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1 in 3 Seniors Dies with Alzheimer's or Other Dementia


A new report from the Alzheimer's Association has some shocking and sobering statistics on the disease that has no cure.

Right now, some 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's, and that number is expected to dramatically increase as the "baby boomer" generation ages.

According to the Alzheimer's Association 2013 Alzheimer's Disease Facts & Figures report, one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer's or other form of dementia.

The report says dementia is the second-largest contributor to death, after heart failure.

The emotional cost to families is obvious, but the spiraling costs of care are also expected to skyrocket.

Alzheimer's symptoms include memory loss, poor judgement and changes in thinking and behavior. It is a progressive disease where the dementia symptoms worsen over time.

Harry Johns, President and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association, points out that there are no Alzheimer's survivors. He says if you have the disease, you either die from it or you die with it.

"Now we know that 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer's disease or another dementia. Urgent, meaningful action is necessary, particularly as more and more people age into greater risk for developing a disease that today has no cure and no way to slow or stop its progression," Johns said.

Alzheimer's disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and is the only leading cause of death without a way to prevent, cure or slow its progression.

Alzheimer's is one of those diseases that not only impacts the patient, but also puts a huge burden on families.

Last year, there were more than 15 million caregivers who provided more than 17 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $216 billion, according to the Alzheimer's Association. That doesn't take into account the personal toll on the caregiver themselves both medically and emotionally.

When it comes to paid healthcare, the numbers are just as high. According to the new report the total payments for health and long-term care services for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias will total $203 billion this year.

2013 Health and Long-Term Care Services Breakdown

  • Medicare $107 billion
  • Medicaid $35 billion
  • Out-of-Pocket Costs $34 billion
  • Other Sources (HMO, Private Insurance) $27 billion
  • Total $203 billion

Malloy Issues Statement After Assault Weapons Ban Exclusion


Governor Dannel P. Malloy has issued a statement  today regarding the exclusion of the assault weapons ban in the gun control legislation that is pending before the U.S. Senate.


“While I'm disappointed by this news, and I continue to believe that an assault weapons ban on the federal level is the best course of action to improve public safety, this does nothing to deter our efforts to pass comprehensive gun violence prevention in Connecticut," Malloy said in a written statement.

He continued by saying he would still advocate strongly for common sense gun safety reforms and that he would continue to work with the State Legislature to help make Connecticut safer

According to the Associated Press, the gun control legislation that is being brought to the Senate floor next month will not include the assault weapons ban that Democrats hoped to include  because many thought the ban  would hinder the legislations chances of passing.

The Associated Press reports that the ban was the most controversial firearms restriction that has been pressed for.

After 13 Years in Prison, Man Found Innocent of Crime


A Los Angeles man who served 13 years of a 27-years-to-life prison sentence for a crime a judge and the California Innocence Project said he didn’t commit was released from custody on Tuesday.

Daniel Larsen (pictured below) was convicted in 1999 of possession of a concealed weapon after two police officers testified they saw him toss a knife under a car in the parking lot of a bar, according to the California Innocence Project, a legal aid organization that works to revisit convictions of people believed to be innocent of their crimes.

Larsen was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison under California’s Three Strikes Law because he had prior convictions for burglary.

The 45-year-old walked out of court a free man accompanied by his lawyer and the woman he married in September. He said little to reporters standing by after a federal judge ordered him released.

"To see Danny walk out of prison is one of the great moments in our work," said Jan Stiglitz, the co-director of the Innocence Project. "It's been a long time and it feels terrific."

The order for Larsen's release came while appeals in his case are pending.

During his trial, Larsen’s now disbarred attorney did not call a single witness to the stand, including up to nine who could testify that they saw someone else — not Larsen — throw the knife, the Innocence Project said.

His conviction was overturned in 2009 when a federal judge ruled that his constitutional rights had been violated.

The court found that Larsen had shown he was "actually innocent," that the police officers at Larsen’s trial were not credible, and that his trial attorney was constitutionally ineffective for failing to call witnesses on his behalf.

But before he was released, California Attorney General Kamala Harris is challenging Larsen's release, saying he hadn't presented proof that he was innocent quickly enough, the Innocence Project said.

