MLB, union, Cuba reach deal for players to sign
By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN and RONALD BLUM
Thursday, December 20
HAVANA (AP) — Major League Baseball, its players’ association and the Cuban Baseball Federation reached an agreement that will allow players from the island to sign big league contracts without defecting, an effort to eliminate the dangerous trafficking that had gone on for decades.
The agreement, which runs through Oct. 31, 2021, allows Cubans to sign under rules similar to those for players under contract to clubs in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
“For years, Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations by creating a safe and legal alternative for those players to sign with major league clubs,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement Wednesday. “We believe that this agreement accomplishes that objective and will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball.”
Depending on the quality of future players, the agreement could mean millions of dollars in future income for the cash-poor Cuban federation, which has seen the quality of players and facilities decline in recent years as talent went overseas.
The agreement marks a step forward in U.S.-Cuba relations during a time of tensions between Cuba and the Trump administration, which has pledged to undo President Barack Obama’s 2014 opening with the island.
MLB said the deal was allowed by amendments to the Cuban Asset Control Regulations of March 16, 2016, that established the provisions of a general license from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. The league said OFAC confirmed to Major League Baseball in a letter dated Sept. 20, 2016, that an agreement with the Cuban federation would be valid.
“Baseball has always been a bridge between our two nations, facilitating people-to-people connections and larger agreements that have brought our countries closer together,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.
Any disputes between MLB and the Cuban federation are subject to resolution by the International Chamber of Commerce.
“Establishing a safe, legal process for entry to our system is the most important step we can take to ending the exploitation and endangerment of Cuban players who pursue careers in Major League Baseball,” union head Tony Clark said in a statement. “The safety and well-being of these young men remains our primary concern.”
Only players under contract to the Cuban federation are covered by the agreement, and the Cuban federation agreed to release all players 25 and older with at least six years of professional experience. They would be classified as international professionals under MLB’s labor contract with the players’ association and not subject to international amateur signing bonus pools.
The Cuban federation may at its discretion release younger players to sign minor league contracts with MLB organizations.
A player can decide whether he wants a registered MLBPA agent to negotiate a major league contract. He may use a representative other than an agent to negotiate a minor league deal.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, called it a “homerun agreement,” tweeting “This deal will make life better for Cuban baseball players, who will no longer have to risk unsafe passage to the U.S.”
Players have told stories of harrowing crossings on rafts and rickety boats — some later challenged as exaggerations.
“Today is a day that I am extremely happy,” said a statement from Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who was smuggled out of Cuba by traffickers linked to a Mexican drug gang, according to court testimony. “To know future Cuban players will not have to go through what we went through makes me so happy.”
Cuban-born players have a long history in the major leaguers, led by Minnie Minoso with nine All-Star selections, Tony Oliva with eighth and Camilo Pascual and Tony Perez with seven each. And while Puig, Orlando and Livan Hernandez, Aroldis Chapman and others became stars in recent decades, others have been big-money busts. Outfielder Rusney Castillo agreed to a $72.5 million, seven-year contract with Boston in 2014 and has appeared in just 99 games with the Red Sox while playing 347 in the minor leagues.
“Words cannot fully express my heartfelt joy,” Chicago White Sox All-Star first baseman Jose Abreu said in a statement. “Dealing with the exploitation of smugglers and unscrupulous agencies will finally come to an end for the Cuban baseball player. To this date, I am still harassed.”
Any players allowed to sign with big league clubs can do so without leaving Cuba, and the fee paid by the signing team will be covered by the same rules as in MLB’s other posting systems: 20 percent of the first $25 million of a major league contract, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million and 15 percent of any amount over $50 million. There will be a supplemental fee of 15 percent of any earned bonuses, salary escalators and exercised options.
For minor league contracts, the fee will be 25 percent of the signing bonus, and there will be a supplemental fee for any foreign professionals who at first agree to minor league deals that include major league terms that later come into force.
