One month later, people living near a toxic train derailment wonder if their lives will ever be back on track | CNN


East Palestine, Ohio
CNN
 — 

This had been a quiet little town of about 4,700 people nestled in the rolling hills of Northeast Ohio. A sign posted on State Road 14 welcomes visitors to East Palestine, “the place to be.”

But for the past month, ever since a freight train derailed and caught fire, the town has been bustling with responders and reporters. Residents say they’re grateful for the help, but the attention and uncertainty have begun to strain the town’s hospitality.

Town halls and news conferences have taken over the school auditoriums and municipal buildings and shut down its main street. A clinic opened to address worrisome health questions and symptoms, and government workers have been going door-to-door to survey residents about health impacts.

Gov. Mike DeWine has traveled to East Palestine four times since the derailment and US Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan three times, each with entourages of aides and press wranglers. Some business owners near the downtown area are so tired of answering questions, they posted signs asking reporters to stay out.

The streets are busy with utility trucks for environmental clean-up companies TetraTech, Arcadis and AEComm. Plastic hoses snake into Leslie Run and Sulphur Run, two creeks that run through town that were contaminated by the accident. Large pieces of equipment that look like showerheads churn and bubble the water in these streams, hoping to speed the breakdown of chemicals in them.

Still, the floral, fruity odor of the chemical butyl acrylate still wafts up from the streams.

Many residents say they are angry.

Donna Reidy, 62, lives about a mile and a half away from the site in a white house on a hill that overlooks Leslie Run, one of the area waterways contaminated by the spill. On Thursday, she answered questions for a government health study that’s being conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reidy said that neither she or her husband – who has lung problems and requires supplemental oxygen – experienced any new or worsening physical symptoms since the derailment. However, her daughter, who also lives in East Palestine, had, she told investigators.

Reidy said her daughter had to gone to the hospital after vomiting and developing a rash. Donna said the stress of trying to protect her husband and worry for her daughter had worsened some anxiety she already struggled with, and she’s afraid of health problems that could arise later on.

“I’ve already had cancer, I don’t want to get it again,” she told Dr. Dallas Shi, an officer in the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, as they stood in the front yard outside her home.

For the study, called an assessment of chemical exposure, or ACE, Shi is working with a mapping specialist Ian Dunn, a geospatial health scientist and CDC contractor, to interview residents in some of the areas believed to be most impacted by the contamination.

After Reidy answered pages of required questions, Shi and Dunn ask her if there was anything else she wanted them to know.

“Yeah,” she said. “This stuff sucks.”

“We got roots here,” she told them. Five generations of her family lived in East Palestine. Her husband’s father saved money during World War II and sent it home to his wife so they could buy the home they live in today. Her children and grandchildren have gone to the local schools.

“They just ruined everything,” Reidy says, speaking of Norfolk Southern.

“My kids are moving, my grandkids are moving away. They just ruined everything,” she said as she started to cry.

“I’m so sorry,” Shi said, “Can I give you a hug?”

Shi, who was dressed in her dark blue public health service uniform and black work boots, put her arms around Reidy. “I can’t imagine,” she said.

“I’m so mad at them because they’re so cheap and all they cared about was money for themselves,” Reidy went on, speaking through tears. “They should have huge fines against them.”

Then Reidy apologized for getting upset.

On Thursday night, some area residents came to the local high school auditorium for a town hall meeting – their first chance to confront Norfolk Southern since the spill – and expressed similar anger and frustration.

The company was ordered to appear at the town hall by the EPA after declining to participate in earlier events.

“One thing I would like to say … is that we are sorry. We’re very sorry. We feel horrible about it,” said Darrell Wilson, who was representing the company.

The room erupted with shouts of “Buy us out!”

“Do the right thing,” one man shouted. “Tell Alan to buy us out,” referring to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw.

Several people said they believed staying in their homes was making them ill, but they couldn’t afford to go anywhere else. They want the railroad to buy their homes, which they feel have lost value since the spill.

“Get us out!” some yelled.

“We are going to do the right thing,” Wilson said, responding to the shouts.

Wilson said the company had leased office space in town and “and we signed a long lease. So we’re gonna be here for a long time,” he said..

But when asked whether there had been talk of the company relocating residents, he said there had not.

Some said they had experienced health problems since returning to their homes after the derailment. Others said they had lost their jobs or stopped going to work at jobs they felt were too close to the site. They are worried about their children or grandchildren potentially being exposed to toxins and having health problems down the road.

