Congressional briefing planned for Pastor Max deportation anniversary

Congressional briefing planned for Pastor Max deportation anniversary

Gazette Column
Federal lawmakers will be reminded on Monday about the plight of Max Villatoro, a Mennonite pastor who was deported a year ago, and the family he was forced to leave behind in Iowa. The Mennonite Central Committee and Central Plains Mennonite Conference — the religious organizations Pastor Max was affiliated with — has planned two Congressional briefings, one for senators and the other for representatives. Both are slated to discuss how U.S. immigration officials are violating their own policies. Pastor Max was removed from his Iowa City home while his wife showered, the contact part of a federal government sweep intended to target the “worst of the worst” immigrant criminal elements in the country. After entering the country in 1995, he had a 1999 DUI conviction in Johnson County, as…
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Marion should maintain housing discrimination high ground

Marion should maintain housing discrimination high ground

Gazette Column
There are economic advantages to keeping municipal ordinances aligned throughout a metropolitan area, but such benefits should never outweigh protections against discrimination. Area landlords, speaking during a public comment period at the March 3 Marion City Council meeting, advocated for eliminating a piece of the rules governing the community’s relatively new Civil Rights Commission. It’s a battle the same landlords fought and won five years ago in Cedar Rapids, and it appears that past success is a key reason for wanting changes to the four-year-old Marion rules. Garry Grimm, a Cedar Rapids resident and landlord in both Cedar Rapids and Marion, told council members that there’s a difference in how he promotes properties and screens prospective tenants in the two communities. “For Cedar Rapids properties, if they call and ask…
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Pastor Max Villatoro supporters keep home fires burning

Pastor Max Villatoro supporters keep home fires burning

Gazette Column
First anniversary of deportation is only days away Many things have been taken away from a deported Iowa City pastor during the past year, but he still has his friends. Max Villatoro, a Mennonite pastor, was forced onto a plane March 20, 2015, and flown to Honduras. It was the first time in more than 20 years that he had set foot in the country where he was born. Left behind were his wife and their four children, the Iowa City religious congregation the couple had established and a host of loyal friends. “Max was a friend to many people and a minister of the gospel. His absence weakens his community, his family and his church,” said Roger Farmer of Washington, a member of the group aptly named Friends of…
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Let’s redo school lunch

Let’s redo school lunch

Gazette Column
Policies set by school districts to address negative school lunch account balances are drawing headlines, and make clear that it is time to rethink the program. In Kentucky, several parents complained after an elementary school student’s lunch was taken away and tossed in the garbage because of an overdrawn lunch account. A Michigan high school student suffered a similar fate when his account reached a $4.95 negative balance. In Massachusetts, as many as 25 middle school students were forced to dump hot lunches because their lunch accounts were in arrears. The list goes on. When lunch accounts dip into the red, school children across the nation are being denied lunches or offered a paltry alternative, which some have dubbed a “sandwich of shame.” School districts trying to operate within tightening…
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An opening, but not yet a mandate

An opening, but not yet a mandate

Gazette Column
Progressives in Iowa City are excited, and rightfully so, but shouldn’t be lulled into believing that electing a city council majority is the end game. Tuesday was historic for Iowa City municipal politics. In its most boiled down sense, the contest before voters was progressives vs. corporate interests — and, for the first time in long time in city races, the progressives overwhelmingly won. A slate, known as the “core four,” displaced two incumbents to claim a strong majority on the city council. The group has promised to reshape city policies, especially in terms of development and investment priorities. Think of it this way, if the new council had been making the decision on the Chauncey project, it wouldn’t have been approved. No doubt the dust-up surrounding three worker cottages…
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Can rural K-12 achieve the promise of NGSS?

Can rural K-12 achieve the promise of NGSS?

Gazette Column
Rural education leaders outline STEM successes, challenges IOWA CITY — Two days of meetings this week highlighted the latest national standards that will change rural K-12 education in Iowa. The Next Generation Science Standards, rolled out in 2013 and adopted by Iowa leaders this past August, are the first broad recommendations for science instruction in 20 years. Developed by a consortium of 26 states (including Iowa) and several scientist and teaching groups, they primarily switch the focus from rote memorization to hands-on learning and critical thinking. Instruction will emphasize the scientific process — analyzing data, developing models and constructing logical arguments. Advocates have touted the standards as being able to accomplish what current science instruction cannot: make students care by connecting them and lessons to their communities in very practical…
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Regent ‘anger’ raises more questions

Regent ‘anger’ raises more questions

Gazette Column
While standing by the selection of a new University of Iowa president, one member of the Board of Regents has expressed his concern that the process was flawed. Speaking Thursday at the second of a two-day meeting on the University of Iowa campus, and less than 24 hours after demonstrators publicly asked regents to resign their posts, Subhash Sahai admitted he was “pissed” when he learned about previously-undisclosed meetings between a single candidate and five other regents and search committee members. “I want the people at the university to know that we had impassioned, intentioned and rigorous debate,” Sahai said of regent deliberations. But he also admitted that at the time the selection was being debated he was unaware that some members had met privately with only one of the…
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Six months? Make your voice louder

Six months? Make your voice louder

Gazette Column
Six months have passed since federal authorities labeled an Iowa City pastor as one of the “worst of the worst,” devastated his family and deported him to Honduras. Friends and family of Pastor Max Villatoro marked the anniversary with a week of focused prayer, religious ceremony and advocacy activities. The Central Plains Mennonite Conference — the religious group with whom the Villatoro family identifies — continue to lead outreach efforts on behalf of the family. Church members have, for instance, launched numerous physical and online petitions calling for the return of Pastor Max. This past week, they’ve also encouraged supporters to phone the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Last month, private donations allowed the four Villatoro children to travel to Honduras and be with their father for the first time…
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Few travelers on path to equity

Few travelers on path to equity

Gazette Column
What’s most disappointing is how few came to participate. There were three things I wanted to do Thursday night. I could have watched Jon Stewart bid his final farewell to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” I was tempted to gather with political friends and family to watch members of the GOP presidential field face off in their first televised debate. But I chose to attend a local meeting at the Coralville Public Library. Specifically, I sat with about 15 people as Kingsley Botchway, Iowa City Community School District’s relatively new equity and staffing director, provided an update and outline of the district’s equity plan. Then I listened as about half of those gathered offered concerns and feedback. It was both an uplifting and sobering experience. While most news reports (and…
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Have, eat your cake at home

Have, eat your cake at home

Gazette Column
My winter advice that parents, not Santa, were the best bearers of expensive gifts chaffed a few sensitive thighs. Those folks might want to cross their legs. A parent in the Iowa City Community School District passed along a note from the district that outlines changes to the district’s policy on classroom snacks and other celebrations. In short, parents should keep their homemade goodies or anything that has ever been near a peanut at home, per the Wellness policy. Accompanying this notice was lively commentary about the “nanny state,” and how parents should be prepared to take on their “personal responsibilities.” Presumably the latter was an admonishment toward parents unfortunate enough to bring such fragile offspring into the world. It ended with a single phrase, in all capitals: LET THEM…
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