out of a 100-point scale, but notes that while the state is “a high effort state” compared to other states, its current effort level is below its pre-recession (2006) level, and, “Educational opportunity in [Maine] is severely unequal.”
In addition to the funding disparities, the Kempthornes also noticed how much Maine’s public education policy emphasized career and technical education (CTE), a term recently coined to replace what’s traditionally been called vocational education. That emphasis is reflected in the state’s recent commitment of $25 million to a two-year initiative to fund students to get paid work experiences with employers. On the website of Machias Memorial High, the school’s CTE program is the only content area described under the heading of “academics.”
“We kind of panicked when we thought we’d have to move again because of subpar education,” Nathan recalled. Their commitment to move to Maine and build their dream home near a picturesque seashore had been years in the making. To finance the move, Nathan had taken more dangerous assignments for the higher pay, and the family had scrimped on expenses to save up for the construction of their new home.
Given their situation, it’s understandable why the Kempthornes would be attracted to a school like Washington Academy. According to Private School Review, “85 percent of graduates [of the school] go on to post-secondary programs, college, or university.” The school’s academic program ranges from “hands-on courses in marine technology and computer-aided design to AP classes in advanced math and literature to college courses taught by [Washington Academy] faculty and online through our university partners,” according to the school website.
Further, the school offered the more ethnically and racially diverse student body the Kempthornes wanted. Of its population of roughly 90-some boarding students—nearly a quarter of the roughly 400 student enrollment—most come from outside the U.S., according to the Kempthornes, primarily from China.
“When we toured Washington Academy,” Nathan recalled, “the differences in resources and course offerings between it and the local public schools were stark.”
And with the tuition being funded by the public, what families would turn that down?
In describing the reality of the school choice landscape the Kempthornes confronted in Maine, Nathan could be speaking for an increasing number of American families when he said, “Either you accept a system in which you have zero recourse to discrimination or you accept subpar education in a system in which you have at least some rights.”
What kind of choice is that?
Advocates for school choice prefer to ignore that question. “Their idea of an education free market is predicated on caveat emptor,” as Todd DeMitchell put it, “even if parents often don’t have the information at hand to make those kinds of decisions.”
While it’s hard to believe the Kempthornes should have known the situation they were walking into, it’s even harder to argue that they should have just accepted it.But in a school choice playing field that so unevenly advantages the education provider over the parent, the question becomes, “Who really has the choice, the parent or the school?” according to DeMitchell. “When a school has a particular kind of culture, who really has the choice? The school is effectively saying, We choose to allow you to be discriminated against. And that’s your choice?”
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The eight men wearing black, hooded sweatshirts and ski masks seemed to appear out of nowhere as Monterrious Harris sat in his car outside his cousin's apartment on Jan. 4.
They shouted profanities and ordered him out of the car, he later recalled.
"I will shoot you!" one of the men said, according to Harris. "I will shoot you!"
Harris said he quickly threw the black Chrysler 300 into reverse. Then he saw tactical vests worn by the men and realized they might be law enforcement. He got out and raised his hands. The officers swarmed him with punches, he said.
Among the Memphis police officers who surrounded Harris were the same five men charged with fatally beating motorist Tyre Nichols at a traffic stop just three days later, according to police records obtained by The Washington Post.
Lawyers for Harris this week filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in federal court in Tennessee against the city of Memphis and the officers, alleging the city and officers had violated Harris' civil rights and sanctioned an unconstitutional system of policing. A police spokeswoman said the department does not comment on pending litigation.
Harris is among a number of Memphis residents who have come forward since Nichols' killing to describe violent tactics allegedly used by the Memphis Police Department, which is now confronting deepening questions about the supervision and training of its officers.
The five officers who were fired and charged in Nichols' death were members of Scorpion unit, the most significant crime-fighting measure during the 20-month tenure of Memphis police Chief Cerelyn Davis, celebrated in public announcements of monthly tallies of guns, drugs and cash seized.
The unit's strategy of "hotspot" policing is now under scrutiny, along with the broader culture of a department that has struggled to hire officers as crime has risen in the city. Memphis Police Department officials they are conducting a review of the Scorpion unit and other specialized groups within the department.
