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News
Developmental Disabilities Awareness Rally brings people together at Tulsa's Guthrie Green

One of the difficulties of living with a developmental disability — or living with someone living with a disability — is the feeling of being alone.

That’s why Kevin Harper wanted to get as many of those folks together as he could.

“The objective was to bring everyone together — to introduce them to the vendors who offer these services,” Harper said during Tulsa’s first Developmental Disabilities Awareness Rally at the Guthrie Green on Tuesday evening. “A lot of people really don’t know what’s out there.”

Several hundred people moved among the vendor booths, were entertained by the Owasso varsity cheer squad, watched an introductory video from U.S. Sen. James Lankford and danced with Miss Oklahoma, Addison Price. They also heard from several agency clients.

One of those was Katy Lew, who said she worked many years at Saint Francis Medical Center.

“People with disabilities can do things when given a chance,” she said. “We may look different and act differently, but we all have the same parts.”

Harper, director of marketing and business development for A New Leaf, said a recent survey showed that Tulsans in general don’t know much about the area’s developmentally disabled people and the agencies that support them.

“For instance,” he said, “A New Leaf has been around 40 years, and people don’t know about us.”

A New Leaf, like the other vendors, helps individuals with a wide range of disabilities achieve their potential and live more independent lives. Many people don’t know about such services, Harper said, or can’t afford them.

“Only about 50 percent of people with disabilities have a family that can support them,” he said.

That is a particular challenge in Oklahoma, where more than 10,000 people are on a waiting list for state aid for the developmentally disabled. The Legislature has taken steps in the past year to reduce that list, and Gov. Kevin Stitt has promised to bring it down significantly during his tenure.

But it is a daunting task.

“There are 29,000 people with disabilities just in Green Country,” Harper said.

Before joining some of the clients in a group dance, Price told them she understood how many of them felt.

“Everybody here can relate to that feeling of insecurity,” she said.

Price has talked openly about her early struggles with dyslexia.

“I was so shy I wouldn’t order off a menu in a restaurant,” she said. “I would tell my mother what I wanted, and she would have to order for me.”

Eventually, Price said, she decided that “I wasn’t weird, I was just different. … I hope as you listen to stories tonight you hear little pieces of yourselves.”


State
AP
U.S. to commemorate 9/11 as its aftermath extends and evolves

NEW YORK — Americans are commemorating 9/11 with mournful ceremonies, volunteering, appeals to “never forget” and rising attention to the terrorist attacks’ extended toll on responders.

A crowd of victims’ relatives is expected at ground zero Wednesday, while President Donald Trump is scheduled to join an observance at the Pentagon. Vice President Mike Pence is to speak at the third attack site, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Eighteen years after the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, the nation is still grappling with the aftermath at ground zero, in Congress and beyond.

The attacks’ aftermath is visible from airport security checkpoints to Afghanistan. A rocket exploded at the U.S. embassy as the anniversary began in Afghanistan, where a post-9/11 invasion has become America’s longest war.

“People say, ‘Why do you stand here, year after year?’” Chundera Epps, a sister of Sept. 11 victim Christopher Epps, said at last year’s ceremony at the World Trade Center. “Because soldiers are still dying for our freedom. First responders are still dying and being ill.”

“We can’t forget. Life won’t let us forget,” she added.

In Tulsa, firefighters and first responders will climb 110 stories — the number of floors in each of the twin towers — at downtown’s First Place Tower starting at 8:47 a.m. — the time of the attack on the World Trade Center.

IAFF Local 176, which represents Tulsa firefighters, is sponsoring the third annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. More than 200 firefighters and first responders will climb the height of the fallen World Trade Center towers. Each participant will be wearing around 70 pounds of gear, including an air pack, bunker coat and pants, boots and helmet, in memory of the first responders who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

The anniversary ceremonies center on remembering the nearly 3,000 people killed when four hijacked passenger planes rammed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001. All those victims’ names are read aloud at the ground zero ceremony, where moments of silence and tolling bells mark the moments when the jets crashed and the twin towers fell.

But there has been growing awareness in recent years of the suffering of firefighters, police and others who died or fell ill after exposure to the wreckage and the toxins unleashed in it.

While research continues into whether those illnesses are tied to 9/11 toxins, a victims compensation fund for people with potentially Sept. 11-related health problems has awarded more than $5.5 billion so far. Over 51,000 people have applied.