New CT Snowfall Record May Have Been Set


New numbers from the National Weather Service indicate that Ansonia may have set a state record snowfall from the February blizzard.

Some neighbors recorded time lapse video as the snow fell to document the severity.

“It was insane, I knew there was going to be a lot so I set up a time-lapse,” a man on Hull Street said.

The National Weather Service just announced one of its registered observers measured 36 inches of snow in Ansonia over 24 hours. If it’s true, that would be an all-time high in Connecticut.

“This is a long standing record that we haven't come close to in 115 years. It looks like Ansonia was able to do it,” said NBC Connecticut Meteorologist Ryan Hanrahan. “That's something I don't think that’s a record we really want,” Hanrahan added.

Hanrahan said Middletown was the last to set a snow record with 28 inches, that was in 1897.

Ansonia’s Mayor James Della Volpe wasn’t surprised about possibly making history. He said the blizzard in February was unlike anything he had ever seen. City crews cleared so much snow from the streets it was still piled up almost 10 feet high.

“The snow was coming down so fast and so quick,” Della Volpe added.

All of the snow has taken a toll on the city. The Mayor said blizzard cleanup cost more than $300,000. Even more snow in March hurt the budget even more and he asked for federal assistance.

“First time in my 14 years as mayor we have to hit our reserve funds to cover this,” Della Volpe explained.

After the recent snow storms and a potentially record breaking blizzard, people in Ansonia said they needed a break from winter weather.

“I wouldn't care if I ever saw snow again. I'm over it,” said Anna Andretta.

A committee will look at the findings from the National Weather Service and determine if Ansonia did break the state record.

there is no word on how long the investigation would take.


Photo Credit: mcwelker/Instagram

Neighborhood Block Watch Catches New Haven Criminals


Any time there's suspicious activity around the East Rock section of New Haven, the SoHu Neighborhood Association is on the case and makes sure police are too.

"They can't be here at all times so that's how we help them by calling whenever we see something," said Lisa Siedlarz, a block watch leader, who emailed East Rock residents and worked with police in this past Saturday's arrest. "We make them aware of when there are problems going on."

In fact they've encouraged neighbors to put out decoy packages in front of their homes in an effort to fool or frustrate the latest package thief--another of which happened Monday on Clark Street.

"It brings everybody together, it gets everybody involved," added Siedlarz, who got involved six years ago with the then 13 person block watch.

Today that number has jumped more to more than 400 people in East Rock.

"It gets everybody to know each other and when that happens you start looking out for each other and caring,” said Siedlarz.

It began when the neighborhood had a rash of car break-ins so Siedlarz and others formed this group that was part community organizing, part crime fighting.

"The idea that we're just helping police. We're another avenue," said Diane Casella, a longtime East Rock resident. "The police can't be the eyes and ears everywhere."

Though they've added more patrols after the package thefts, New Haven police say it's groups like these that make their jobs easier and the city safer.

"We are very fortunate here in this neighborhood that there is a very tight knit and active block watch," said David Hartman of the New Haven Police Department.

"We're not solving crimes. We're just putting together some of the pieces of the puzzle that maybe the police don't have eyes on all the time," added Casella.

The police even credit the Block Watch with creating an email list where if one person reports something everyone else in the neighborhood is aware of it.


East Hampton Man Killed in Salem Crash


A 55-year-old East Hampton man was killed in a crash on Route 85 in Salem on Wednesday.

Police said Richard Banning was driving southbound on Route 85 in the area of Skyline Drive just before 7 a.m., crossed over to thenorthbound lane and collided with a car driven by Thomas Moriarty, 41, of West Springfield, Massachusetts.  

Banning's car went into the woods and he was killed, according to State Police.

Moriarty survived the crash.

The road was closed for hours and reopened around 10:15 a.m.

State police ask witnesses to call 860-537-7500.

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Too-Sheer Lululemon Yoga Pants Pulled From Shelves


The popular, high-end yoga clothing company Lululemon took a sizeable hit in the stock market after it yanked yoga pants from shelves over the weekend, saying the pants were too see-through to meet company standards.

Lululemon Athletica Inc., which sells premium yoga-inspired clothing and boasts an almost fanatical following, ended with a closing stock price of $64.08, dropping 2.76 percent since the “recall” announcement.