"The unit did good work," Davis said of the Scorpion unit in an interview with The Post on Jan. 27. The unit arrested more than 2,000 violent felons and seized more than 800 illegal guns, she said. "This group, we believe, went off the rails that night."
People familiar with the department say it must wrestle with deeper challenges, including an acute staffing crisis. Memphis police were down to 1,938 officers by the second week of February, after losing 22 officers in the past month alone, according to city data. Memphis officials have said they have been aggressively recruiting to reach a goal of 2,300 officers by the end of the year.
In an effort to bring in more recruits, department officials changed the requirements and standards for joining the force, such as easing the physical fitness requirements and softening restrictions on hiring applicants with criminal convictions. The short staffing and long hours took a toll in an environment in which there were not enough seasoned managers in the department, according to one former officer who recently left.
"If you're constantly overworked, constantly around bad guys — rapists, robbers and guys that want to do people harm — and you don't have that buffer in senior leadership saying, 'Don't take this stuff personally,' it really will envelop you," said the former officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal dynamics. "Honestly, this was inevitable, whether it was these guys or somebody else."
As the city processes one of the most violent cases of police brutality ever recorded, Memphis leaders are asking themselves the same question being debated in many communities nationwide about policing: Were these five officers evidence of institutional rot, or were they rogue actors now casting a dark shadow over a healthy police department?
Local officials are also questioning the leadership of Davis, who rose to national prominence as the outspoken, reform-minded Durham police chief in North Carolina after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020. She upset tradition as the first outsider hired to lead the Memphis Police Department in decades. Davis did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
"There is no way it can be an isolated incident," said Democratic Memphis City Council CoChair J.B. Smiley, 35, who is Black. "It seems to be a police culture — not just in Memphis but across the country — where officers seem to move as if they are above the law."
Bill Gibbons, president of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, said the officers he knows in the department were horrified and saddened by the video of Nichols' beating.
"I do not think that the conduct that you've seen from these officers is a reflection of the culture at the Memphis Police Department," said Gibbons, 72, who is white. "Every law enforcement agency is going to end up with some bad apples."
'Man, that sounds awesome'
On Jan. 7, two officers stopped at an intersection, blue lights flashing against the night sky. A voice over the radio told them that Nichols, who had sprinted down the street after an officer Tasered him, had been found. One of the officers faced the empty crossing.
"I hope they stomp his (expletive)," Officer Preston Hemphill said, according to a recording later released by the police department.
Footage showed five officers with the Scorpion unit doing just that. They kicked, shocked, pepper sprayed and punched Nichols as he crumpled in pain, repeatedly asking the officers "please stop" and crying out for his mother.
The prescient declaration by Hemphill, who was not among those who beat Nichols but was also fired, reflected the sort of bravado the former Scorpion unit officer said he often heard from older, supervising officers. The former officer, who worked in another group within the unit before recently leaving the department, knows each of the five officers charged with killing Nichols.
"Decades ago, it was said, if you run, you're going to get beat up. That changed," the former officer said. "But you still have lieutenants who talk about how great it was back in the day, because if somebody punched you, you sent them to the hospital. So then you get these rookies on that say, 'Man, that sounds awesome.'"
The former officer described a unit devoid of middle managers who might temper the impulses of inexperienced officers. Instead, the unit was staffed with officers who had less than 10 years on the job, owing to an officer shortage and work schedules that shifted day to day, discouraging older officers from applying. The former officer said officers were asked to police violence-plagued neighborhoods and given informal permission to engage in car-chase scenarios forbidden by department policy.
And the officers were overworked, the former officer said, clocking more than 70 hours per week, while earning thousands of dollars in overtime pay. The department did not respond to a request for comment on the officer's assessment.
While some officers in the unit recognized its flaws, city officials said they saw few indications the Scorpion unit had become a problem. The department revealed on Jan. 31 that four of the five officers had received past discipline from the department, including for failing to properly file paperwork regarding use of force. But Memphis City Council members and the head of the citizen review board said they had not heard complaints naming the individuals or the unit in its 14 months of existence.
That changed after Nichols' death. Multiple people across Memphis began to share stories with journalists and civil rights attorneys of Memphis police officers quickly resorting to violence, often without explanation. The Memphis Police Department declined to comment on individual cases, saying it is "working to learn more about these incidents and will follow up when the review is complete."
