New Ohio laws will hit close to home in 2017

Ohio lawmakers are ringing in the New Year with the passage of more than fifty new laws.

The laws, which cover a variety of subjects from education to health to safety, took effect in Ohio on January 1. While some of these laws do not have a local impact so much as a state one, several of them are inciting changes here at Mason. The laws primarily affect the functioning of the school system as well as how students plan for the future.

Student Discipline

One significant law concerns truancy, which states that students may not be suspended or expelled for missing an unreasonable number of school days for inexcusable reasons. District Chief Operation Officer Todd Petrey said that Mason already follows this system with a five-step program that aims to discipline kids without suspension.

“Mason is already complying with that law,” Petrey said. “We’ve actually been asked to meet with the county and present to them how we do attendance. We have a five-step plan, and each step defines what we do for each day missed. Once the kid misses a certain number of days, we send a letter to the parents, then we ask for a doctor’s note, and at a certain point we ask for an intervention meeting.”

The new laws also mandate that the state must develop a “model school-discipline policy” that focuses on alternatives to suspension or expulsion. Students are also now permitted to complete missed assignments during suspension. Petrey said that Mason’s policy will look for ways to help the student before resorting to suspension.

“Our goal in Mason is to educate kids first,” Petrey said. “We realize that kids make mistakes. And we’ve always had the philosophy that we’re going to educate kids regardless of what they do. So instead of suspending kids and kicking them out, we look at what we can do to help them.It depends on what the child does to end up in the situation.”

Stem Curriculum

Other changes to the district include the introduction of STEM curriculum as early as kindergarten instead of starting in the sixth grade. The idea is to promote STEM subjects early on and have the programs carry on through grade school. Barbara Shuba, head of the science department at Mason, said the new law will only force learning on students, instead of letting students discover their own interests.

“I have a problem with laws forcing things that should naturally happen,” Shuba said. “I think if you let kids naturally take their course, they’re going to experiment. I love the idea that our school gave the personal learning days, and I hope our students will embrace that. I think the best thing would be to really go back and embrace learning for what it is, to learn. And to let kids explore what they want to explore, not check the box because some (law) told (them) to.”

Petrey said that the new law is important for developing problem solving skills early on in life.

“I think it’s outstanding,” Petrey said. “The more we can prepare kids to be problem solvers, to be creative thinkers, the better kids are going to do, not only in school, but in life. They will have those skills to address anything that they’re encountered with in life. So it’s very important, at the earliest levels, that we introduce things like STEM.”

Snow Day Regulations

Changes have been made to snow day regulations so that they no longer require schools to get state approval for making up school days lost to bad weather. Formerly, the Ohio Department of Education would be required to sign off on any “blizzard bags,” but now, schools are allowed to devise their own methods for making up the lost time. Petrey said that the district will continue to follow its current policy of making up snow days, which requires students to spend minimum number of hours in school per year instead of a minimum number of days.

Student Athletes

Laws have also been added to protect students from Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SAC), the leading killer of student athletes in high school and college. Athletes and their parents must now review guidelines concerning the risks and warning signs of SAC, and coaches are required to complete an annual training course on the condition. Boys soccer head coach Paul Reedy said that the law will help coaches create a safer training environment for student athletes.

“We want safe athletes; we want a safe environment,” Reedy said. “Anything that helps with that, we will fully support. I’m sure we will learn more about what we need to do before the next school year. I look forward to learning more about this new law and it should only help what we do here. We’ve gone through a lot of different training programs in the past. All of that is designed to help us so that we’re not ever doing anything that would put a student athlete at risk.”

Student Debt

Not all of the laws mean good news for students. More fees have been added to student loan balances and there is currently no limit for how high they can go. Debt collectors can now charge even higher collection fees on student loans. As a result, discussions have taken place about how to better inform high school students about the ramifications of college debt.

Senior Jack Bohls, who is planning on independently paying for college, said that laws should not be adding more fees, but rather help students by decreasing college tuition.

“Personally, I think it hurts students in the long run,” Bohls said. “Stacking more (fees) on top of debt just makes things worse. Especially if you don’t have more scholarships, it hurts. Right now the debt is ridiculous, and in the end, when you get out of college, you have to pay that back with taxes. I think colleges need to lower their prices. I think the government should force schools to lower their tuitions.”