A former Cuban federation player under contract to a MLB club may return to Cuba during the offseason. He can play in Cuba during the offseason only with his MLB club’s consent.
Cuban players will need the consent of a series of sports officials in the country before the Cuban Baseball Federation agrees to release them, according to the organization’s president, Higinio Velez. He described the new system as a way of protecting the quality of Cuban baseball while allowing players to head to MLB without resorting to traffickers or breaking ties with their country.
Addressing young players’ families, he said, “This is the legal path, the secure path that we’ve always dreamed of for their children.”
“Today’s contract gives the Cuban player a secure life, a tranquil one, of being able to play in Cuba, be signed by any team in the major leagues, to be able to return, to be with their family, travel with their family, to come and go legally any time they want,” he said.
The departure of young Cuban players to MLB has slowed since limits were placed on signing bonuses for international amateurs starting July 2, 2017.
For 2017-18, outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez got $2.8 million from Texas, and the only other signing bonus over $300,000 for a Cuban-born amateur was $750,000 for shortstop Eddy Diaz (Colorado).
In the current signing period that started July 2, the largest signing bonus for a Cuban-born amateur has been $975,000 for outfielder Jairo Pomares with San Francisco.
Blum reported from New York.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Trump’s safety panel seeks to revoke school discipline rules
By COLLIN BINKLEY
Tuesday, December 18
The Trump administration on Tuesday moved to roll back an Obama-era policy that was meant to curb racial disparities in school discipline but that critics say left schools afraid to take action against potentially dangerous students.
The recommendation was among dozens issued in a new report by Trump’s federal school safety commission, which was formed in response to a Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and staff members, and sparked a national debate over gun control.
The panel was asked to study a range of options to bolster security at America’s schools, from the regulation of guns to the regulation of violent video games. Yet rather than suggest a series of sweeping changes, the commission issued 100 smaller suggestions that largely avoid strong stances on topics like gun control and whether schools should arm teachers.
“Our conclusions in this report do not impose one-size-fits-all solutions for everyone, everywhere,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who led the commission. “The primary responsibility for the physical security of schools and the safety of their students naturally rests with states and local communities.”
Trump praised the report at a White House event Tuesday, saying “nothing is more important than protecting our nation’s children.”
On the question of whether schools should arm staff members, the panel said it should be left to states and schools to decide, but DeVos said schools should “seriously consider” the option. The report highlights districts that have armed staff members, and it steers schools to federal funding that can be used for firearm training.
Among the biggest proposals is a rollback of 2014 guidance that urges schools not to suspend, expel or report students to police except in the most extreme cases. Instead, the guidance calls for a variety of “restorative justice” remedies that don’t remove students from the classroom.
President Barack Obama’s administration issued the guidance after finding that black students were more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended or expelled. The directive warns that schools suspected of discrimination — even if it is unintentional — can face investigations and risk losing federal funding.
But the policy came under scrutiny following the Parkland shooting, with some conservatives suggesting it discouraged school officials from reporting the shooter’s past behavioral problems to police. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the most vocal critics, urged DeVos to find a better balance between discipline and school safety.
In its report, the commission says the policy was well-intentioned but “may have paradoxically contributed to making schools less safe.” It calls for a rollback, saying disciplinary decisions should be left to school officials. It said the Justice Department should continue investigating intentional discrimination but not the unintentional cases that are barred under the 2014 policy.
The proposed rollback was praised by some conservative groups but drew sharp criticism from Democrats and advocacy groups.
“Despite overwhelming evidence and basic common sense, Secretary DeVos is trying to make the case that it’s not weapons of war in schools that make students unsafe, but rather the true danger is schools’ attempts to fight racism and inappropriate discipline,” said Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate’s committee overseeing education.
Along with DeVos, the safety commission includes leaders of the departments of Justice, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security. They issued their findings after more than a dozen meetings with teachers, parents, students, mental health experts, police and survivors of school shootings.
At a White House event following the release of the report, families of some shooting victims applauded the commission’s work. Andy Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was killed in the Parkland shooting, said the Trump administration listened to his concerns about school safety.