Harris said in an interview that his forehead hit the concrete sidewalk on the night he encountered officers. He was arrested for possession of 35.2 grams of marijuana, about an ounce, and unlawful possession of a firearm among other related charges, according to police records. Police said Harris had driven toward officers, tried to evade them on foot, and disregarded their demands before he was detained. The charging document did not mention any physical confrontation.
Harris's attorney, Robert Spence, in the lawsuit, said the gun belonged to Harris's cousin, who brought it into the car without telling Harris. Spence also denied that Harris had drugs on him, saying in an interview, "They totally fabricated that. ... That is the fabricated pretext for the stop."
Spence said he requested bodycamera footage from the police department last week but has not heard back. Harris was still healing from cuts and bruises when the video of Nichols getting Tasered and hit by police was released on Jan. 27.
"I felt bad because I came home to my family, but he didn't make it to his," Harris told The Post. Since his confrontation with police, Harris said he has tried to stay at home as much as possible to avoid law enforcement.
"There is a pattern of activity by this unit," said Robert Spence, Harris's attorney. "It's a culture within the department where they will brutalize citizens and violate the law."
In different incident in June, a white car pulled over Darick Lane, 32, in the Hickory Hills neighborhood because, Lane and the police department said, the windows of his Nissan Altima were tinted.
He said the officers, including Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, yanked him out of the car window, one holding him by his feet and the other by his arms. They threatened to shoot him if he moved, put him in handcuffs and then searched his car, according to Lane and his attorney, Alexander Wharton, in interviews. Wharton said he has not requested bodycamera footage because Lane has not expressed interest in pursuing civil action.
The police department, in charging documents, said officers stopped Lane for tinted windows, smelled a "strong odor" of marijuana, "conducted a pat down" and found a pistol in his pocket. The officers detained him for the "odor of illegal narcotics" and charged him with unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, among others. The charges were later dropped.
In August, Tikee Patrick, 46, said police beat up her son, 23-year-old Tyson Walker, while he was waiting for a tow truck for his sister and her boyfriend. She said the officers had asked him to get out of his sister's boyfriend's vehicle without explanation. Walker said he asked the police what he had done wrong, and then, when one officer tried to grab him, replied, "Officer, you don't have to touch me. I will step out the car myself," according to a transcript of his statement to police. Then, the officers started beating him up.
Seven of the officers were uniformed and not part of the Scorpion unit, and one was dressed in all black and possibly a member of the unit, according to Patrick. Patrick said she arrived outside an apartment complex, not far from where Nichols lived, and saw her son handcuffed in the back seat of a cruiser. His clothes were torn, and his eyes were still red and teary from what she later learned was pepper spray.
In an interview with detectives after the incident, Walker said, "An officer also shouldn't punch somebody in the face. An officer shouldn't kick somebody in the head while on the floor. And an officer shouldn't pepper spray a man while also in handcuffs," according to the transcript of the conversation.
Police, in charging documents, said that Walker started yelling at officers while they were attempting to tow the car and struck an officer in the face when he "attempted to remove him" from that vehicle. Police said an officer then deployed pepper spray and placed Walker into custody.
Walker and his sister both filed a complaint with the city's Inspectional Services Nureau, asking the bureau to investigate the officers in the incident. Walker also requested a copy of the body-camera footage from that day. A representative from the public records office told her in an email, which was reviewed by The Post, that the footage would cost her more than $600.
Patrick said she and her lawyer are looking into how to obtain that footage for free and how to sue the police department and the individual officers for violating her son's rights and abusing their power. Police charged Walker with assaulting them. The case was later dropped.
In an interview with The Post on Jan. 27, Davis said she was committed to the good work of the unit, promising that she would not "throw the baby out with the bath water." Less than 24 hours later, the department announced it was disbanding the Scorpion unit and reassigning the remaining officers.
Smiley, the city council member, said it was an important, if obvious, next step. But he would like to see many more changes. He is hoping Nichols' death can lead to a rejection of traditional policing in ways that Floyd's death failed to.
"We have to invest in these communities and supply people a reason to hope," Smiley said, "to believe they can get out of these cycles of generational poverty. We can't police our way out of this."