The company’s stock initially saw a bigger drop of more than 5 percent in early bidding hours Tuesday morning.

The drop came after the company announced Monday that their black Luon bottoms fall “short of our very high standards."

The company makes pants that range in price from $88 to $128, according to its retail site. Lululemon brought in $1 billion in revenue last year.

The Vancouver, B.C.-based company said in a statement that it promised to replace the affected 17 percent of pants on shelves as soon as possible.

Lululemon said it became aware of the problem with the nylon and Lycra spandex pants during a conference call with store managers.

"Some of our store managers expressed concern over the sheerness of some of our women’s black luon bottoms," the company said in an FAQ on its website.

A Lululemon’s Brentwood store employee said they pulled the pants from the shelves per the company’s instruction. She declined to comment further, saying the company instructed its employees not to answer questions about the pants.

The company has used the same Taiwan-based factory since 2004, Lululemon said in the statement.

"We are working closely with our manufacturing partner to understand what happened during the period this specific fabric was made," the company said in the FAQ.

Customers who purchased the thin stretch pants after March 1 either online or in stores are invited to get a full refund or exchange.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Sheriff Seeks to Replace Jail Cells With Classrooms


The gutting of Men's Central Jail cells to be replaced with inmate classrooms is one element of a dramatic re-envisioning of the Los Angeles County jail system as proposed by Sheriff Lee Baca.

During his tenure, Baca has expanded educational opportunities for county inmates. Gutting the old central jail to make room for inmate classrooms would take the program to a new level.

Inmates who obtain their high school graduate equivalent degrees (GEDs) are more likely to find work when released into society, and less likely to re-offend, Baca is convinced.

The response to the county's inmate educational program is "like nothing I've seen in my 47 years in law enforcement," Baca told reporters Tuesday outside the County Hall of Administration.

"It's a good idea," said one man following his release from Men's Central Jail after serving a week for a drug violation. "Not everyone, but a lot of the men want to change."

"Education can help," said the former inmate, who declined to give his name.

Other aspects of his plan include building a new central jail, repurposing Lancaster's Mira Loma detention center, and transferring women inmates out of the Century Regional Detention Facility, either to Mira Loma or to the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

The estimated cost would be about $1 billion, according to a 21-page letter sent to the County Board of Supervisors by Baca and William T. Fujioka, the county's chief executive officer.

The proposal was on the agenda for Tuesday's Board meeting, but was removed after two Supervisors brought a motion calling for additional research and analysis before the county considers approving a comprehensive jail plan.

It's expected a private consultant will have the report ready in two months, said Supervisor Michael Antonovich, co-author of the motion with Supervisor Gloria Molina.

Removing the plan from the agenda did not deter members of activist groups from speaking against jail expansion during the public comment period Tuesday.

"Put a moratorium on all jail expansion plans," said Sheila Pinkel, of the group LA No More Jails, which encourages the county to seek alternatives to incarceration, particularly for female inmates.

The Century Regional Justice Center which currently houses women in Lynwood was designed as a men's jail. Transferring women to another facility would make room for male custodies and enable the facility to be more fully utilized, Baca said.

An earlier sheriff's proposal had envisioned a "women's village" to be built at the Pitchess complex in Castaic. A recently proposed alternative location, at Mira Loma, became available at the end of a federal government lease for detaining undocumented suspects facing deportation.

That arrangement ended last November, and for now Mira Loma is empty. The facility has barrack-style housing.

Just northeast of Downtown Los Angeles, aging Men's Central Jail, with rows of cells for more than 3,000 inmates, is regarded as the nation's largest jail, and one of California's oldest, marking its 50th year.

Linear rows of cells have been supplanted in more modern jail design by so-called "modular" cellblocks, in which the cells wrap around a central jailers' station, enabling guards to see into any cell at any moment, improving safety and emergency response.

A modular style central jail would also be more efficient and less costly to operate, Baca said. As currently envisioned, with a capacity of 3,456 inmates when housed two to a cell, the replacement central jail would not provide any increase in capacity.

"We know Men's Central needs to be replaced, that's on the table," Antonovich said.

Even though the jail plan did not come up formally, Sheriff Baca appeared before the board with a follow-up report on his response to recommendations last year by the Citizen's Commission on Jail Violence.