Some people say they continue to experience symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, dizziness and persistent coughs, and they feel puzzled by ongoing tests of the town’s air and water that have not detected chemicals at levels that are known to pose health risks.

“Why are people getting sick if there are no toxins?” East Palestine resident Jamie Cozza asked the panel answering questions at Thursday’s town hall.

“We do have a team here that is trying to collect health information so that we have a better understanding of the potential exposures and health effects,” said Capt. Jill Shugart, who is an associate director of emergency management at CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR.

The agency is conducting a total of three Assessment of Chemical Exposure, or ACE, investigations – one for Ohio residents, one for people in Pennsylvania, and another for first responders to the accident scene.

Shugart said it would take about three weeks to collect enough information to get an understanding of the full picture, then the agency has to work with Pennsylvania and Ohio to present their findings to residents.

Data from some surveys are starting to come available. On Friday, the Ohio Department of Health released preliminary data from its ACE survey, and out of 168 completed, 74% of people said they experienced headaches, 64% reported anxiety, 61% reported coughing, 58% listed fatigue, and 52% said they had irritation, pain or burning of their skin. The health department is still collecting surveys through its health assessment clinic, which will be open again next week.

Many at the town hall said they felt that the evacuation order had been lifted too soon – less than a week after the derailment – and may have put them in harm’s way, before any potential dangers were fully assessed.

On Thursday, the EPA capitulated to demands from residents and said it would require Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins, cancer-causing chemicals that form during combustion. The EPA had previously declined to require testing for dioxins, saying that these chemicals are already present in the environment, so it’s hard to interpret what their levels mean. The EPA said it would require the railroad company to study background levels of dioxins in comparable areas in order to give some context to the test results.

Authorities have focused much of their concern on a 2-mile radius around the spill, but residents that live farther away, including some farmers in nearby Pennsylvania, say they’ve been impacted, too.

Dave Anderson raises grass fed beef 4 miles downwind of East Palestine, in nearby Darlington Township, Pennsylvania. After the derailment, fire and controlled burn of toxic chemicals, the thick black smoke drifted over his Echo Valley Farm.

“As far as the smoke, you could probably see 100 yards,” Anderson told CNN’s Miguel Marquez.

Anderson said his eyes, throat and mouth burned.

The cloud from the spill settled on his pastures and ponds. Anderson said now he’s not sure whether the grassfed cattle he’s raised for years are safe for human consumption.

So far, there’s been no testing of his water, soil or air on his farm.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environment Protection, or DEP, just visited Anderson’s farm for the first time this week, nearly four weeks after the event.

In a written statement provided to CNN, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture said it launched a hotline encouraging those impacted to reach out if they have concerns about livestock or crops.

Also this week, Pennsylvania opened a community resource center in Darlington to help people who want to get their soil or wells tested. The center is also conducting medical exams for residents with health concerns. Adam Ortiz, regional administrator for EPA’s region 3 office, which includes Pennsylvania, said the center has seen about 100 people a day since it opened.

The crash occurred just feet from the Pennsylvania border. The winds typically blow east, toward Pennsylvania. The state is going house to house, testing soil and water in areas closest to the derailment. Anderson said officials are still trying to figure out if they should extend that testing to other areas.

Samuel Wenger and his wife Joyce had their fourth child, Jackson Hayes, a week ago. Wenger said the state’s response has been too slow and lacking in information to know whether Darlington is still a safe place to raise a family.

They only recently were able to get their well tested, and they were told it would take another three weeks to get the results of that testing. They said it was agonizing to bring their newborn son back to their house when they don’t have answers about contamination.

“I feel like I possibly regret the decision every day but here we live paycheck to paycheck, we live within our means, and we don’t have the financial luxury to pack up and move,” Samuel said. “It’s scary.”

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Ohio, Pennsylvania offer health services following train derailment, but some residents feel skeptical | CNN


Darlington Township, Pennsylvania
CNN
 — 

The municipal building in tiny Darlington Township, Pennsylvania, was buzzing with activity on Wednesday afternoon as a stream of locals arrived seeking information on health screenings, chemical exposures and well testing.

Darlington, home to about 1,800 people, sits just over the border from East Palestine, Ohio, the site of a catastrophic train derailment and controlled burn of toxic chemicals that sent black smoke billowing over the area for days in early February. Residents here say the wind blew acrid smoke into their homes and coated their cars with a fine ash. State and federal officials gave East Palestine residents the all-clear to return to their homes days later.