“This is the most comprehensive report done after a school shooting ever done by an administration, that is going to affect the quality of life of all students and teachers throughout this country,” Pollack said.
But some critics said the report will do little to improve school safety. The National Association of School Psychologists said the report “largely reiterates already well-known and evidence-based efforts.” The group said the report is short on specifics and fails to provide federal funding for its proposals, which many schools can’t afford.
While the report doesn’t explicitly encourage schools to arm staff members, it says they “may consider” the option if their states allow it. And while DeVos has previously said she has no plans to let schools use federal education funding to arm their employees, the panel noted that certain Justice Department grants can be used on firearm training.
The nation’s two major teachers unions attacked the report, saying it should have focused on gun control rather than arming teachers, which both unions oppose.
“We do not need more guns in schools,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association. “It is shameful that the Trump administration is using the real risk of gun violence in our schools to strip vulnerable students of their civil rights, while doing nothing to keep all our students safe.”
On gun regulation, the commission’s only suggested change was a call for more states to adopt laws allowing “extreme risk protection orders,” or court orders that temporarily restrict access to firearms for people who are found to pose risks to themselves or others.
The group studied whether states should raise the minimum age to buy guns, which is often 18 for rifles and 21 for handguns. Some states have increased the minimum age to 21 for all guns, including Florida, which made the move following the Parkland shooting. It joined others including Hawaii and Illinois.
But the panel argues the change doesn’t make schools safer. It said there’s no research showing that age restrictions reduce killings, and it noted that most school shooters get their guns from family members, not through purchases.
Among other proposals, the commission called for more training to help school officials identify mental health problems when students are younger, and it urges schools to hire more military veterans or retired police officers with the training to respond in an emergency.
It also suggested measures schools should take to “harden” their buildings, including installing windows with laminated or bulletproof glass, and making sure all classroom doors can be locked from the inside.
“Sadly, incidents of school violence are too common, and too many families and communities have faced these horrible challenges,” DeVos said. “But Americans have never shied away from challenges, nor have we cowered when evil manifests itself.”
Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.
Follow Collin Binkley on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cbinkley
Alternative approaches needed to end racial disparities in school discipline
December 19, 2018
Jonathan F. Zaff
Research Associate Professor and Executive Director, Center for Promise, Boston University
Jonathan F. Zaff does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Boston University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to get rid of an Obama-era policy that sought to end racial disparities in school suspensions and expulsions. Statistics show those disparities mean black students are four times more likely to be suspended than white students and two-thirds of black males will be suspended at some point during their K-12 careers.
Even if DeVos does scrap the policy that sought to end racial disparities, schools can still end the disparities on their own.
To do that, schools must first rethink the way they carry out school discipline. Instead of kicking students out, schools can take a positive youth development approach.
The young people and school leaders who spoke with my team and me at the Boston University-based Center for Promise recently for “Disciplined and Disconnected,” called for the same approach.
I study ways to create conditions children and adolescents need to thrive academically and socially, and as employees and citizens. The Center for Promise, which I head, is a research center for America’s Promise Alliance, a nonprofit that convenes people and organizations to help young people thrive.
Just as prior research has shown, the young people we spoke with stressed the need for school teachers and staff to get to know them and the reasons behind their behaviors. As one student in our study said, “All you got to do is to get suspended one time and you’re labeled. I see it, like they follow the same kids around, like everybody knows, ‘Hey, those are the bad kids…‘ Every time something happen, they either go to them or they [c]ome to me and [my friend] and be like, ‘You know what happened?’”
School leaders spoke about the need to change the cultural norms in schools from punitive to positive. As one school administrator in our study stated, “For us, it’s about keeping kids in school, keeping kids connected. Because we all know the research: the more connected a kid is, the better they do.”
Bias in school discipline
That kind of change, however, is less likely if a school safety commission headed by DeVos has its way. The commission wants to scrap the Obama-era guidance that asked schools to keep track of racial disparities in school discipline. Without such guidance to raise awareness of how exclusionary discipline is implemented, research suggests that schools will disproportionately punish students of color.