Baca was joined by Terri McDonald, the department's new assistant sheriff in charge of the jail system. McDonald served previously as Undersecretary of California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Operation of most every county jail in the state has been complicated by the AB 109 realignment, steering the sentences for many felony convictions from prison to jail.

"The sheriff was candid" in describing the issues facing LA County's jail system, McDonald said. "I love a challenge."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

$3 Garage Sale Bowl Sells for $2.2M


A family from New York didn’t know it then, but they essentially hit a jackpot when they picked up a Chinese ceramic bowl at a garage sale for $3 back in 2007, The Associated Press reported.

On Tuesday, the bowl, which turned out to be a 1,000-year-old treasure, fetched $2.2 million at a Sotheby's auction in New York.

London dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi, who is regarded as one of the world’s foremost dealers of Oriental art, bought the 1,000-year-old piece. The bidding process was so fierce, that it drove the price of the item far above the presale estimate of up to $300,000, Sotheby's said, the New York Daily News reported.

Sotheby’s said the bowl – white in color,  with a saw-tooth pattern engraved around the outside and measuring 5-inches in diameter – was from the Northern Song Dynasty, which ruled China from 960 to 1127 and is known for its cultural and artistic accomplishments, according to NBC News.

The seller had displayed the bowl in the living room for several years and grew increasingly curious about its origins, according to the AP. The bowl was put up for sale after consulting with experts. The auction house would not reveal the seller’s identity.

The unique item was part of the opening session of Sotheby's fine Chinese ceramics and works of art auction, the AP reported. The only other known bowl of similar size and design has been in the collection of the British Museum for more than 60 years, Sotheby’s said.



Photo Credit: AP

Fire Damages Torrington Apartment Building


Fire damaged an apartment building in Torrington Wednesday morning.

The fire started in the kitchen of one of the units in a four-unit apartment building at 222 North Elm Street, according to fire officials. Everyone inside the building was able to escape without injury, officials said.

North Elm Street, which is Route 4, is closed while firefighters investigate the blaze.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut/Ryan Hanrahan

Are Politics Behind Obama's NCAA Bracket?


Now that he's safely into his second term, President Barack Obama ought to show some gratitude through his 2013 NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket.

That's one theory, anyway.

Whether Obama allows politics to influence his brackets is hard to know. But look closely enough at his 2013 choices and it's possible to decipher a bias for blue states, including a couple swing states that delivered him a second term.

Eleven of Obama's choices for the Sweet Sixteen are in states that voted for him in November, including five battlegrounds. Two of them, Ohio State and Florida, are among his picks for the Final Four.

But after that, the theory gets wobbly. For the national championship, Obama picked Louisville and Indiana, both in states that voted for his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. The president predicted that Indiana—representing a state that voted for him in 2008 then switched sides in 2012—would win it all.

Which raises another possibility: perhaps Obama, who no longer has to worry about getting re-elected, feels freed enough from politics to publicly support an all-red final.

Then again, maybe Obama was being completely straightforward when he appeared on ESPN Wednesday morning to fill out his official bracket. He made no mention of politics, but admitted an extreme bias for the Big 10, using that as an explanation for several of his picks. In all, Obama predicted that five Big 10 teams—Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan—would reach the Sweet Sixteen.

The president admitted to choosing Syracuse to also reach the Sweet Sixteen largely because Vice President Joe Biden went there. Obama joked that if he didn't pick the Orangemen to advance, Biden would stop talking to him.

Obama wasn't so kind to his own alma mater, or his home state.

For the second consecutive year, he overlooked Harvard, where he attended law school and where the men's hoops team is looking for its first NCAA tournament win.

The president, who lives in Chicago, also picked Illinois to get eliminated in the second round.

Republicans took Obama's announcement as an opportunity to needle the president on his poor record of delivering on-time annual budget proposals. "Clutch with his brackets. Late with his budgets," the House Republican Conference teased in a video uploaded to YouTube.

On Friday, Obama will unveil his bracket for the women's tournament. Early word from ESPN has his Final Four picks as Baylor, Connecticut, Notre Dame and California.

Obama has publicly announced his NCAA brackets in all five of his years in office, and his success rate is so-so. Last year, he correctly picked two men's Final Four teams, Ohio State and Kentucky, but his choice for champion, North Carolina, was knocked out early.

