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Teachers file defamation lawsuit over Jan. 6

JONESBORO — Two Valley View school teachers have sued a husband and wife, accusing them of making “false and defamatory statements” about the teachers’ involvement in the Jan. 6 “Save America Rally” at the U.S. Capitol.

Sean Allen and Emily Allen are named as defendants. The lawsuit doesn’t mention whether the Allens are residents of the school district, but the Allens filed ethics complaints against the teachers – Nancy Dobbs Best and Cindi Stimach Talbott.

“The plaintiffs’ nightmare with Sean and Emily Allen began January 2021 when the Allen’s embarked on a political and personal witch hunt starting with emails to Cindi Talbot and Nancy Best’s superintendent at Valley View School, Bryan Russell, demanding their immediate dismissal and firing for being at the Save America Rally in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021,” attorneys Robert Steinbuch of Little Rock and Chris P. Corbitt of Conway said in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Talbott and Best. The case was filed Friday in Craighead County Circuit Court.

The Sun first reported on the teachers’ participation in the march, which eventually turned violent, on Jan. 8. In that article, The Sun quoted the teachers’ own social media posts.

“I was there. ... Nancy and I made it all the way to the bottom of the scaffolding,” Talbot posted on Facebook.

Best said, “Where we were, as close as the foot of the steps, there was no violence that we saw. However, the crowd in front of us was being teargassed, and rubber bullets shot. I saw no weapons, and at one point the crowd was shouting, ‘Police stand down.’ There were many older people wanting their voices heard. I personally did not see who broke into the capital, nor where they went in at. The huge majority of the crowd was not violent.”

The teachers’ lawsuit said the Allens accused Best and Talbott of committing criminal acts while exercising their rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.

“In a (Facebook) post on the Valley View School District’s public page Sean Allen wrote: ‘Seditious traitors to our country and violent protesters are not suited for educating children. The actions these two teachers took are criminal. Fire these teachers for insurrection of our country,’” the complaint said.

“On Cindi Talbot’s Facebook page, January 2021, Allen stated, ‘Law enforcement will make the decision on whether to arrest, but the photos, videos, and contacts these ‘hatriots’ have on their phones and laptops are important to the FBI. They must turn themselves in.’”

The lawsuit said Emily Allen prepared a 58-page packet of information, much of which was gleaned from social media, and provided it anonymously to Russell, The Sun and others, on Jan. 27. The Sun never knew the identity of the packet’s author although much of the information in the packet had already been viewed by The Sun weeks earlier.

Information in the packet showed “Facebook posts made by Talbot and Best, as well as other Valley View employees, claiming to promote violence, racism, and hate.”

The following day, Sean Allen filed a complaint with the Arkansas Department of Education through the Professional Licensure Standards Board (PLSB) “for committing criminal and treasonous behaviors,” according to the suit.

Allen reportedly told PLSB investigators he had spent several hours researching years of social media posts from the teachers.

“Sean Allen then acknowledged to Talbot and Best’s PLSB investigators that, even though he had not read the article from The Sun, if the PLSB could get a copy of the anonymous packet and its information, it would somehow help build his case against Talbot and Best,” the attorneys alleged in the complaint.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents spoke with both teachers and concluded they played no role in the attack on the Capitol, in which seven people died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot by police as she tried to break into the House chamber and three other Trump supporters who suffered medical emergencies. Two police officers died by suicide in the days that followed, and a third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters. A medical examiner determined he died of natural causes, The Associated Press reported. The riot interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s win over then-President Donald Trump.

“After a two-month long investigation, on April 2, 2021, the PLSB ethics subcommittee voted unanimously that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate by the preponderance of evidence that the plaintiffs violated any standard of Code of Ethics,” the teachers’ attorneys wrote in their complaint. “The investigation was closed on this basis and no record of the investigation will be on file for licensure purposes.”

However, Russell confirmed to The Sun in January that the teachers’ social media posts violated district policy.

“These are in conflict with our social media policy, yes,” Russell told The Sun at the time. “There are statements there that we certainly don’t condone and you get to a particular point where I certainly supported those people in their right to do whatever they wanted to on their personal time as far as when they traveled to the event. We don’t do anything with that.

“But then the social media part of it is certainly in conflict with what the school district condones and expects of our employees.”

The lawsuit also claims the Allens made harassing phone calls as late as June to both women.

