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Seeking a safe environment for their kids
Sioux City parents criticize school officials for bullying response

SIOUX CITY -- Four Sioux City parents and a health care professional in a public meeting told Sioux City School District officials that they have an unresponsive environment when it comes to processing claims by students who say they have been bullied.

Three of those people, including Judy Crosthwait, said that their own children had been bullied. Crosthwait said 15 people had "stated they would kill my child," a daughter at North Middle School.

"She is still scared, guys. She is 14 years old. She has anxiety attacks...I had my child making excuses, 'Mom, I am sick, can you come get me?'" Crosthwait said.

On the heels of a Journal exclusive Friday detailing that North High School student Spencer Rice has no plans to return to that school this year given a tepid response to online bullying, his mother Kristi Rice attended the Sioux City School Board meeting to speak directly to board members.

"We cannot get to a better place without first cleaning up the misunderstandings and the messes. Sweeping them under a rug does no one any good," Kristi Rice said.

Since the discovery of a December online poll that asked whether Spencer should be killed, his mother has battled Sioux City School District administrators in her quest to create a safe environment for her son.

Kristi Rice has said district officials should move on two simple requests -- providing Spencer with a new teacher's aide and approving a transfer to West High School, where the family believes he would find a more supportive environment.

Rice and four others raised their concerns about district policies and other aspects related to bullying during the public forum portion of the board meeting. Because it came during the public forum, School Board President Mike Krysl said members were prevented by law from responding to the assertions by Rice and others. Krysl said it is possible the bullying topic could be placed on the agenda at a future meeting.

Right after Krysl said that, another parent, Jeana Guy, said she had for days worked with Kristi Rice to have Gausman put them on the regular board agenda for a more robust airing of the bullying topic. The two women said Gausman denied that request.

Last week, Gausman told The Journal that federal privacy laws hold that the district could not comment on Rice's specific case, including whether any students have been disciplined for their role in the online poll.  Gausman and several board members in limited remarks Monday said district officials take bullying seriously and aim to ably address it when it can't be prevented.

Guy, who has two children in the district, said she's read many email and social media accounts of people taking exception with "inconsistent handling of bullying reports across the district. I obviously cannot comment on the accuracy of this."

Guy added, "We have heard it is frowned upon if teachers file too many bullying complaint forms, and have heard teachers aren’t confident that complaint forms are always followed up on. We hope that if this is the case, that the climate surrounding form submission changes. We can’t expect kids to curb bad behaviors if staff is admonished for reporting them. Our kids are being caught in the middle."

Guy and Rice said they spoke with Gausman and other administrators Monday regarding bullying policy language, then spoke at the board meeting so the broader public would understand places where improvements could be made.

Board member Ron Colling said it is imperative that school officials "make sure we are not putting roadblocks" to promptly addressing bullying charges.

Brandi Boyd was the third parent to say her child was being bullied at the lowest grade levels, citing a daughter who attends Unity Elementary.

"It is now in elementary schools. It is really scary," Boyd said.

"There is just insistent bullying of kids from other kids. It has to be addressed."

District officials have 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. In the aftermath of the award-winning film, school officials took a series of actions to ensure parents they were taking the issue of bullying seriously.

GALLAGHER: Sioux City veteran receives lost medals while finding peace

SIOUX CITY | Rhonda Menin wanted her son to have his medals. She sought to make a shadow box to match one she constructed for her father, the late Karl Krause, of Winnebago, Nebraska, a U.S. Army Master Sergeant who flew missions in World War II.

"I carried on the family military tradition," said Sgt. Adam Menin, a Sioux Cityan who served with the U.S. Army from 1999 to 2006 and was deployed to Kosovo and Iraq.

The hitch? Adam Menin, 37, didn't possess his medals, as all were lost or taken from him in a number of relocations since his honorable discharge 12 years ago. Menin had resided in Texas, then Pennsylvania, before moving to Sioux City last year, coming home after a 20-year hiatus. Sadly, the medals didn't come along.

That issue was resolved on Monday as U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Kiron, Iowa, presented Menin a multitude of citations, ranging from his Army Commendation Medal to the Army Achievement Medal with Oak Cluster to the Good Conduct Medal to the Sharpshooter Badge and Rifle Bar and more. King also gave Menin a U.S. flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol Building in his honor.

"This is one of the best things I get to do," King said.

"The dream of what I've achieved is still alive," Menin said. "This is a reminder of what I've earned and I get to keep forever."

King detailed what's happened in Kosovo and Iraq in the years since Menin's service. He started by praising the decision by President Clinton to use air power over boots on the ground. Clinton, said King, "turned out to be more right than I ever imagined."