He correctly picked North Carolina as the champion in his first presidential bracket in 2009, then went with Kansas for the next two years; each time, Kansas was knocked out early.

That, finally, is what brings journalism professor and basketball writer Aaron Moore to the theory that holds up best: Obama, like any politician in good standing, is taking no risks.

The president's Final Four grouping includes two No. 1 seeds, a No. 2 seed and a No. 3 seed. Both those No. 1 seeds advance to the championship game.

"He's not going out on limb—he's picking teams with the best odds. So if he loses, he can look like everyone else," said Moore, who teaches at Rider University. "He'd look goofy if he picked a dark horse. He doesn't want to look that far out of the norm. He's not going to look goofy."

"Mitt Romney would have the same Final Four."

Photo Credit: White House

Police Issue Alert for Danbury Teen


Danbury police have issued an alert for a 16-year-old girl who was last seen today.

Domenica Jeton was last seen on Wednesday morning with her boyfriend, Jonathon Rubio, police said.

She was wearing a brown jacket and cream pants, police said, and was carrying an orange leather purse.

If you see Domenica, call Danbury police at 203-797-4611.

Old Saybrook Man Charged With Attempted Murder


An Old Saybrook man has been charged with kidnapping his wife, trying to kill her, as well as arson, assault and other charges in connection with a fire inside his house at 19 Beaver Dam Trail.

Glenn Alburtus, 60, was arrested on Wednesday. He, his 55-year-old wife, Susan, a police officer and a firefighter were injured in the fire on Feb. 22 and police said there was a criminal investigation into the blaze.

On the day of the fire, police charged Glenn Alburtus with second-degree threatening, first-degree reckless endangerment, first-degree unlawful restraint and disorderly conduct.

He was arrested again on Wednesday and charged with criminal attempted to commit murder, arson in the first degree, arson in the first degree, arson in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree, assault in the first degree, assault in the third degree and interfering with an emergency call.

Bond was set at $1 million.

Police responded to the house after receiving several 911 calls. When they arrived, they found a woman screaming for help and realized that there was fire, so they called the fire department.

On the day of the fire, Alburtus was in critical condition at the Bridgeport Hospital Burn Unit and is under police guard.

 Susan Alburtus, 55, was in critical condition at Yale New Haven Hospital, according to police.

Neighbors reported hearing yelling from the house around 5 a.m. that day and saw flames.

Neighbors described the couple who live in the house as nice people who keep to themselves. 

“They're very nice.  They seem like they're pleasant people.  They wave when they went by,” Van Vliet said.

Photo Credit: Steve Miller, NBC Connecticut

UConn Scholarship Fund for Sandy Hook Survivors Raises $1M


The memorial scholarship fund that UConn has created to help the students of Sandy Hook Elementary School who survived the tragedy has grown to in excess of $1 million over the last three months.

The Sandy Hook School Memorial Fund at the University of Connecticut will provide financial aid for any students who currently go to the school, as well as siblings of those killed and dependents of teachers and the other adults who lost their lives protecting those students. The scholarships will be available to those who are accepted to UConn when the time comes for them to apply.

Geno Auriemma and his wife made the first donation of $80,000 to start the fund and the more than 5,000 people from across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico have made donations in the weeks since.

“Everyone’s generosity is going to help these families move forward with one less thing to worry about. That’s the blessing in this,” said Cathy Ostar, director of school counseling at Newtown High School. She and other school administrators has been sharing information about the scholarship fund with students and their families.

Last week, Mark Shenkman, chairman of the UConn Foundation Board of Directors and a UConn alumnus, donated $25,000, putting the scholarship fund total at $1,010,000.

 “Contributions to this fund are heartwarming evidence of people’s determination to respond to tragedy with positive and meaningful action,” UConn President Susan Herbst said. “We are proud to be able to assist and support those affected by the horrific event.”

The Bowl Championship Series made a gift of $80,120,or $1 for every fan in attendance at the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship game.

The Hartford Financial Services Group contributed $100,000, while UnitedHealthcare donated $10,000.

UConn alumnus Denis McCarthy contributed $25,000 while Margaret Keane, parent of a UConn alumnus, donated a $25,000 Chairman’s award received through her employment at GE.