But residents in both places are now wondering whether their water is safe to drink and their air safe to breathe. The characteristic floral, fruity odor of butyl acrylate still permeates some homes and wafts up from some of the impacted streams that run through the town. Some say they’re experiencing symptoms – cough, headaches, rashes, watering eyes and dripping noses – that might be related to a chemical exposure.

Government-run community resource centers and health clinics have opened in East Palestine and Darlington to answer residents’ questions and connect them to any care they might need. More than 140 people have come to the clinic in East Palestine since it first opened on February 21, according to the Ohio Department of Health. The Darlington center opened February 28, and more than 200 people visited in its first two days, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Still, some residents are skeptical of the clinics, and the response overall. While many residents who live near the derailment site are following the testing for chemicals in the air and water, what they really want to know is whether they’ve had chemicals from the accident in their bodies, and whether those chemicals have impacted their health.

They’re swapping information online, and seeking out blood tests they hope will identify potential problems. Some are seeking out medical care so there’s a record of their symptoms.

On the advice of a lawyer, Ron Book and his wife came to the East Palestine Health Assessment Clinic on Wednesday afternoon to have their illnesses documented. Book says since the derailment, his nose has been running constantly. He has a sore throat, and he feels stuffy.

“It’s like I have a cold, but I don’t have a cold,” he said.

Book said he saw a doctor who took his vitals and advised him to keep up with the regular blood work that he needs for his ongoing treatment for prostate cancer. He was inside for about 45 minutes, and said the experience was helpful, and about what he expected.

“They can’t heal you,” Book says, “because nobody knows about this chemical.”

At the Darlington center, tables were staffed with experts to answer questions about the chemicals involved in the train derailment, free well and air testing for residents, and potential impacts to area farms.

There were pamphlets on how to manage stress following a disaster and mental health counselors, as well as Zuko, a 3-year-old Great Dane therapy dog.

Residents are also invited to take a nine-page questionnaire to contribute data to a newly launched Assessment of Chemical Exposure, or ACE, study, which is being conducted by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Health investigators can use their data to inform a study into the health effects associated with the chemical exposures after the derailment.

People could see a doctor, or get referrals for a primary care physician.

“I think approximately 40% of people sought some sort of clinical evaluation,” said Nate Wardle, who is the special response project manager for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Wardle said when they opened the clinic, they weren’t sure what to expect – whether residents would be angry that it took more than three weeks to get them these services. So far, he said, people have been grateful and eager to get the help.

Jim Denes, who is 71, came to the health clinic in Darlington Township on Wednesday. He said he lives less than 2 miles from the accident site. On Friday of last week, Denes said he felt awful.

“I was just miserable. I was trying to cough up stuff, I couldn’t,” Denes said. “My eyes were all runny and watery.”

He said he took a Covid-19 test, but it was negative.

Denes said he’s extremely tired and had to drag himself to the clinic, but he’s glad he did. The doctor he saw diagnosed him with bronchitis and prescribed an antibiotic. The clinic was a lot closer than his regular doctor in Ellwood City, and he was able to walk in and be seen without a wait.

Denes said the doctor told him he couldn’t say whether it was related to the chemicals that were spilled or not.

Some residents said they have no interest in going to government-run health clinics.

“I honestly, at this point, don’t know who’s working with who and I really just don’t trust anything that has to do with the government right now,” said Giovanni Irizarry, whose family lives within a mile of the train derailment site.

In the evening hours of February 3, his wife Ashley Irizarry was driving to work when she noticed she could see thick black smoke hanging in the air, even though it was dark. Eventually, she saw the raging fire along the railroad tracks.

That night, Ashley had a red rash on her cheeks, her eyes were burning and red and a metallic chemical smell had burned her nose and throat. On Saturday, Giovanni said, his lips burned like he’d had scalding hot soup. Giovanni’s mother, who was living with them, developed a cough so severe she couldn’t catch her breath. The Irizarrys evacuated on Sunday to Boardman, Ohio, about 15 miles away.

They returned home on Saturday, February 11, in anticipation of school restarting on Monday.

As soon as they got close to town, Giovanni said, “I immediately felt my lips like start that burning sensation.”

He and his mom started coughing. His wife and kids developed debilitating and unrelenting headaches. After the kids came home from school on Monday, both started vomiting.

Ashley says she has taken the family to their primary care doctor, an urgent care and the hospital.

“It was not getting better,” she said.