And today, the people of Kosovo, the congressman reported, love America. "They're so utterly grateful as they all know that they wouldn't be a country today if it weren't for the service of people like Adam that went there to help secure their freedom," King said.

King pivoted to Iraq, noting how Adam Menin saw some of the worst of a long and bloody conflict, including his team's effort in 2004 to cut the body of Nicholas Berg from a bridge after militants beheaded the American freelance journalist. King said Menin's selfless work in a place of grave danger at least may have lifted some of the pain from the Berg family knowing that their son's body was recovered.

"They shot a rocket projected grenade at us as we were retrieving the body," Menin said. "I didn't get hurt that time."

Menin sustained injuries prior to that day. He would get hurt in fighting in the days and months that followed. He turned down the Purple Heart, though.

King detailed President Trump's statement, delivered during his State of the Union address, that nearly 100 percent of ISIS territory has now been retaken from forces affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. King said he heard Secretary of Defense James Mattis speak one week ago, and he talked of a strategy to pursue, encircle and annihilate, rather than contain.

"I had not heard that word annihilate in a long time," King said.

Menin, for his part, remained grateful to be home in one piece, surrounded by family and friends, a wealth of support that surprised him on this occasion inside the Federal Building in downtown Sioux City. The North High graduate said he's pleased to hear U.S. forces are succeeding.

"When we left were were winning," he said. "And it's good to hear we are winning again."

Menin has traded his Army tank for a horse as he now volunteers five days per week at 7 Wonders Saddles on the north side of Sioux City, feeding horses and greeting customers for Issac Deurloo, the owner. Menin has lost 50 pounds since he began helping a business whose principals have aided him mentally, physically, even spiritually.

"Adam had joined horse-therapy program for soldiers with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in Pennsylvania," Deurloo said. "And we're glad he came to us. He helps us on everyday matters at the farm. He's got tremendous skills."

Menin simply nodded and said he finds joy in riding each day he's there. The place has been a blessing.

It's a win/win situation, as the decorated sergeant who demonstrated grit and loyalty in battle finds his footing in a new pursuit, according to Deurloo, who concluded, "Adam's well on his way to becoming an excellent horseman."

Friend of Hinton bus crash victim confronts Sioux City Council

SIOUX CITY — A friend of a Hinton man who was severely injured in a crash with a city bus in November 2016 doesn’t think the city of Sioux City is doing enough to help him recover.

Elisabeth Murdach of Sioux City describes herself as the closest thing that Chad and Roseanne Plante of Hinton have to family in town.

Murdach is upset with the Sioux City Council for denying two medical-related requests for Chad Plante in a closed session a few weeks ago.

Plante was injured in a Nov. 15, 2016, crash at the intersection of Lewis Boulevard and Outer Drive when a turning Sioux City Transit bus failed to yield and struck Plante's 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury and two broken legs in the crash and spent months undergoing rehab at a facility in Lincoln, Nebraska, before he could return home.

In January 2017, the Plantes negotiated an agreement in which the city voluntarily agreed to cover Chad Plante's out-of-pocket medical expenses related to the accident that are not covered by health insurance, as well as his lost wages for 26 weeks and lodging, food, mileage and other miscellaneous expenses that are submitted to the city. The agreement did not establish a limit on those expenses.

Most recently, the Plantes requested a treadmill and computer software designed to aid in the recovery of brain trauma, all of which were recommended by Chad Plante’s physical therapist, occupational therapist and neurologist, according to Murdach.

During the public comments portion of Monday’s regular meeting, Murdach expressed her displeasure to the council and sought answers.

“The city is paying for some ongoing things that I’m aware of, they are offering to pay for things that the Plantes are not at this time using (but) I don’t understand why we need to fight with this man who was injured by a city bus,” Murdach said.

Although the Plantes have not filed a lawsuit against the city yet, the couple has indicated they do plan to seek legal action against the city and because of that Mayor Bob Scott said the council can’t discuss this matter publicly.

“Once you hire an attorney, we are advised by our council — and not this council, but the council that is representing us that we can not, should not, and will not speak on or off the record about this case,” Scott said.

He followed up saying they the city didn’t turn down the request for software and a treadmill but that it asked for further clarification from the Plantes, which Scott said they have yet to receive.

“I would just like to know what the protocol would be if it were a member of your family, sir?” Murdach asked Scott. “How would you react?”

“I’m not going to go there. The protocol is if the city asks for something and clarification, I would do it; I would clarify,” Scott responded.

After the meeting, Councilman Dan Moore reiterated Scott’s stance that city officials can’t comment on the situation but said dialogue is ongoing between the city’s legal team and the Plantes’ legal team.

