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SciDome: New projector will give pop at Cherokee planetarium

CHEROKEE, Iowa | Sanford Museum and Planetarium Director Linda Burkhart is expecting a lot of dropped jaws and perhaps even some audible gasps in the downtown Cherokee facility later this month.

That sort of expressiveness can happen with people, Burkhart said, when the sole Iowa planetarium west of Interstate 35 is updated with the first new projector since 1951.

"This one can do so much more. I can show them action out in the universe. The original (projector) only did stars," Burkhart said.

The Sanford Museum will unveil the new SciDome projector inside the planetarium dome on Jan. 20. The Spitz SciDome IQ 2400 projector has replaced the A-1 projector, which is also another Spitz product from 1951. There will be a variety of public shows that day, giving people a sample of what the new system has to offer.

Burkhart said the nearly seven-decades-old projector had tailed off in quality, and was quit being 15 months ago. Summarizing the quality of the two projectors on a 1-to-10 scale, she put the new one at 10 and the outmoded one at a two. That old Spitz won't be pitched out, but is now a new museum relic.

The projector is coming as part of a $1 million Sanford Museum renovation project. About $860,000 of that has been raised, Burkhart said.

About $800,00 has been directed to the addition of an elevator, while the projector cost $205,000.

Jan Cook, a retired teacher who lives in Cherokee, goes to the museum about once a month, but more when grandchildren come around. During the recent holiday period, Cook went with a 7-year-old granddaughter from Minneapolis, and they wandered into the planetarium, and so got a quick show by one of the workers.

"My granddaughter was open-mouthed...It is fantastic, and I've just had a little sampling of it," Cook said.

After the SciDome opening, Sanford officials will be offering public programs every Sunday and Wednesday, plus programs for groups and schools during the week by reservation. That is a big step up from having planetarium public programs only the last Sunday of each month.

The only public planetariums outside college campuses in Iowa are in Des Moines, Waterloo and Cherokee, which is by far the smallest town, with a population of 5,253. Burkhart has been director of the museum since 1991, or 50 years after the quest to build a museum in Cherokee began.

The museum was built from a family trust fund left in 1941 by W.A. and Maude Sanford, of Cherokee. The first planetarium in Iowa opened in the Sanford in 1951, and since, Burkhart said, "We have tried to maintain our good reputation in the state."

She added, "In her will, (Maude Sanford) said it had to be free and open to the public," so the museum only takes goodwill offerings to this day.

The planetarium  holds about 25 adults or 35 children on benches, who scan upward toward projected images on the dome that has 20-foot diameter. Burkhart said the museum gets about 25,000 visitors annually, including 6,000 students from schools in a 60-mile radius of Cherokee. She expects those numbers will go up in 2018 once word moves about SciDome.

"The community is very aware and anticipating it," Burkhart said.

Burkhart loves what the new projector can do, and showed many elements over 30 minutes in an interview. One piece included how the night sky will rise and fall on the Jan. 20 opening day.

The projector has programs in three different subject areas, with astronomy, layered earth and human anatomy. The images are fitted to show through a modern fish-eye lens.

Burkhart said people who have seen the prior projector just show stars in the night sky will now be able to explore constellations, planets and galaxies. She showed highlighted constellations of Draco, Cassiopeia, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

With the layered earth piece, people will see land formations, sea floors, plate tectonics and other elements. Along with the visuals, the music along with the new projected shows also will pop for the Sanford patrons.

"We had a little stereo tape we played before," Burkhart said.

Cook expects more people will visit Cherokee for the Sanford planetarium.

"It has so much potential. I am hoping it opens a lot of avenues," she said.

Sioux City mother: Son bullied online by poll asking if he should be killed

SIOUX CITY | The mother of a Sioux City autistic boy is speaking out against what she describes as cruel online bullying of her son in which other students reportedly voted on whether her 15-year-old son should be killed.

Kristi Lizzy Rice said the incident occurred in late December after her son, Spencer Rice, broke up with his girlfriend. She reported the harassment to school officials on Jan. 3. Disappointed with the way the district handled the case, she pulled her son out of North on Monday, and is now considering a transfer to another school.

"All students deserve safe schools and the support to reach their best potential," she told The Journal Friday.

Her concerns were lodged with a school district that has claimed to have made major strides in combating bullying after attracting national attention for the 2011 film, "Bully," which featured an East Middle School student being tormented by peers.

Citing privacy laws, Superintendent Paul Gausman said the district could not comment on Rice's case specifically, including whether any students have been disciplined for their role in the online poll.

In a statement Friday, Gausman pointed out all "instances of bullying are investigated and acted upon immediately when we are made aware of any challenges."

The district's Anti-Bullying/Harassment/Hazing policy states "pupils and personnel should not engage in harassing behavior," including "electronic mail, internet-based communications, pager service, cell phones and electronic text messaging."