All of the money donated will be spent directly on the scholarships for the children. Any funds that remain once the needs of the group have been met, they will be used to benefit any future students from Newtown who attend UConn, according to the university.

Funds will be immediately available for siblings and dependents of those who died, to provide them with scholarship assistance as needed, according to UConn.

The Connecticut Education Association is supporting the Fund with a fundraising drive expected to raise an additional $1 million.

For more information on how to donate, visit the University of Connecticut website or the UConn Foundation website.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Privacy Advocates: Don't Give Your ZIP Code at Stores


Giving out your ZIP code at the cash register may seem like a harmless move to help retailers figure out where to open a new location. But experts say it could leave consumers hit with a barrage of unwelcomed junk mail and worse -- it could be a violation of privacy laws.

Privacy advocates say that companies use ZIP codes to find out more about consumers so they can market directly to them.

Merchants pick up names, account numbers and expiration dates with each swipe of a credit card, but ZIP codes are the missing piece of the puzzle that helps them figure out mailing addresses, phone numbers and demographic information, according to NBC News.

"Just say no," advises Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit watchdog group based in San Diego, Calif.

Courts in two states, Massachusetts and California, have declared the practice of asking for ZIP codes a violation of privacy laws, NBC News reported.

Merchants, however, argue that customers benefit from the practice.

“Asking for generic information helps retailers tailor merchandise, customize advertising and marketing -- promotions, deals and coupons -- and individualizes services,” said Stephen Schatz, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, in a statement to NBC News.

To read more about this, visit NBCNews.com.

Photo Credit: AP

High School Bans AXE Body Spray


A Pennsylvania high school principal is asking students not to use a popular body spray after a teen was hospitalized over an “extreme allergy.”

The Freedom High School freshman was taken from the Bethlehem school by ambulance a few weeks ago after having a reaction to the fragrance in AXE Body Spray, according to principal Michael LaPorta.

LaPorta told NBC10.com that he posted a message to the school's website after the student's concerned parent raised a concern about the boy coming in contact with the fragrance again.

The message posted to the school’s website urged the school community to “take into consideration this student’s allergy to AXE Body Spray and refrain from using it as your cologne or fragrance of choice while attending Freedom High School.”

It is only the AXE body spray and not other AXE products that cause the boy to have the allergic reaction, the principal said.

Dr. Linda Graziano, of South Jersey Allergy & Asthma Associates, says respiratory problems, including asthma, could be triggered by a product in the air or even on the skin. It's possible the affected student could also suffer if he stood too close to another student who used a roll-on or lotion that contained the same trigger.

Graziano said she had never heard of an allergy to AXE before but did say that anything that can be aerosolized into the air such as bleach, perfumes and even some flowers can cause respiratory problems when breathed in by someone with an allergy.

"Avoidance is really all that can be done," Graziano told NBC10.com.

LaPorta says it's impossible to control all the student's hygiene preferences but that letters home to parents and conversations in the school are being used to try and make a comfortable environment for the student.

“In a school of nearly 2,000 students it’s almost impossible to police,” LaPorta said.

The principal said the student is doing well but he is unsure if the boy has returned to class at this point.


AXE's parent company Unilever said in a statement to NBC10 that the "safety and well-being of those who use our products is always our first priority."

"We were made aware of a report about an allergic reaction and we are looking into the matter," the company added. "If there are any issues with our products, we advise consumers to reach out to our Consumer Services Team at our 800 phone number, which is available on the back of our product packaging."

This isn't the first time a parent has called for AXE to be banned. In 2010 an Indiana mother sued her son's district saying the spray irritated his allergies.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

School Closings Weigh Heavily on Special Needs Families


Julia Novak, a sixth-grade special education student from Chicago, has been through three public schools in four years. The first school could not accommodate her physical disability. The second could accommodate her physically, but was a disastrous match for her academically. Julia, who also has cognitive, speech and language delays, was suspended nine times that year.

"The curriculum was not fitting what she needed and they just kept punishing her reaction, which was disruptive behavior," her mother Tammy Novak said. "After the ninth suspension, I just couldn't send her back there anymore."