In the days since the release of the Nichols footage, local leaders have asked themselves how things ever got so bad. Many point to the department's staffing shortage, owing to a national police recruiting lull, despite the department's efforts to widen the applicant pool. A police spokeswoman said the department has a "short-term goal" of reaching 2,300 officers by the end of this year, though they are budgeted for 2,500.
In 2018, Memphis police Director Michael Rallings said the department had lowered recruiting standards to eliminate a requirement that applicants to the police academy have an associate's degree or 54 semester hours of college. If a recruit had a high school degree and steady employment for five years since high school, the department said, it would defer the college requirement to four years down the road.
Two of the officers involved in the Nichols episode, Demetrius Haley and Tadarrius Bean, each joined in 2020. A 2016 lawsuit filed by a Shelby County Jail inmate alleged Haley was part of a group of corrections officers who slammed the inmate's head into a sink because he tried to run from them, according to court records. The suit was dismissed after the inmate, who represented himself, was not able to properly serve the defendants with notice of the suit.
The department remained short-staffed after the requirement shifts, owing in part to a controversial city council decision to slash health insurance for former officers and pension benefits in 2014, local officials said. In 2022, it eased physical fitness requirements, raising the time required to run 1½ miles from 15½ minutes to 17½ minutes. Additionally, the department said it would evaluate criminal histories on a case-by-case basis rather than barring applicants with criminal convictions. Current police officers have been reluctant to recommend the department to prospective recruits, according to current and former officers who spoke with The Post.
Three current officers, each from different units of the department, spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with members of the media. They described a department they feel has been hamstrung by legislative changes after Floyd's killing and in a state of triage when it comes to violent crime.
"We are the opposite of a proactive department," a fourth-year patrol officer told The Post.
Floyd's killing and the subsequent public backlash against policing being perceived by officers has had a lasting, damaging effect on officer morale, said Chase Carlisle, a city council member.
"I don't have any patience for defunding police. Police play a pivotal role in safety, and the large majority can do the job right," Carlisle said.
"You have people who say the whole system is institutionally, this, that and the other. I just don't have time for that. That's not pragmatic and that's not true. They need the training and support to do the job correctly so that we don't continue the downward spiral," Carlisle added.
In Memphis, police have been one of the few entities that has not had its budget slashed in exact years. Over the past decade, the city saw a 40% increase in city budget, and 80% of that increase went to police and fire, said Memphis City Council Co-Chair Martavius Jones.
But violence continued to surge in the city. In 2021, Memphis set an record for number of killings, with 346 homicides, according to the department. Davis turned to a strategy she employed during her early-career tenure in Atlanta, with mixed results: directed patrols. Also known as "hot-spot" policing, the specialized patrol units were popularized during the late 1980s and early 1990s in Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta to target high-crime areas with proactive enforcement.
The practice has become widespread and typically targets predominantly Black and Brown communities that have been historically disenfranchised and neglected by government and private interests, said Robert Kane, head of Drexel University's Department of Criminology and Justice Studies.
"When you've got multiple cities in the United States under federal consent decrees because of stop and frisk practices, that should tell you something about the constitutionality of these police tactics," Kane said.
Atlanta stood up a similar directed patrol unit in 1989 known as the Red Dog unit, aimed at creating a saturating street presence to disrupt the illegal drug trade. Davis oversaw that unit and the SWAT and narcotics teams as special operations section commander from June 2006 to November 2007.
The Red Dog unit came under scrutiny after the city of Atlanta settled a lawsuit for more than $1 million after a 2009 raid in which officers shouted gay slurs as they raided a gay bar, throwing customers to the ground and handcuffing them. More men came forward in the aftermath to allege years of unconstitutional treatment at the hands of the unit. Red Dog folded in 2011.
When the footage of the Nichols beating was released, the former officer said he was sickened by what he saw on the video, not only for its brutality, but because he understood how the officers became capable of it. He said he had been shot at three times in his last 18 months as a member of the Scorpion unit and sought therapy as a result. He had felt the urge in the past to strike a suspect guilty of an egregious crime beyond what was necessary to subdue him, but held back.
His team had the kind of veteran officers who warned one another when they sensed someone was getting tunnel vision and close to losing control. Scorpion Team 1, the team involved in the Nichols beating, did not have that chemistry or proper supervision, the officer said, and it spiraled out of control.