“There’s discussion between back-and-forth — let me put it that way — between the attorneys, so that’s about as far as I go,” he said.

While meeting with media in the hallway outside of the council chambers, Murdach said she wasn't sure what her next step would be after the terse exchange with city officials.

"My role, at this point, is to be an advocate for my friends; they've got their hands full at home," she said. "If I live in a city and I'm paying taxes, why should I not have a say in how these things are handled?"

Police vehicles

In other business, the City Council approved the purchase of 10 new Ford Police Interceptors for $360,496 to replace aging vehicles in the Police Department's fleet. The bid was submitted by Ed Stivers Ford Inc. of Waukee, Iowa. No local dealerships submitted bids.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Akron-Westfield's John Henrich looks on during a break in the action at last year's state wrestling tournament. Henrich enters this year's tournament undefeated and ranked No. 1.

Trump's budget balloons deficits, cuts social safety net

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump unveiled a $4.4 trillion budget plan Monday that envisions steep cuts to America's social safety net but mounting spending on the military, formally retreating from last year's promises to balance the federal budget.

The president's spending outline for the first time acknowledges that the Republican tax overhaul passed last year would add billions to the deficit and not "pay for itself" as Trump and his Republican allies asserted. If enacted as proposed, although no presidential budget ever is, the plan would establish an era of $1 trillion-plus yearly deficits.

The open embrace of red ink is a remarkable public reversal for Trump and his party, which spent years objecting to President Barack Obama's increased spending during the depths of the Great Recession. Rhetoric aside, however, Trump's pattern is in line with past Republican presidents who have overseen spikes in deficits as they simultaneously increased military spending and cut taxes.

"We're going to have the strongest military we've ever had, by far," Trump said in an Oval Office appearance Monday. "In this budget we took care of the military like it's never been taken care of before."

Trump's budget revived his calls for big cuts to domestic programs that benefit the poor and middle class, such as food stamps, housing subsidies and student loans. Retirement benefits would remain mostly untouched by Trump's plan, as he has pledged, although Medicare providers would absorb about $500 billion in cuts — a nearly 6 percent reduction. Some beneficiaries in Social Security's disability program would have to re-enter the workforce under proposed changes to eligibility rules.

While all presidents' budgets essentially are dead on arrival — Congress writes and enacts its own spending legislation — Trump's plan was dead before it landed. It came just three days after the president signed a bipartisan agreement that set broad parameters for spending over the next two years. That deal, which includes large increases for domestic programs, rendered Monday's Trump plan for 10-year, $1.7 trillion cuts to domestic agencies, such as the departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development even more unrealistic.

Trump also is proposing work requirements for several federal programs, including housing subsidies, food stamps and Medicaid. Such ideas have backing from powerful figures in Congress including Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who promises action on a "workforce development" agenda this year.

There was immediate opposition from Democrats.

"The Trump budget proposal makes clear his desire to enact massive cuts to health care, anti-poverty programs and investments in economic growth to blunt the deficit-exploding impact of his tax cuts for millionaires and corporations," said Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Some Republicans, on the other hand, said spending was much too high.

"This budget continues too much of Washington's wasteful spending — it does not balance in ten years, and it creates a deficit of over a trillion dollars next year," said Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida. "We cannot steal from America's future to pay for spending today.

Trump's plan aims at other familiar targets. It would eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The administration wants NASA out of the International Space Station by 2025 and private businesses running the place instead.

But the domestic cuts would be far from enough to make up for the plummeting tax revenue projected in the budget.

Trump's plan sees a 2019 deficit of $984 billion, although White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney admits $1.2 trillion is more plausible after last week's congressional budget pact and $90 billion worth of disaster aid is tacked on. That would be more than double the 2019 deficit the administration promised last year.

All told, the new budget sees accumulating deficits of $7.2 trillion over the coming decade; Trump's plan last year projected a 10-year shortfall of $3.2 trillion. And that's assuming Trump's rosy economic predictions come true and Congress follows through — in an election year — with politically toxic cuts to social programs, farm subsidies and Medicare providers.

Last year Trump's budget promised such ideas could generate a small budget surplus by 2027; now, his best-case scenario is for a $450 billion deficit that year, more than $300 billion of which can be traced to his December tax cut.

In stark numbers, the budget rewrites the administration's talking points for last year's tax plan, which administration figures, such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, promised would more than pay for itself.

"Not only will this tax plan pay for itself, but it will pay down debt," Mnuchin declared in September.

Instead, Trump's budget projects that tax revenues will plummet by $3.7 trillion over the 2018-27 decade relative to last year's "baseline" estimates.