The school safety commission headed by DeVos was formed in response to the Parkland school shooting. There is no data to suggest that students of color are more likely to perpetrate school shootings, especially mass school shootings. Still, the commission seems to believe getting rid of the Obama-era policy memo meant to reduce racial disparities in school suspensions and expulsions will somehow reduce school violence, which is its primary charge.
At first blush, this seems to make little sense, but here’s how their thinking goes: Earlier this year, conservative leaders called for Secretary DeVos to rescind the Obama-era memo. They argued that it has made schools less safe by keeping dangerous students in school.
But experience and research shows that kids with problematic behavior don’t have to be removed from school to keep schools safe. Instead, there are very promising and proven alternatives that can lead to safer schools, improved behaviors for individual students, and more positive school climates. My research shows the key is to make sure these alternatives are implemented with the right support for teachers and school administrators.
Exclusionary disciplinary practices – that is, suspensions and expulsions – on the other hand, can create divisions between students and teachers. They also place educational attainment further out of reach for students of color and students with disabilities, who are suspended more frequently than other students.
Indeed, the consequences of being suspended extend far beyond missing a few days of school. A 2014 study from the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University found that a single suspension doubles the odds that a student would drop out of school.
Alternatives to kicking kids out
Fortunately, more schools have begun to implement practices that may actually improve student behavior without removing students from the classroom. These are practices that could begin to give teachers hope that there are effective tools to maintain productive learning environments, even amid recent district-wide bans on suspensions, such as in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. In these districts, teachers are pushing back against these bans because they are not being given enough professional development and school resources to effectively implement effective, alternative practices. Armed with the right tools, proper training, and school administration buy-in, schools can confidently begin to move away from using the blunt instrument of suspension in favor of practices that engage all students in safe, supportive and healthy learning environments.
At their core, these practices help schools rethink discipline by rethinking young people: from problems to be remediated to assets to be supported. Punishment is not seen as separate from the rest of the learning environment, but as part of the overall school climate. Two illustrative examples are restorative practices and the Building Assets, Reducing Risks program, or BARR.
Restorative practices, often referred to as restorative justice, involves getting school teachers, staff and students together to identify and understand the harm done. These approaches are meant to resolve the impacts of the behavior on other students and the broader school through appropriate reparations or reconciliations. They also involve the repair of any relationships that have been disrupted. California, Colorado, Pennsylvania and individual districts throughout the country have implemented restorative practices.
Teachers can still remove students from classrooms for dangerous behaviors when using restorative justice. However, the removal is not a punishment, but rather a first step in understanding the reasons for the behavior and helping the student understand the impact of their behavior on themselves and others.
Significant focus is placed on how the student brought back to class after the issues have been resolved. Studies have found that restorative justice leads to improved student-teacher relationships, improved student behavior, and a reduction in suspensions, particularly for students of color.
In Denver, for instance, where restorative justice had been introduced in 2003, suspension rates for black students fell from 17.61 percent in the 2006-2007 school year to 10.42 percent six years later.
Since disciplinary alternatives are part of the learning experience, the impacts should go beyond suspension rates and should consider the learning environment for all students in a school. In Denver, students attending schools that have done a good job implementing restorative practices show improved rates of attendance and courses passed.
A more proactive approach, the Building Assets, Reducing Risks, or BARR program, focuses on building relationships between students and teachers that include mutual trust, respect and understanding of their respective lives — not on creating punitive policies. Developed at one high school outside Minneapolis, BARR is currently in 84 schools throughout the country.
BARR programs create structured activities for students and teachers to build positive relationships and set aside time for teachers to reflect on their students. BARR programs also call for continuous data collection on student strengths – such as motivation, empathy and social competence – and challenges faced by students – such as homelessness, learning differences and food instability.
Results from a set of rigorous studies show BARR positively impacted on academic proficiency, credits earned and courses completed.