Fake media outlets propagate misinformation

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Bad news travels fast; fake news travels faster.

Fake news websites are intentionally fraudulent websites that release untrue stories and claim they are true. Although fake news has existed for years, the issue has gained attention after the 2016 presidential election.

Facebook has been accused of allowing for the propagation of fake news, and though it allegedly has the tools to shut down these sites, it has not used them. A 2016 report by the Pew Research Center said 66 percent of American adults get their news from Facebook, the algorithms of which are designed to produce more related misinformation once a false headline has been clicked.

English teacher Amanda Bross said fake news applies to what freshmen learn with “Fahrenheit 451.”

“We talked a lot with ‘Fahrenheit 451’ about how the citizens (of the book) are only given information that the government wants them to have,” Bross said. “These people are not educated and wouldn’t know how to think through things, how to spot news if it was fake. They don’t know if what they’re being fed is real or not.”

Fake news earns money from advertising – as a well known name in the fake news industry, Paul Horner makes approximately $10,000 a month – as it is shared through hyper-partisan social media.

Freshman Laura Roman, currently enrolled in Bross’ class, said that she researches authors and websites to determine credibility.

“If I’ve never heard of (of the source) before, I’ll research it online and see what other people have to say before using it,” Roman said. “I am very aware that there are some places that not only have false information, but also viruses and clickbait. You can also research the person who is creating (the source). If when researching them and looking at their history, they are known for giving fake information, then I know what they’re saying is most likely not true.”

A 2016 study by Stanford researchers tested the ability of students at the middle school, high school, and college levels to distinguish between legitimate and fake sources. In one instance, 30 percent of students argued that the fake news site was more trustworthy. The study said researchers were “taken aback by students’ lack of preparation” to analyze credibility.

Bross said Media Influence, the final unit of Honors English I, teaches students these skills.

“We look at the way the media reported (current events) through articles, editorials, editorial cartoons,” Bross said. “We also talk about how you need to synthesize information from these different sources and to check credibility in order to formulate your own opinion. We recognized that there was a need for students to be able to sift through all of these sources because of reasons like fake news or just the abundance of information that they have access to.”

These skills are also taught in AP Language and Composition through a weekly “News You Can Use (NYCU)” assignment. Its purpose is for students to develop “an informed citizenship,” according to the 2016 syllabus.

AP Language and Composition teacher Lori Roth said the College Board sees this as essential.

“We all live really busy lives and it’s really easy to push being informed to the backburner,” Roth said. “NYCU is a quick, easy way to find out what’s going on in the world. Plus, as part of AP, they ask for us to be ‘citizen rhetoricians.’”

Bross said she hopes students become more cognizant of what they read online.

“I’m hoping this is making (students) more aware and more critical viewers,” Bross said. “When they see something, especially on Facebook or on Twitter, not to just retweet or to pass it on and say ‘Look at what I just saw’ but to be able to say ‘This might not be real, and I’m going to use these skills to discern whether or not it is.’”

Women power their way to leading hero roles

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Wonder Woman!

Female superhero movies have been a rare phenomenon in Hollywood. But recently, the superhero industry has expanded to incorporate more women into leading roles. The highly anticipated “Wonder Woman” hits theaters next June and will be the first female-led film of the two major superhero studios, Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment. It will also be the first modern superhero movie directed by a woman.

Last month, the popular DC superhero turned 75 and was named a United Nations ambassador for the empowerment of girls. Number five on the U.N’s list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals is gender equality, which includes the adoption of policies for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at all levels. This ambassadorship will feature Wonder Woman in social media campaigns and other initiatives.

Junior Megan Ledford said that strong, female characters in leading roles are important influences for young girls and women.

“I think it’s important, because when I was growing up, we didn’t have (female role models) in the same capacity as we do now,” Ledford said. “So, when I got into acting, I didn’t really have anyone to look up to that wasn’t male. (Women) weren’t in roles that were demanding or that needed training.”

But that’s about to change. Marvel’s first female-led film, “Captain Marvel,” is set to release in March of 2019. Kevin Feige, president of Marvel studios, said the film version of the character will be the most powerful superhero to date, with her strength and abilities surpassing her many male predecessors.