Best received about 12 calls the night of May 26, the lawyers said.

“Upon answering one of the calls, it was the same woman’s voice each time. The first of the calls from the harasser, the woman kept asking ‘Who’s the real President Nancy?’ Ms. Best asked ‘Who is this?’ and she kept asking the same question, so Ms. Best hung up, but the number continued to call, over and over again for several minutes, and finally left a voicemail. The female voicemail said ‘Hello Nancy, this is Donald Trump calling from the beautiful Mara Lago, the real White House, and I just want to say thank you for your part in my violent insurrection, Nancy, thank you for trying to overturn the United States government, God Bless you, Nancy.’”

The 50-page lawsuit said both Best and Talbott have suffered mental anguish and physical health issues, fear for the welfare of family members and damage to their reputations.

They seek more than $1 million in compensatory damages and more than $3 million in punitive damages.


Dianna Cannon, right, receives children’s items she needs Wednesday from Laverne Glaub, a volunteer at Blessed Sacrament’s outreach center called Motherhood Ministry at 324 W. Huntington. Cannon said she has been a client at Blessed Sacrament’s Motherhood Ministry as she has raised 14 children. “I have five still at home,” Cannon said. Center Director Becky Pope said the church has been operating the ministry in Jonesboro for more than 45 years.

Local mom utilizes outreach center


AP
Federal judge blocks Arkansas trans youth treatment ban

LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked enforcement of Arkansas’ ban on gender confirming treatments for transgender youth while a lawsuit challenging the prohibition proceeds.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in May asking U.S. District Judge Jay Moody in Little Rock to strike down the law that made Arkansas the first state to forbid doctors from providing gender confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers or sex reassignment surgery to anyone under 18 years old, or from referring them to other providers for such treatment. The ACLU sought the preliminary injunction while its lawsuit proceeded.

Moody found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed with their challenge and that allowing it to be enforced would hurt transgender youth currently receiving the treatments.

“To pull this care midstream from these patients, or minors, would cause irreparable harm,” Moody said.

The law had been set to take effect July 28.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of four transgender youths and their families, as well as two doctors who provide gender confirming treatments. The lawsuit argues that the prohibition would severely harm transgender youth in the state and violate their constitutional rights.

“This ruling sends a clear message to states across the country that gender affirming care is life-saving care, and we won’t let politicians in Arkansas – or anywhere else – take it away,” said Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas.

An attorney for the ACLU had said the ban was forcing some families to consider uprooting from their homes to move to other states where the care was legal.

“This care has given me confidence that I didn’t know I had,” Dylan Brandt, a 15-year-old transgender boy from Greenwood who is one of the plaintiffs, said at at a news conference after the ruling.

Arkansas’ Republican-dominated Legislature overrode GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of the measure. Hutchinson vetoed the ban following pleas from pediatricians, social workers and the parents of transgender youths who said it would harm a community already at risk for depression and suicide.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said she planned to appeal the decision.

“I will aggressively defend Arkansas’s law, which strongly limits permanent, life-altering sex changes to adolescents,” Rutledge said. “I will not sit idly by while radical groups such as the ACLU use our children as pawns for their own social agenda.”

Moody issued the ruling shortly after hearing arguments from the law’s opponents and the state for about an hour and a half.

The judge appeared skeptical of the state’s argument that the ban was targeting the procedure, not transgender people. For example, he questioned why a minor born as a male should be allowed to receive testosterone but not one who was born female.

“How do you justify giving that to one sex but not the other and not call that sex discrimination?” Moody asked.

Arkansas argued that the state has a legitimate interest in banning the procedures for minors. Republican attorneys general from 17 states asked Moody to uphold the ban.

Several major medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, filed a brief with the court challenging the ban. The state Chamber of Commerce and the Walton Family Foundation, which was founded by relatives of Arkansas-based Walmart’s founder, also asked the court to block the ban.


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Schools begin to see emergence of COVID-19 cases

JONESBORO — Westside Consolidated School District has seen a resurgence of COVID-19 cases recently.

Westside Principal Scott Gauntt told board members during Monday night’s meeting that several students have the COVID-19 virus.

“I’m sure many of you are paying attention as our COVID-19 numbers are climbing. We had a group that went off campus out of state to a church camp. It has really attacked that group. Right now we are at five or six positives,” Gauntt said, noting there were also a significant number of close contacts.