After years of legislative gridlock, dwindling money in the fund and fervent activism by ailing first responders and their advocates, Congress this summer made sure the fund won’t run dry. Trump, a Republican and a New Yorker who was in the city on 9/11, signed the measure in July.

The sick gained new recognition this year at the memorial plaza at ground zero, where the new 9/11 Memorial Glade was dedicated this spring.

The tribute features six large stacks of granite inlaid with salvaged World Trade Center steel, with a dedication “to those whose actions in our time of need led to their injury, sickness, and death.” No one is named specifically.

Some 9/11 memorials elsewhere already included sickened rescue, recovery and cleanup workers, and there is a remembrance wall entirely focused on them in Nesconset, on Long Island. But those who fell ill or were injured and their families say having a tribute at ground zero carries special significance.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced Monday that its 9/11 memorial will close next week for electrical and lighting work. The project, expected to take until late May, includes repairs to lighting glitches in the shallow reflecting pools under memorial benches.

Sept. 11 is known not only as a day for remembrance and patriotism but also as a day of service.

People around the country continue to volunteer at food banks, schools, home-building projects, park cleanups and other charitable endeavors on and near the anniversary.


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Education
TPS still negotiating state-mandated teacher pay raises with union

Most local school districts have implemented the most recent state-mandated pay raise for teachers. Tulsa Public Schools is not one of them.

The state’s second-largest district continues to negotiate with its teachers union on how to incorporate the $1,200 salary increase into this year’s employment contracts.

Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association President Patti Ferguson-Palmer stressed the delay has nothing to do with the revelation last week that TPS needs to cut $20 million from its 2020-21 budget. Rather, it’s a matter of scheduling and taking extra time to iron out the details.

Seven TPS representatives and seven TCTA representatives began meeting July 25 to negotiate the salary increase featured in the state budget for fiscal year 2020. Ferguson-Palmer hoped to reach an agreement during the latest meeting on Friday but said it’s going to take a little longer.

“We’re just not quite there yet,” she said. “We’re really, really close.”

Representatives, many of whom are classroom teachers, have struggled to find time to meet because of the always hectic start to school, with Ferguson-Palmer calling it the worst time of the year to bargain. There was no meeting during the first week of school.

Ferguson-Palmer described negotiations as a complexity filled with analyses of scattered diagrams and spreadsheets detailing possible salary schedules. She said both sides want to be careful in their deliberations and added that TCTA’s motto is it’s better to be right than fast.

“There will be a raise, but we have to figure out the nuances and who gets what on what part of the pay scale,” she said. “It’s just a very complicated process that is even more complicated because of how big we are.”

Ferguson-Palmer believes the size of Tulsa Public Schools is part of why negotiations take longer here than at other districts. The Tulsa school board didn’t approve last year’s minimum $5,000 step increase for teachers until October.

Meanwhile, Broken Arrow Public Schools became the latest district to implement the new state-mandated raise during its board meeting Monday night. The district, which previously was one of the lowest-paying in the Tulsa area, approved a pay scale that increased a starting teacher’s salary by nearly $3,700 instead of the required $1,200.

Many suburban districts, including Jenks and Sapulpa, approved $1,200 salary increases in August. Others, such as Union and Owasso, approved them through June and July. 

Early October is the earliest a new pay scale can be proposed to Tulsa school board members, Ferguson-Palmer said. First it must be ratified by teachers. The increases will be retroactive to the beginning of the school year.

Although it would be nice to see even larger raises, she said teachers should expect the amount secured in the state budget.

“We always try to get as much as possible,” Ferguson-Palmer said. “That’s kind of our job. But the main focus is delivering the $1,200 and teachers advancing on their steps. It’s just figuring out how to do that.”

A TPS spokeswoman declined to speak in-depth about the delay but released the following statement: “Nothing is more important to the future of our state than a strong public education system and that starts with having high quality teachers in every classroom.

“We are continuing to work collaboratively with the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association on negotiating teacher salaries and we look forward to jointly sharing more details soon.”

Comparison of teacher pay across Tulsa-area school districts

District  2019-20 Pay raiseStarting base salary 
Bartlesville $1,220 $37,896
Bixby  $1,688 $39,000
Broken Arrow $3,417 $38,321
Claremore $1,900 $37,219
Collinsville $1,300 $38,000
Coweta $1,420 $39,179
Jenks $1,220 $39,006
Owasso $1,220 $39,906
Sand Springs $2,400  $40,001
Sapulpa  $1,220 $40,022
Sperry $1,200$36,383
Tulsa N/A$37,901 
Union$1,200$40,220

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Crime-and-courts
This Oklahoma woman got 12 years for selling $31 worth of marijuana but was later paroled. Now she's back in jail for failure to pay court fees

Spottedcrow

Update: Good Samaritans contribute to clear Oklahoma woman's debt from 2010 arrest for $31 marijuana sale


A woman who at one point had a 12-year prison sentence for selling $31 worth of cannabis is back in jail after police in Oklahoma City arrested her on a bench warrant seeking more than $1,100 in unpaid costs in the nearly decade-old case.

