Alabama editorial roundup

November 20, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Nov. 20

The TimesDaily (of Florence) on “failing” schools in Alabama:

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey asked a question last week that’s been on the mind of many educators and lawmakers since the Alabama Accountability Act was passed in 2013.

“I know that the law says you have to identify the bottom 6% (of schools). Can we call them something besides failing?”

This year, there are 76 schools in 27 school districts on the “failing” school list. Fortunately, no schools in Lauderdale or Colbert counties were on the list. So it might be difficult for Shoals residents to sink their teeth into this debate.


But imagine if one or more of our schools were listed as “failing” schools? The term leaves the impression the schools in question are terrible public institutions of learning. As a parent or a community leader, how would that make you feel?

That’s the essence of the argument against using the “failing” label to describe schools whose major shortcoming is the inability to meet certain benchmarks for student progress based on state and national standardized tests.

Adding insult to injury, the accountability act also gives students in these “failing” schools the option to transfer to a school in the same district that’s not on the “failing” list, or transfer to a neighboring district, enroll in a private school or be homeschooled.

Worst of all, the “failing” schools get no additional state funds or resources to help them improve their testing deficiencies.

By mere association, the students, administrators, teachers and support staffs of these schools are painted with the broad brush of failure with little regard for what’s actually taking place in the classrooms. That stigma can result in an exodus of personnel, and lead to recruitment problems.

We think Ivey is right. The time has come to stop “failing” schools. But changing the term used to designate schools that aren’t performing as well on tests as the state would like isn’t the only thing that needs to be changed.

Sally Smith, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said the struggling schools need more than a different designation. They need additional resources to battle the negative perceptions that 6 years of “failing” status have heaped upon them.

Without that sort of commitment, it really doesn’t matter what label you use. And that’s the true failure of the process.




Nov. 20

The Decatur Daily on the end of recent legal battles for former Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin:

When Ana Franklin was elected Morgan County sheriff in 2010, there was the hope she would restore the office’s reputation, which had suffered under her predecessor, Greg Bartlett.

Bartlett had spent a night in jail after violating a court order regarding the feeding and care of jail inmates. That was all part of a larger situation involving a state law that, at the time, allowed sheriffs to pocket money left over from feeding inmates as personal income.

Bartlett earned the nickname “Sheriff Corndog” for a period in which he fed jail inmates corn dogs and little else after getting a truckload of the carnival staple for a pittance.

After finishing a close second to Bartlett in the 2010 Republican primary, Franklin went on to defeat him in the runoff, winning 53.4% of the vote. She would easily dispatch her Democratic opponent in the general election.

Franklin’s first term seemed to go smoothly, and she won the 2014 GOP primary in a landslide, with 79% of the vote. She had no Democratic opposition.

It was then that things started to take a turn, and by the end of Franklin’s second term, her legal problems involved a bankrupt car dealership, lawsuits and a federal investigation. Ironically, it also involved violating the same court order that had landed Bartlett in jail, opening the door to Franklin’s successful challenge for the office.

Franklin did not seek a third term in last year’s election, and she was succeeded by Ron Puckett, but the book on her tenure as Morgan County sheriff didn’t truly close until the past few weeks.

That’s when Franklin settled lawsuits with a critic and her former jail warden for searches of their homes.

Glenda Lockhart, a Falkville business owner who ran a website critical of the Franklin administration, filed her suit against Franklin and deputies Robert Wilson and Blake Robinson, in October 2016. Leon Bradley, whose 13-year tenure as the Morgan County Jail warden ended in October 2016 when Franklin fired him for allegedly providing official documents to Lockhart, filed his suit in July 2018.

“The Lockhart case and the Bradley cases settled,” Franklin’s lawyer, William Gray, said earlier this month. “They settled through mediation, and the terms are confidential. Basically all I can tell you is there was no admission of liability and all claims and counterclaims were dismissed.”

Franklin also entered a plea agreement to end her federal tax case.

Franklin pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor charge of willful failure to file a tax return in January and was sentenced last month to two years of probation and 300 hours of community service. An Oct. 21 order outlined the terms of the probation, including the prohibition on her possessing firearms.

Franklin successfully argued last week to have the firearm provision revised so she can keep one gun at home for personal protection.

Despite the best of hopes, Morgan County has now had two sheriffs leave office in disgrace.

We hope Sheriff Puckett puts an end to that trend.



Nov. 18

The Opelika-Auburn News on a gag order in the case of the disappearance of 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard:

There are several good reasons that criminal trials and the proceedings leading up to them are and should be a matter of public record.

Many of those same reasons apply to the ongoing case beginning its potentially long trek through the court system regarding the suspect in custody in connection to the disappearance of 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard.

Therefore the gag order in place immediately should be lifted.

Lee County District Judge Russell Bush agreed to the gag order, which sometimes is requested by the prosecution to protect evidence, witnesses and strategy in pursuing a stronger case or additional arrests, and sometimes such a gag order is requested by the defendant to better ensure an unbiased jury pool or protect against perceived unfair publicity.

Regardless, public knowledge of basic facts related to this case and evidence that already has led to an arrest most often supersede any benefits to keeping them secret, and that could be true with this case.

Many factors surrounding the arrest and evidence against suspect Ibraheem Yazeed are clouded with secrecy that may or may not indicate how much of a danger to the public remains on the streets from which Blanchard was abducted.

Because of the gag order, records and discussion of evidence and suspicions normally already openly discussed or shared in public record are instead still sealed.

Normally public hearings have become closed hearings.

We do not know if other suspects are being hunted, and what danger they might present to an already concerned public, or any other such factors that might exist.

Would a greater public awareness of the facts and how to protect against future threats be available in the absence of a gag order? Most likely, yes; no matter the circumstances.

Is there indeed enough compelling evidence to consider Yazeed the prime suspect, the only suspect; or is a more dangerous threat from a different suspect or group of suspects still in play? There is no public indication of that, but again, too many details, statements and opinions associated with the case remain blocked or sealed.

And then there is the matter of ensuring a fair trial and procedure for Yazeed, both to protect his rights, but more important in the interest of public safety to ensure that if he is the chief suspect, there are no shortcomings with the legal process that later could hinder his prosecution.

Public record and open court hearings should not be seen as an obstacle to an investigation that faces these daily challenges in seeking justice, and the community is fully supportive and appreciative of our law enforcement and the prosecutors working hard to get killers off our streets.

That said, as stated previously, there are reasons court and court records normally are made public.

Those reasons should apply to this case and the public’s right to know, and thus, the gag order should be lifted.