Medical records reviewed by CNN show Ashley was prescribed a steroid and given a chest X-ray due to “toxic effects of gas exposure.” Her son was also diagnosed with chemical exposure.

When the doctors looked into her nose and throat they told her ” ‘Your mucous membranes are all pale. Like they were burned,’ but they didn’t know what to do at this time,” Ashley said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.

On public Facebook groups, residents are sharing names of providers who will order blood testing for chemical exposures, which isn’t something either of the government-run clinics is doing currently. Some have even tried to do their own research to try to identify the medical codes needed to order tests for specific chemicals in the blood from large labs.

Instead of going to the government health clinic, on Wednesday, Ashley went to see their chiropractor, Richard Tsai, who has been ordering certain blood tests for existing patients who think they have having health problems connected to chemical exposures from the derailment.

Tsai’s practice, Blackhawk Chiropractic, is right next door to the Darlington Township community resource center and clinic that was opened by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and other state agencies this week.

The tests Tsai orders are general and standard in medical care – a test called a complete blood count, which measures levels of red cells, white cells, and clotting factors in the blood; and a test called a basic metabolic panel, which measures blood sugar, electrolytes, and kidney function. If his patients ask for it, he also orders a more specialized test that measure exposure to the chemical benzene. In the past two days, he estimates about 15 patients have asked him for blood testing.

Tsai, who lives in East Palestine, says he’s been frustrated by the government’s response.

“We shouldn’t be having to do this,” Tsai said, in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.

“Why are people having to figure this out on Facebook? These people need to know where to go and what’s available.”

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health, pushed back against the idea that the government wasn’t giving people enough information. He said that during the course of the medical assessment at the health clinic, the clinic physician might make recommendations for further testing, but that would be done by the person’s regular doctor.

If people don’t have a doctor that they see regularly, Vanderhoff said they are trying to help residents find one.

Vanderhoff said it would be important for the primary care providers to continue to monitor changes in a patient’s overall health.

“Because when we look at the chemicals involved, especially the primary chemical vinyl chloride, there is simply not a blood test that we can do or a urine test that we can do that would say ‘Aha! You had an exposure,’ ” Vanderhoff said. “That would be great, but that’s just not the case.”

Tsai, who lives in East Palestine, said that he’s legally able to order medical tests, so he does, within limits. “Why wouldn’t you do that?” he said.

Dr. Erin Haynes, the chairperson of the department of epidemiology and environmental health at the University of Kentucky, says she thinks it’s sound for residents to seek out common blood tests.

In an email to CNN, Haynes said in addition to a complete blood count and basic metabolic panel she would add a liver function test, since vinyl chloride, one chemical that was on the train, can damage the liver.

But Haynes says trying to test for specific chemicals may be a step too far.

“Testing for chemical exposure at this point is a difficult,” says Haynes, who has helped impacted communities investigate environmental exposures. “The high levels are now gone, and we aren’t exactly sure what to measure in blood or urine since we don’t know what chemicals formed during the fire. There are suspects, but not clear answers yet.”

Haynes said it would be ideal to collect blood and urine samples now, but store them for later testing, but this would be difficult for a local clinic to do.

Overall, Haynes says the government’s response to chemical spills like this one leaves something to be desired.

“The community is in dire need of an organized and coordinated health monitoring study that includes exposure assessment,” said Haynes, who hopes to bring such a study to the area soon.

Down the road, she says, there’s still a lot to learn about the health impacts of environmental exposures to toxins.

“We also need more research on what these chemicals do and methods for rapid testing,” Haynes said. “Communities with railroad must know what is moving through their community, when and how much. They also must receive training on how to safely respond when a disaster occurs.”

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John Fetterman Hospitalized For Depression, Everybody Awesome About It If You Ignore GOP

On Wednesday evening, Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) checked in to Washington’s Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to be treated for clinical depression, according to a statement from his office yesterday. Fetterman, the statement said, has long suffered from depression, but the condition has recently become “severe.” The Philadelphia Inquirer reports,

“While John has experienced depression off and on throughout his life, it only became severe in recent weeks,” his chief of staff, Adam Jentleson, said in a statement. “On Monday, John was evaluated by Dr. Brian P. Monahan, the Attending Physician of the United States Congress. Yesterday, Dr. Monahan recommended inpatient care at Walter Reed. John agreed, and he is receiving treatment on a voluntary basis.”

Jentleson added that, “After examining John, the doctors at Walter Reed told us that John is getting the care he needs, and will soon be back to himself.”