"I believe these guys are 100% criminally responsible but 90% personally responsible," he said of the accused officers. "The department is responsible for that other 10%."
KYIV, Ukraine — (AP) — Russian forces over the weekend continued to shell Ukrainian cities amid a grinding push to seize more land in the east of the country, with Ukrainian officials saying that Moscow is having trouble launching its much-anticipated large-scale offensive there.
One person was killed and one more was wounded on Sunday morning by the shelling of Nikopol, a city in the southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region, Gov. Serhii Lysak reported. The shelling damaged four residential buildings, a vocational school and a water treatment facility.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, one person was wounded after three Russian S-300 missiles hit infrastructure facilities overnight, regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said. The Russian military said they hit armored vehicle assembly workshops at the Malyshev machinery plant in the city.
Ukrainian forces also downed five drones — four Shahed killer drones and one Orlan-10 reconnaissance drone — over the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions on Saturday evening, Kyiv's military reported.
Overall, Russian forces carried out 12 missile and 32 air strikes in Ukraine over the past 24 hours, as well as over 90 rounds of shelling from multiple rocket launchers, Ukraine's General Staff reported in its daily update.
The attacks come as Russian forces push to take over more land in the eastern industrial heartland of Donbas, comprised of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Ukrainian and Western officials have warned that Russia could launch a new, broad offensive there to try to turn the tide of the conflict as the war approaches the one-year mark.
But Ukrainian officials say that Moscow is having trouble mounting such an offensive.
“They are having big problems with a big offensive,” Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Ukrainian television on Saturday night.
“They have begun their offensive, they're just not saying they have, and our troops are repelling it very powerfully. The offensive that they planned is already gradually underway. But (it is) not the offensive they were counting on,” Danilov said.
A U.S.-based think tank noted that it is also Russia’s pro-Kremlin military bloggers who question Moscow’s ability to launch a broad offensive in Ukraine. They “continue to appear demoralized at the Kremlin’s prospects for executing a major offensive,” the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest report.
Earlier this week the owner of the Russian Wagner Group private military contractor actively involved in the fighting in Ukraine said that the war could drag on for years.
Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a video interview released late Friday that it could take 18 months to two years for Russia to fully secure control of Donbas. He added that the war could go on for three years if Moscow decides to capture broader territories east of the Dnieper River.
The statement from Prigozhin, a millionaire who has close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin and was dubbed “Putin’s chef” for his lucrative Kremlin catering contracts, marked a recognition of the difficulties that the Kremlin has faced in the campaign, which it initially expected to wrap up within weeks when Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Russia suffered a series of humiliating setbacks in the fall when the Ukrainian military launched successful counteroffensives to reclaim broad swaths of territory in the east and the south.
On Sunday, Prigozhin said that Wagner fighters have taken over the Krasna Hora settlement north of Bakhmut, a strategic city at the epicenter of the fighting in exact months.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
OKLAHOMA CITY — (AP) — The birth of Stanley Francis Rother was by all accounts ordinary, aside from the weather. The Catholic farm boy came into the world during an Oklahoma dust storm.
But in life – and in death – he was extraordinary.
The 46-year-old priest, shot to death in Guatemala in 1981, became the first person born in the United States to be declared a martyr by the Catholic Church.
Now a $50 million shrine built to honor the slain missionary — killed by three masked assassins who entered his rectory during Guatemala’s civil war — is expected to draw thousands of pilgrims to his home state.
“People from all over the world can come and know more about him and really ask for his intercession,” said María Ruiz Scaperlanda, author of “The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run,” a 2015 biography of Rother.
A dedication Mass set for Friday will mark the official opening of the Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine in Oklahoma City. The Spanish colonial-style structure incorporates a 2,000-seat sanctuary as well as a visitor center, gift shop, museum and smaller chapel that will serve as Rother's final resting place.
The shrine grounds also will feature a re-creation of Tepeyac Hill, the Mexico City site where Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to an Indigenous Mexican man named Juan Diego in 1531. An artist created painted bronze statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego — each weighing thousands of pounds — for the Oklahoma site.
Catholic donors funded the shrine, which was constructed debt free, Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley said.