After plenty of agony, for both Julia and her family, they finally found a match. Lozano Elementary was a low performing school—in fact it was given the lowest rating a Chicago Public School can get. But it was a miracle school for Julia. "She made tremendous strides academically, socially," said Novak. "It's been an amazing transition. She's happy to get up in the morning."

But the peace may be short lived. Just months into her first school year at Lozano Elementary, her school was identified as one of the 129 underused Chicago schools that may be slated for closure.

Large urban school districts across the country have cracked down on low-performing and underused schools over the last decade, shuttering dozens of them at a time. Earlier this year, school officials in New York City and Philadelphia voted to close more than 20 schools, while officials in Washington, D.C. approved plans to close 15. The closures have been controversial, but advocates argue that it's not fair to keep kids in bad schools, it's not logical to fund buildings that aren't full, and closing them ultimately benefits students.

For every school that closes, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of students are displaced and forced to begin the following school year somewhere else, with new classmates, a new curriculum and routine. And while change can be jarring for any student, it's even more difficult for children with special needs who often represent significant percentages of students in schools slated for closure.

More than 5,000 students that receive special education services attend the Chicago elementary schools that could be shuttered next year, according to data from the Commission on School Utilization—a group appointed to study the city’s problem with underused school buildings. Those students make up nearly 17 percent of all elementary school students in the city who receive special education services at their local schools and 12 percent of all students who may be displaced by school closures later this year.

The commission recommended not to shutter any high schools with low enrollment or underused elementary schools that are earning high marks, after considering community concerns. In its final report to the city, which said that up to 80 schools could be safely consolidated, the commission acknowledged the complexity of accommodating the all the needs of the city’s special education students and said, “no simple formula will suffice.”

A spokesperson for CPS—which is expected to announce which schools will close by the end of next week—said the district has developed "a specialized plan for transitioning students with disabilities" in the event their school needs to be closed, and that by consolidating schools the district can focus on "getting every child into a better performing school close to their home."

Chicago parents who want a bit more control over their children's fate do have the option of trying for one of the city’s dozens of other school choices, like charter or magnet schools—alternatives to traditional neighborhood public schools that are becoming more and more abundant, in Chicago and beyond. But admission to these schools is based on applications and lotteries—getting in is not guaranteed.

In fact, a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, which looked at school closures between 1997 and 2010, found that the variety of new schools that emerged in place of shuttered neighborhood schools wound up serving fewer special education students than the neighborhood public schools that were previously there. And a federal report released in July showed that nationally, charter schools enrolled a lower percentage of students with disabilities than traditional public schools, though neither report could say for sure why that was. Were parents choosing to keep their kids with special needs in traditional public schools? Or were their kids getting rejected from the other schools?

For Sabra Townsend, the mother of a Philadelphia teen diagnosed with autism and Prune Belly syndrome, a connective tissue disorder, it was the latter. With high school on the horizon for her eighth-grade son, Townsend began researching and touring options beyond the local public school.

“I wanted the option to—just like for any other student—to look at other high schools that were available,” Townsend said. She whittled the list down to five schools, a mix of vocational, traditional and experimental high schools (including one Microsoft-backed school with a strong digital lean), gathered letters of recommendation and sent out the applications. Not one was accepted.

“This didn’t just happen to my son. This happened to everyone in his class,” Townsend said, referring to the 12 others in her son’s eighth-grade special education class.

And then the news came that his local high school was closing.

Germantown, a large public high school which provides special education services to nearly a third of its students, is among the 23 Philadelphia public schools approved earlier this month for closure.

The city’s School Reform Commission argued that the schools, which were underused, were a drain on the city’s finances. It’s a similar argument made by the Chicago Public Schools and other districts across the country, attempting to weed out low-performing, underused schools, while expanding a more favorable array of options.

Those expanded options, however, have accelerated an exodus from weaker neighborhood public schools, which are often left serving the most vulnerable populations—from special education students whose local options may be limited, to children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t have anyone in their lives to help them navigate a complicated system.

“Generally speaking, when schools and neighborhoods depopulate, the normal pattern is that the families and households that are more mobile, by virtue of having better resources, are able to move to a more desirable neighborhood or are more aggressive and able to take advantage of school choice,” said Jeffrey Henig, professor of political science and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “What that means is that those that are left are the most defenseless or less able to protect the schools politically.”