After the poll about whether Spencer should be killed was posted, one unidentified respondent suggested he "should kill himself," Kristi Rice said.

Rice said she met with a North principal about the online threat on Jan. 6, and returned to the school on Monday. She said "not one principal could or would meet with us" that day, so she removed Spencer from classes over concerns about his own "safety." Rice said she doesn't think the girl her son broke up with had anything to do with the poll.

Kristi Rice also filed a complaint with the Sioux City Police Department

"When the mother made contact with the school resource officer (that) she wanted to pursue charges, a report of potential harassment via social media was made that day and was sent over to the Woodbury County juvenile division for legal review and possible charges," Police Sgt. Terry Ivener said. “It’s up to them to decide if there’s enough for the case to proceed, whether charges are to be filed or basically dismissed,” he added.

The county attorney office's did not immediately respond to the Journal's request for comment Friday.

Spencer Rice, who has an Individualized Education Plan, and also wears a Project Lifesaver anklet, was also previously bullied at school, his mother said, citing a "significant" event in 2011. The youngest of her four children to attend Sioux City schools, Kristy Rice said her daughter, Delaney, also was bullied in 2012.

Kristy Rice spoke of pride after Spencer was named Star of the Week at North, for reading 6,000 pages in a nine-week quarter.

"He is a genuinely good, kind-hearted soul who simply likes to be left alone to read, draw, program or game. He is gentle, but the strongest person I know,"  she said. "He has endured so much, from brain surgeries to 35 hours per week of physical therapy, occupational therapy."

She is looking into transferring him to one of the district's two other high schools.

"We visited and we're extremely impressed with West. We live by East, but unfortunately, they are currently using substitutes for their autism program, so we can't consider that," she said.

The family is also considering a private school such as Bishop Heelan.

Rice said numerous people are supporting the family, speaking out on social media about the bullying, and sending messages to school officials and even state lawmakers. Rice said she's heard "hundreds of 'me too' stories" of current and former students who were bullied in Sioux City and other cities.

"We need as a community to protect not only the victims, but not allow the school district to sweep all these incidents under the rug...While I am sad to be in this storm, I believe we have found hope and so many families wanting to work for real solutions, not just paper policies," she said.

"Bully," which chronicled several bullying victims across the country, gained international acclaim for its unflinching, and often heartbreaking, portrayal of the issue.

In the aftermath of the "Bully" film, school officials took a series of actions to ensure parents they were taking the issue of bullying seriously.

Gausman, the district superintendent since 2011, said pupils receive frequent reminders of the need to support each other to maintain a good learning environment, in a tough time for coming of age, including one as recently as November.

All 1,100 of the district's freshmen also were shown the documentary "Audrie & Daisy," at the Orpheum Theatre, Gausman noted in Friday's statement.  Produced by Sioux City native Cindy Waitt, the film highlights the issue of sexual assault in high schools.

"The documentary takes a hard look at American teenagers who are coming of age in this new world of social media bullying," Gausman said in the statement. "Following the viewing of this documentary, students engaged in meaningful conversations guided by counseling staff to learn about proper cyber use, coping with cyber bullying and how to support one another."

Unity in Action petitions against immigration enforcement program in Dakota County

SOUTH SIOUX CITY | A local Latino advocacy agency has submitted 600 signatures against Dakota County's application to participate in a federal immigration enforcement program.

A group of community members and representatives of Unity in Action presented the Dakota County Sheriff's office Friday afternoon with a stack of signed papers representing community opposition to the county's request to join a federal program known as 287(g), which deputizes jailers to enforce U.S. immigration laws.

"We had community members who really felt this wasn't something they wanted in the community," said Cristina Topete, a community organizer with Unity in Action. "We hope that (Sheriff Chris Kleinberg) withdraws from the application." 

The sheriff's office is the first agency in Nebraska and one of only 60 nationwide to apply for the federal program, which authorizes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies to allow officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions after the officers complete specialized training.

The program allows correction officers to act as ICE agents to decide what actions need to be taken for both illegal immigrants and legal refugees, those with work visas and those with a green card when they are arrested.

Opponents argue the program erodes trust between law enforcement and immigrants and can lead to racial profiling.

"More than anything, (we've heard) a concern for the application and how it would affect the county and people in it," Topete said. "Scared for family members for parents, themselves and their children. Their concern was for their family’s well-being."

Dakota County Sheriff Chris Kleinberg has downplayed the impact of the program, saying it will help his department more efficiently process undocumented workers who have been arrested and incarcerated in the county jail.

A deputy contacted by The Journal Friday confirmed receipt of the signatures but deferred any questions until the return of Kleinberg, who is currently on medical leave.  

Topete said she was hoping to speak with Kleinberg today but plans to meet with him once he returns. 

"We will be collecting more petitions and signatures, and we will be following up with him," she said.