“I think there are a lot of different things that will draw people to the campus, whether to honor Mary or Juan Diego or Blessed Stanley Rother,” Coakley said. “We hope it’s an opportunity for people to experience faith and grow in their relationship with the Lord.”
The Oklahoma complex joins nearly 120 Catholic national and diocesan shrines in 27 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Association of Shrine and Pilgrimage Apostolate.
Prior to becoming the Rother shrine’s executive director in 2020, Leif Arvidson oversaw the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for a decade. About 75,000 pilgrims visited each year, Arvidson said.
He declined to estimate how many visitors the Rother shrine might attract.
“We’re still somewhat of a minority here,” Arvidson said of Oklahoma’s Catholic population.
Evangelical Protestants make up the largest share of the Bible Belt state’s adults at 47%, according to the Pew Research Center. Mainline Protestants follow at 18%. Catholics are next at 8%.
“I think he’ll be really special not only to Catholics but to Oklahomans and just people who will recognize the beauty of the virtues that he exhibited — of service and humility and dedication to God’s call in a person’s life," Arvidson said.
Zac Craig, the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau president and a Southern Baptist, echoed Arvidson’s assessment.
“It really adds to the cultural mix of diverse attractions that we have. … I think it’s going to be appealing to all,” said Craig, citing the city’s new First Americans Museum as well as the national memorial for the 1995 bombing of a federal office building.
Rother’s story begins with his 1935 birth in Okarche, a small town about 40 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.
While he served as an altar boy at his hometown Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Rother seemed destined for farm life. He studied vocational agriculture in high school, while his brother, Tom, took a Latin course – a language long associated with Catholicism.
Family members couldn’t help but chuckle when Stan — not Tom — later became a clergyman. But the road to the priesthood proved a struggle. He dropped out of his first seminary but eventually graduated from another before his ordination in 1963.
He served several Oklahoma parishes before volunteering for mission work in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, in 1968.
During his 13 years in the Central American nation, the priest who once had trouble with Latin learned Spanish and his parishioners’ Tzʼutujil language. He worked to translate the New Testament’s Gospels into the native dialect.
Amid political and military unrest in the late 1970s, parishioners began disappearing, their bodies found dumped on roadsides. By 1981, Rother knew he was on a “hit list,” according to the Oklahoma City archdiocese.
His last visit home came a few months before his July 28, 1981, murder. He accepted an invitation to watch his younger cousin, the Rev. Don Wolf, join the priesthood and celebrate his first Mass as a priest that May.
“We talked a lot about the dangers that he faced,” recalled Wolf, now 67.
But Rother insisted on returning to Guatemala, telling loved ones, “The shepherd cannot run.”
Rother became one of at least 13 Catholic priests killed during the war, branded as communists in collusion with left-wing revolutionary guerrillas.
Now his cousin will serve as the shrine’s first rector. Besides welcoming pilgrims, the new church will become the worship place for two of the city’s growing Hispanic parishes. They will combine into one — relieving crowding at existing facilities.
Wolf said it’s an exciting time — both for the memory of his cousin and the chance to grow the church in a state with a rising Latino population.
“Stan has become this incredible character,” Wolf said of the stories told about Rother. “I’ve always been proud to be a part of his family. But I’ve always felt more closely connected to Stan because I’m a priest of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City than because he has the same last name as my mother.”
In December 2016, Pope Francis officially recognized Rother as a martyr. In September 2017, in the final step before sainthood, Rother was beatified at a special Mass that drew about 20,000 people, making him the first U.S. priest to be beatified.
For Rother to become a saint, a miracle involving his intercession must be verified.
“It’s a very rigorous process," Coakley said. “The church tends to be very skeptical about claims of miraculous healings, until they can be proven that they’re not attributable to science or anything else.”
“It could be a long while,” the archbishop added. “It may never happen, for all we know, because we can’t predict how God is going to act.”
Scaperlanda, Rother’s biographer and an Oklahoma City Catholic, said she loves that a boy reared in humble circumstances in Middle America has a shrine named after him.
“He’s ordinary in that sense, and I think that’s one of the invaluable gifts he gives us,” she said. “If he can do it, then I can live out my best life that God put me here to do. I mean, I don’t have to be martyred like he was, but to supply myself so fully to something, that’s a value that I want.
“I can ask Father Stan to help me live as he did.”
Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.