Fetterman had also been hospitalized briefly last week after feeling lightheaded; tests determined he had not suffered another stroke, and his office said an EEG showed no signs of seizures, either. He returned to work in the Senate Monday for a vote.

Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the US, affecting almost a tenth of all adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s a fucking bear to live with, although many of us manage pretty well with antidepressant meds, according to me. Also, a 2021 study found that rates of depression in the US increased during the early months of the pandemic in 2020. And of course, depression is very common among people who’ve survived a stroke.

Frankly, we’re pretty sure everyone in America has been in a state of existential crisis since election night 2016, at least if they’ve been paying attention. Shit has been unrelenting, and that has to go triple for people actually in the middle of things.


Fetterman’s wife, Giselle Barreto Fetterman, wrote on Twitter yesterday,

After what he’s been through in the past year, there’s probably no one who wanted to talk about his own health less than John. I’m so proud of him for asking for help and getting the care he needs. […]

Take care of yourselves. Hold your loved ones close, you are not alone.

The New York Times reports that aides to Sen. Fetterman expect he won’t be hospitalized longer than a few days, although no firm estimate of when he’ll be released home has yet been determined.

Fetterman’s health had been steadily improving since a stroke last summer, but the already stressful work of starting a new job as a senator has been complicated by the continued effects of the stroke, which left him with auditory processing difficulties, as we saw during his campaign debate against Republican snake oil merchant Mehmet Oz in October. Fortunately, there’s a lot of adaptive technology that has been helpful, the Times notes:

The sergeant-at-arms has arranged for live audio-to-text transcription for Mr. Fetterman’s committees and installed a monitor at his desk so he can follow proceedings with closed captioning. His Democratic colleagues in the Senate have been growing accustomed to communicating with him through a tablet that transcribes their words, technology he needs after suffering from auditory processing issues associated with his stroke.

The Times also points out that Fetterman simply never had the usual period of convalescence that would be the norm after a stroke, which

has become a source of pain and frustration for Mr. Fetterman and people close to him, who fear that he may suffer long-term and possibly permanent repercussions. His schedule as a freshman senator has meant that he has continued to push himself in ways that people close to him worry are detrimental.

The Inquirer adds that a “source close to Fetterman” said he had voted and attended hearings Wednesday, but that the stress was showing:

“He was doing everything. He’s been doing everything, he just hasn’t been himself,” the person said, asking for anonymity to disclose personal information. “He decided to get help, and the good news is, he’s getting the help he needs.”

And for Crom’s sake, he deserves that. Doesn’t everyone?

Reactions to Fetterman’s hospitalization have been — at least outside Troll World — overwhelmingly supportive and empathetic. The Washington Post notes that Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) tweeted, “There is never any weakness in seeking help.” Gallego has spoken publicly about having experienced PTSD after serving in Iraq, and said the January 6 insurrection had triggered a recurrence. In addition,

Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), who’s spoken publicly about her own battle with depression, also said Fetterman was displaying strength, “not weakness.”

Smith has spoken in Congress about dealing with depression in college, and while raising her children, and told the Post that she’s regularly approached by young people who say that her openness has made them feel able to talk about their own experiences with depression.

We’ve finally reached a point in our crazy society where mental illness can be talked about in the same register we’d discuss a heart attack or other serious physical illness, and that’s a hell of an improvement within my own lifetime. Recall that in 1972, George McGovern suddenly dropped his vice presidential nominee, Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Missouri), when news broke that Eagleton had been hospitalized three times for severe depression, and that he’d also had electroconvulsive therapy.

A lot has changed in 50 years.

Here’s wishing all the best to John Fetterman and his family, and we hope — perhaps naively, we’re prone to that — that we’ll take this as a chance to talk about mental illness and how we’re all navigating this strange reality we’ve been in for over half a decade. We’re deliberately staying away from Twitter for a while for that reason.

Be kind to each other. Try to remember we’re all just trying to get through all this, and it isn’t fucking easy.

[Philadelphia Inquirer / NYT / WaPo / Photo: Office of Gov. Tom Wolf, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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The Stupid, It Burns … Books!

The far Right’s war on students’ right to read a goddamn book if they want to read a goddamn book — as well as grownups reading grownup books, as if that’s somehow allowed either — continues across the country, with ever-more surreal battles being pursued in the name of protecting kids from things kids want to read. Put on your helmet and body armor, because the anti-book crazies are still going ballistic.