A discussion is also in the works about giving Harley Quinn, a fan-favorite character that debuted in DC’s “Suicide Squad,” her own spin-off movie.

The big screen is not the only place women are flexing their muscles. Female-led, superhero TV shows are also rising in popularity. Beginning in October 2015, the CW started airing TV’s first female superhero series, Supergirl. Since then, the show has had consistently high approval ratings from critics. Senior Jeffrey Som said Supergirl reverses the stereotypical gender roles we are accustomed to seeing.

“In Supergirl, the plot is her defeating bad guys while trying to find herself and her meaning in life,” Som said. “It feels like it levels the playing field. No longer is it like, ‘Oh no, the girl is in distress’. Now, it’s the girl saving the guy.”

Currently popular on Netflix is another female-led series – Marvel’s “Jessica Jones.” The show follows the titular character, an ex-superhero, through the trials of being a private detective.

In October, it was announced that the second season of the series would feature only female directors. “Captain Marvel” is also anticipated to have a directress, a decision that Feige said is an important factor in the voice of the film.

Junior Emma Jenkins said women directors are able to accurately portray a female character’s strengths.

“I think it’s a good thing because they actually know women’s strengths,” Jenkins said. “Some guys will say ‘Women can’t do this, women can’t do that.’ But women know what we can do and we know what guys can do. Being a director is hard and knowing that something was directed by a woman shows that women can rise and be better.”

While Hollywood is preparing to expand gender roles in the superhero industry, many feel  that female characters, such as Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn, do not set a good example for women and girls because of their sexualized appearances in the comics.

The decision to make Wonder Woman a U.N. ambassador has received backlash from those who believe her revealing costume makes her unfit to be a role model for young girls.

Jenkins said that Wonder Woman’s costume does distract from the good she does as a character.

“It tends to make you think differently,” Jenkins said. “I don’t think it makes me feel like she’s not as powerful, but I think it makes her subject to being looked at by men. It makes it seem like they want to draw the eye to (her appearance) rather than what she’s actually doing.”

Despite the mixed opinions on appearance, many are in agreement that women need more front-and-center roles. Film club advisor Thurman Allen said film studios are realizing that stories about female characters are just as appealing to audiences as conventional male-dominated superhero movies.

“Until the new Wonder Woman movie comes out, we don’t have a (superhero) movie where a female character (is) the main character,” Allen said. “But, I think that film studios are finally realizing that just because a woman is in a movie doesn’t mean that boys won’t watch it. It’ll be nice when filmmakers finally realize that stories told about female characters are just as valid and important as the ones that star men or ‘traditional’ superheroes.”

Harry Potter: When is enough, enough?

I consider myself a connoisseur of sorts when it comes to Harry Potter. I had the whole series read by the third grade, religiously memorized to the point where I can still quote characters from even the least memorable of scenes. Try me.

So when I heard that a new book was going to be released, albeit a screenplay, I was excited. There was so much potential. Potential for things to wrong, sure, but also so much potential for J.K Rowling to remind die-hard fans why we fell in love with the series in the first place. Sadly, I was extremely disappointed. Critics insist the live play was nothing short of spectacular, but Harry Potter and the Cursed Child left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

The screenplay skewed my initial perception of the universe, with its repetitive story line and one-dimensional characters. Even old friends like Harry and Ron were virtually unrecognizable. It seemed more like badly written fan fiction than anything that J.K Rowling could have produced. Hardly worth the $17.98 off Amazon. And now, the franchise is expanding even more.

I have higher hopes for Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, mostly because it stars Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne as the protagonist, Newt Scamander. Though, I have to say, five predetermined films (that will reportedly keep the universe alive for the next 19 years) has me a little skeptical that this is all just one big money-making stunt. But if the trailer and initial reviews are anything to go by, the movie will retain the onscreen magic and charm of its historic eight predecessors.

If you ask me, quit while you’re ahead. The universe has gained a colossal fan base over the years. The theme parks, the memorabilia, the every-other-weekend Freeform marathons. For good reason too; it’s timeless. But this over-extension is just that– we’re taking away what makes it special.