Families of special education students are also limited to the schools that are able to accommodate their children's various needs.

Advocates for school choice, like Robin Lake, the director of the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, argue that families of special education students should value an increased set of options. But Lake points out that children with special needs are the “most vulnerable kids in terms of transition,” and that school districts have to make a plan to ensure these kids can navigate the system if their current school ends up on the chopping block.

Novak, the Chicago mother, is still holding out hope that her daughter's elementary school might not be named on the closure list and the family could have a couple more years of stability. Julia is still in sixth grade, and she could stay at her school, which serves students from preschool through eighth-grade, for two more years before she’d have to move on. 

“I’m supporting her school as much as I can,” she said. “It’s a warm, safe place.”

Photo Credit: Tammy Novak

Man Hurt in Norwalk Fire


One man was taken to Norwalk Hospital after a garage fire at 42 Woodward Ave. in Norwalk on Wednesday morning.

Crews received several calls reporting that there was a fire and someone was burned.

Firefighters arrived quickly to find the detached garage fully engulfed, officials said. 

Norwalk police officers treated the burn patient until EMS arrived and an ambulance took the man to Norwalk Hospital.

His condition is not known.

Vinyl siding of the house 30 feet away melted and firefighters checked to ensure the fire did not extend to the house.

Firefighters had the fire under control in 22  minutes, officials said.

Fire marshals for the state and Norwalk are investigating as aer Norwalk police detectives. 


Photo Credit: Norwalk Fire Department

Anti-Gay Church Gets Gay Pride House Across the Street


A newly renovated house across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church will have its flock seeing red...and orange and yellow and green.

A gay rights center moved into a house across the street from the church in Topeka, Kan., best known for its anti-gay picketing and protests at funerals for U.S. soldiers. The organization has been painting the house in bright rainbow colors, the same colors as the pride flag.

"It's amazing to see it shining bright and to see the world's reaction to it," said Aaron Jackson, founder of Planting Peace, the charity behind the Equality House project.

Jackson said the idea for the house was inspired by Josef Miles, a local 9-year-old boy who photobombed one of the church's protests with a makeshift sign that read "God Hates No One."

Jackson had been looking for a way to support anti-bullying and pro-LGBT programs, according to Gawker. He saw this as an opportunity to promote his message and turn the media's attention to something positive. And that is exactly what he got.

"We knew it would go viral through social media, but we didn't expect it to be a global story," Jackson told NBC.

The house he originally wanted was no longer for sale, but another one two doors down was. After some haggling with the owner, Jackson purchased the house six months ago for $81,000.

Jackson and his team kept the project under wraps. Not even close friends knew about the house.

"We didn't want the press or the city to find out. We thought the church would come and stop us." he told NBC.

The paint job was supposed to be completed on Tuesday, but workers were hampered by the cold weather.

The house currently has one coat of paint, enough to get the community's attention. Jackson said he caught Shirley Lynn Phelps-Roper, daughter of Westboro pastor Fred Phelps, snapping photos of the colorful house.

"I'd love to have them over for dinner if they would like, but I don't see that happening," Jackson said.

Westboro Baptist Church did not respond to requests for an interview, but they did provide a statement to CNN.

"We thank God for the Sodomite Rainbow House! It is right across the street from the ONLY church that loves people enough to tell them the Bible truth about the filthy, soul-damning, nation-destroying sin of sodomy," the statement said.

Photo Credit: Planting Peace

Church Burglary Suspects Arrested


Bristol police were searching for a missing person on Wednesday afternoon when they came upon a church burglary and arrested two brothers suspected of stealing from a church.

Police were in the Summer and Center streets area just before 2 p.m. when the pastor of the Prospect United Methodist Church yelled to the officers that two men had burglarized the church and were running through the parking lot.   

Police chased the men and took Christopher Malino, 23, and his brother, Charles Malino, 25, into custody.

Police do not know where the men are from.

Both were charged with burglary in the third degree, larceny in the fourth degree, criminal mischief in the third degree, conspiracy to commit larceny fourth degree and conspiracy to commit burglary in the third degree.

Both men are being held on $75,000 bonds pending arraignment in Bristol Superior Court on March 21.

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