LAST WEEK! North Dakota GOP To Jail Librarians For Disgusting Sex Books, Including Images Of ‘Gender Identity’

Kentucky: Librarian Wins Small Claims Case Over LGBTQ Book

In a fairly open-and-shut (you know, like a book!) case in Jefferson County District Court last week in Louisville, Kentucky, a small claims court judge tossed a case brought by a local bigot who had sued a high school librarian over her decision to include books on LGBTQ+ topics in the library. The man, Kurt Wallace, had sought “damages” of $2,300 because Waggener High School librarian Kristen Heckel had kept the award-winning memoir/essay collectionAll Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson in the library despite Wallace’s attempts to make it and other LGBTQ books go away.


Heckel still had to take the day off from school to attend the hearing, a situation for which Judge Jennifer Leibson was apologetic. As Louisville Public Media explains, court records showed that Johnson

began sending letters to Heckel in the spring of 2022 objecting to the library’s purchase of “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and other titles Wallace claimed were “obscene” or “pornographic.” He also claimed the books were intended for “grooming” minors for sexual exploitation, a common unfounded and homophobic talking point among some right-wing activists.

We have to say that LPM reporter Jess Clark appears to have relished the chance to describe the courtroom drama, such as it was, noting that Judge Leibson began by explaining the purpose of small claims court, and what kinds of cases are and aren’t allowed there.

Then she called up Wallace. The middle-aged man in dress slacks made his way to the stand dragging a carry-on-sized suitcase behind him, presumably filled with evidence he intended to present. He also carried a large leather-bound Bible and a posterboard scrawled with red marker but illegible from a distance.

He never had a chance to read it. Leibson dismissed the case.

“Mr. Wallace, your case is one of those cases,” Leibson said. “You cannot recover in small claims on this kind of judgment.” She had explained earlier that small claims court is only meant to decide cases in which a plaintiff had incurred actual costs as the result of a defendant’s action.

Wallace tried to argue with Leibson, demanding that she identify the statute that gave her the authority to dismiss his very valid claim, but she asked him to leave the courtroom, possibly before he insisted that her ruling was invalid because there was gold fringe on her flag. He returned a bit later and “sat in the public viewing area with his Bible in his lap.”

Leibson apologized to Heckel for having to put up with the nonsense, and added “I admire your courage. … I wish you had been my librarian when I was a kid.”

Honestly, we were hoping maybe Heckel would have sued Wallace for making her miss work, but she probably got paid for being there, since school district attorneys went along to defend her if that had been needed. [Louisville Public Media]

Pennsylvania: First They Came For The Inspirational Poster Featuring Elie Wiesel

In the Central Bucks School District in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a librarian at Central Bucks South High School says the school’s principal told him to remove posters featuring a quote by Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel, because the posters supposedly violated a new policy banning educators from “advocacy activities.”

Librarian Matt Pecic said Wednesday he’d been told to remove the posters because they featured a quote from Wiesel’s 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

Well sure, we can see why speaking up for the oppressed would be a terrible thing. The truly neutral action, as mandated by district policy, would be to allow the tormentors to do as they like, because who are you to decide they’re wrong?

Pecic told public station WHYY that if the posters weren’t removed, there would be “consequences” from the district’s Human Resources office. He said he felt “powerless” to refuse.

“If I didn’t take it down, I knew there would be consequences that could impact me,” he said.

“It’s a horrible feeling. And you feel like you have to do something that you don’t agree with,” Pecic added.

Pecic added that his daugher, a ninth-grader in the district, had emailed him the quote.

“This is where I get choked up … She said that ‘this quote reminds me of you,’” Pecic said. He describes himself as someone who often speaks up, “if I disagree with something, especially if I think it’s not for the benefit of students, I will say something.”

Or at least that’s how things may have worked before fascists started terrorizing teachers and librarians.

The Central Bucks District has been the center of a discrimination lawsuit brought by the ACLU, which argues rightwing members of the school board have created a “hostile environment” for LGBTQ+ students in the district. The district is currently considering whether to remove as many as five books from district libraries, four of which have LGBTQ+ themes, under a new policy that makes books easier to ban. Parents are upset that the books will turn their kids gay, like teachers and librarians are always trying to do.

There’s a semi-happy ending to the Wiesel quote story, at least: After the story blew up on social media, the principal reversed the decision and Pecic will be putting the posters back up.

So happy International Holocaust Remembrance Day, everyone. [WHYY, tip of the Wonkette Cat Ears to alert reader “MVario”]

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