I’m still going to see the movie this Thanksgiving break (nothing could keep me away), and fingers-crossed that it will meet my expectations. I want so badly not to be disappointed again. Some people say that I’m crazy for being so emotionally invested in a fictional world, but as the wise Albus Dumbledore once said: “Of course it’s happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Note: Go to https://thecspn.com to see fellow Chronicle writer, Alexandra Lisa’s story on Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them!

Social media battleground pulls younger generation into election

Whether you’re #I’mWithHer or #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, social media is the place for you.

Statistically, the 2016 presidential election has the most social media presence of any to date, said Government Technology magazine. Candidates are using social media to cater to younger audiences, especially the 18-24 year old demographic, said Ipsos Mori, a market research organization. More than 34 percent of this group indicated that reading something on social media would influence their vote.

Many students, even those who are not eligible to vote this November, are taking to social media to express their political views. Senior Brock Denniston said he believes there is no age limit when expressing one’s political opinions.

“I am not eligible to vote this election,” Denniston said. “But does that mean I can’t express my views? Do I have to be 18 in order to have a say in something? No matter what age you are you can express your ideas, there is no age limit. When people try to say I can’t have a say in something about Trump or Hillary because I can’t vote, it makes me even happier to debate with them.” 

By utilizing social media to get information out to the public, candidates are able to express their opinions and receive an immediate response. A recent survey by Fluent, a college insights and marketing firm, shows that social media is the primary method through which high school students get their information on the election and 41 percent of youth ages 15 to 25 engage in some form of participatory politics online.

Senior Danny Mackzum said that expressing opinions could help others decide where they stand on the election.

“Even though I can’t vote, I still like to express my opinions,” Mackzum said. “People on social media are going to see my opinion and be like ‘Yeah, he’s right’ or ‘No, I totally disagree with him.’”

Among popular mediums of political expression is the meme. Through every step of the race to the White House, memes have documented the candidates’ best and worst moments. Recently, the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights and human relations agency, has declared certain memes – including the popular “Pepe the Frog” internet meme – symbols of hate. This comes in response to the increasing propagation of the Alt-Right Movement, a movement that represents right-wing ideologies as an alternative to conventional conservatism, online.

Junior Millie Ortega said that memes educate and help lighten the mood of this controversial election.

“I think they do serve an overall purpose,” Ortega said. “They educate and bring awareness to what the reality of this election is. Four years ago, I don’t think there would’ve been political memes, but with how popular social media is and how wild this election is, they’re good for people to be looking at.”

Students also post material such as videos, quotes, and articles promoting a preferred candidate. Senior Noah Harrison uses social media to put Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson into the spotlight.

“I’ve actually always considered myself more of a Libertarian, so if I had to pick right now, I’d say Gary Johnson,” Harrison said. “I think they need to let him debate; I think he makes the most sense. The last thing I posted (on social media) was for Gary Johnson, just trying to get him on the stage to be able to have a debate.”

The presidential candidates are also utilizing the power of social media to reach their audiences. With a total of 11.9 million followers on Twitter, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been the most talked about person on social media since January, said SocialFlow, a social media optimization platform. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has 9.3 million followers and tweets several times a day. Gary Johnson holds 359 thousand followers. Through social media, the candidates have covered topics such as terrorism, the economy and race.

Denniston said people are often swayed by anti-Trump sentiment on social media.

“Don’t listen to the liberal and anti-Trump social media, make your own decisions for yourself, do your research and decide what your opinion is after that,” Denniston said. “Too many people have no knowledge of this election. I will continue to express my views and can’t wait to vote for Trump when he’s running for his second term.”

With the presidential election coming up on November 8, Ortega said that she feels a responsibility to be aware and make others aware of political issues, even though she can’t vote.

“A lot of people are like ‘You can’t even vote, why do you even have political views?,’” Ortega said. “But I think it’s so important to be educated, because decisions that they’re making now will affect us in the next four years. Honestly that’s why I tweet. I have 600 and something followers and that’s 600 people that go to our school and see that on their timeline.”

Harrison said that freedom of expression on social media is part of a person’s rights as a citizen.

“Whoever you support, you have a 100 percent right to put that wherever you want,” Harrison said. “You should be able to believe in what you want as long as it’s not harming (others) in any way. As you get older, it’s part of your rights as a citizen to contribute to society and do whatever you think is best.”