Patricia Spottedcrow was 25 when a Kingfisher County judge sentenced her for a first offense of distribution of a controlled substance — cannabis — to a police informant in December 2009 and January 2010. Spottedcrow had four young children at the time and did not have any criminal convictions when she pleaded guilty without a sentencing recommendation from a prosecutor.

The Tulsa World included Spottedcrow’s story in a 2011 project about women in Oklahoma prisons, drawing national scrutiny and grassroots advocacy aimed at securing her release.

A different judge modified her sentence to eight years with four years suspended during a 2011 judicial review. She left prison in November 2012 after then-Gov. Mary Fallin agreed with the parole recommendation of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.

But on Tuesday, news of Spottedcrow’s Monday arrest in Oklahoma City on the Kingfisher County warrant drew outrage from those who have followed her case.

“Today, folks are profiting off of the marijuana industry, and she is still suffering from that $31 sale almost a decade ago,” said Nicole McAfee, director of advocacy for the ACLU of Oklahoma. “It’s really disappointing and sad for the state of Oklahoma.”

An arrest report indicates that an Oklahoma City police officer “made voluntary contact” with Spottedcrow at the Plaza Inn Motel parking lot near Interstate 35 around 1 a.m. Monday. The officer said Spottedcrow provided her identifying information and that he learned she had a felony warrant from Kingfisher County related to her 2010 case.

Spottedcrow was also charged in late 2010 with cannabis possession after authorities found a small amount in a jacket pocket while booking her into the Kingfisher County jail following her sentencing in the early 2010 case. She pleaded guilty in January 2011 and received a two-year concurrent sentence in that later case.

A 2017 Tulsa World story indicates that Spottedcrow splits her time between Kingfisher and motels in Oklahoma City because she struggles to find stable housing and employment. She got married in 2014 and has had at least two other children since then.

“I’ve never had Section 8 or HUD, but I need it now,” Spottedcrow said in 2017. “I even called my (Cheyenne and Arapahoe) tribe to help, and they didn’t. I called the shelters, and they don’t take large families.”

Spottedcrow’s mother, Delita Starr, was also accused of drug crimes in the 2009 incident. A judge handed her a 30-year suspended sentence, and Starr became the caregiver of Spottedcrow’s children while her daughter was in prison.

Court records show that Starr continues to pay court costs at least every other month.

Kingfisher County District Attorney Mike Fields said Tuesday that his office did not authorize or request the arrest warrant for Spottedcrow, saying cost collection bench warrants are typically handled by judges and the Court Clerk’s Office.

Then-Associate District Judge Robert Davis approved a cost collection bench warrant on Aug. 10, 2018, writing in a court minute that “defendant failed to pay fines and costs.”

The Kingfisher County Court Clerk’s Office told KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City that it has received several calls from citizens interested in contributing the $1,139.90 needed to secure Spottedcrow’s release from jail.

Though Fields said failure to pay can form the basis for prosecutors to file an application to revoke a suspended sentence, in Spottedcrow’s case, he said he did not anticipate doing so. He also reiterated that his office was not involved in the issuance or service of the warrant.

Another prosecutor handled a 2018 revocation proceeding against Spottedcrow that resulted in Davis’ partially revoking her sentence in favor of a six-month jail term. Court documents indicate that she missed at least one regularly scheduled meeting with her probation officer and admitted drinking beer in violation of her conditions.

Attorney Brenda Golden, who represented Spottedcrow in more recent proceedings, attributed the missed probation appointment to a miscommunication about the status of the case.

But McAfee said the complexity of the legal system makes it a challenge for defendants to successfully complete what is asked of them, especially if their supervision period is lengthy. She also said Spottedcrow likely will have to pay additional filing fees and could even be ordered to pay the costs associated with her incarceration.

“At the end of the day, there are Oklahoma kids who are without their mother,” McAfee said of Spottedcrow’s situation. “There is a woman who is serving even more of an already unjust sentence, and we’re only setting her up to have to pay more fines and fees for a longer time.”


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