In addition to the group of students who attended the church camp, Gauntt said the school’s volleyball team, football team and cheerleading squad have also seen some positive cases.

“Unfortunately this delta variant is attaching itself to our students much more rapidly,” Gauntt said, adding that there will be meetings on Friday to address the issue.

“The difference is, we can’t mandate mask-wearing; there is a law that was passed – Act 1002 which denies the governor the ability to make a mask-wearing mandate,” he informed school board members.

Gauntt said while school administrators strongly recommend wearing masks, it’s not something that can be enforced.

“We will continue to follow Centers for Disease Control rules as we have always,” he said.

There is uncertainty about where Westside will be when school resumes in August.

Gauntt said while the virtual school has been restructured, the district still has the option to shut down schools for two weeks and go virtual should cases climb.

“Right now, our issue is we don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.

While several other districts have not seen a significant rise in cases, many administrators report there is uncertainty about the upcoming school year.

Riverside High School Principal Matt Ziegler said Wednesday there have been no cases reported in the district.

“Our summer school is mostly virtual, but we do have one teacher on staff who is here for testing,” he said, noting tests are conducted one on one.

“We still do social distancing, and are requiring masks,” he said.

Zieglar said the district opted to conduct summer school virtually because of concern about a resurgence of cases.

“We have not operated as if it’s over,” he said. “We are still battling COVID-19, and we still have to follow state laws.”

Zieglar said the district will be holding a meeting today to see where things are headed for the upcoming school year.

Valley View Curriculum Director Roland Popejoy said there have been a couple of positive COVID-19 cases reported this week.

“There are two known cases,” he said. “We are still proceeding with plans. We have had ongoing summer school at the elementary, and we do have a child care program housed in the elementary as well. There has been no modification of services, and we are still proceeding with our intermediate session of summer school in a few weeks.”

Popejoy said with the regular school year just a few weeks away, administrators are keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 situation.

“We have taken a look at our inventory of fogging solutions for our foggers, to make sure we are equipped,” he said. “We have also continued with protocols, with sanitizing and with three-foot distancing.”

Jonesboro Public School Assistant Superintendent William Cheatham said so far there have been no cases on campus.

“We have had a couple who had to quarantine due to close contact,” he said. “I still get notifications, but none of the students who have tested positive have been on campus at all this summer.”

Like other school district administrators, Cheatham expressed uncertainty about the upcoming school year.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in a few weeks,” he said. “We had a meeting on Wednesday and we will be getting new guidance from the Department of Education.”

Cheatham said the district is also working closely with St. Bernards to organize vaccination clinics where they can be on-site at the schools.

“We are trying to increase the vaccination rates but as you know, there are people on both sides of that,” he said.


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Jail battles COVID with vaccines

JONESBORO — Since all inmates and most staff have been tested, the Craighead County Detention Center has had a total of 32 COVID-19 cases since the recent outbreak, Chief Deputy Justin Rolland said Wednesday.

All inmates and most of the staff were tested over the weekend, Rolland said, after 11 inmates tested positive last week as the delta variant of COVID-19 has emerged. More than 250 inmates were tested, Rolland said. One employee tested positive.

He said almost all of the cases were asymptomatic and maybe three cases showed symptoms.

The delta variant is more than twice as contagious as the original virus, health officials have said.

“We’re considering retesting in a few days,” Rolland said.

Since Friday, about 100 inmates and staff have received vaccines, Rolland said.

Vaccines are offered free of charge.

Oklahoma-based Turn Key Health is the medical provider for the jail.

He said because of the close confinement inmates are in, testing will continue. He said the jail has sanitation requirements and masks are still mandatory.

The jail still has stopped visitations, church services and volunteer visits, he said.

Rolland said the jail is disinfecting constantly.

Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the medical school at Arkansas State University, told The Sun last week that with the delta variant one infected person will typically infect six to eight other people.

“That’s why you see a large increase in cases in a short amount of time,” he said. “It happens quickly. Everything is OK, until it’s not.”

Statewide, the Arkansas Department of Correction reported as of July 16:

Total tests: 73,596

The number of total tests includes all inmate/resident/DOC staff testing that was processed by the Arkansas Department of Health.

Inmates/residents

Inmates testing positive/recovered – 11,507

Testing positive/not recovered – 45

DOC staff

Testing positive/not recovered – 30


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