Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois has argued in federal court that student records should remain protected under federal privacy laws.
Friday's hearing before a three-judge panel in Chicago stems from the 2009 admissions scandal at the U of I. The Chicago Tribune investigated the so-called 'Category I' list of well-connected students who were admitted over more qualified ones. The newspaper sought the names as part of its coverage and sued after the university refused.
U of I attorney Sam Skinner said both the university and Tribune want an expeditious decision by an appellate court regarding student records, including their names and addresses, as well as those of their parents. At issue is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Skinner contends not complying would jeopardize federal grants and financial aid.
"We believe that we need to know from a federal court that we're not violating federal law before we disclose it and putting federal funds in jeopardy," he said. "And I think we're going to take some additional briefs, but this matter will eventually wind up in federal court because it's an interpretation of federal law as it relates to federal funding."
Both sides have two weeks to file those additional briefs to explain why the case should be heard in federal court rather than state court. Skinner said he expects a decision in the next few months.
A Champaign Police official says they're working to determine if any links exist between a series of attempted child abductions in the last several days.
Deputy Chief Troy Daniels says there doesn't appear to be anything connecting the suspects. His department has contacted the FBI's behavioral unit to analyze the 5 attempted abductions that have occurred since September 20th. Four have taken place in Champaign, and fifth was in the Dobbins Downs neighborhood on the edge of the city.
The most recent report came from northeast Champaign Wednesday, where the mother of an 11-year old said a man in a minivan approached the girl at a bus stop, and left once the parent got his attention. A separate incident on the west side Monday, but reported Wedesday, involved an 11-year old boy who was approached by a male driver who offered him a ride, and the child ran away.
Black males with separate descriptions and vehicles are sought in each of those cases, and white males are being sought for two other incidents this week. Daniels says it's not unheard of to have suspects start such behavior at the same time, and they're completely unrelated.
"So that's a possibility, and it's also possible that as more publicity occurs, we look at each case very carefully and we scrutinize the information that's been being given to us to make sure it's accurate and true," said Daniels. "We do believe that we have cause for concern on these cases and we have a number of people that are working them."
Daniels says anyone who might see suspicious activity that could be related to the recent reports is encouraged to Champaign Police or Crimestoppers.
United States Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) says the U.S. doesn't need to give any more aid to Libya.
Kirk joined Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a meeting with the head of the National Transitional Council. He said the delegation met with some of Libya's current leaders and toured the destroyed U.S. embassy complex.
Speaking in a conference call Thursday from Libya, Kirk said the country has enough money to support itself. with at least $100 billion seized from former leader Moammar Gadhafi.
"I had my worries that those funds were not being released on time, but I was reassured by key figures -- the chairman, the prime minister, and the finance minister -- that they have adequate resources for their capacity right now," Kirk said.
Kirk also said he wants to end the no-fly zone over Libya to encourage civil aviation.
Kirk said Gadhafi's image also has been ripped down from dozens of billboards. He called it the "remnants of a cult of personality.''
A NATO-backed rebellion ousted Gadhafi, who remains on the run and is suspected of hiding in the southern desert.
Authorities have identified the body found north of Champaign Monday morning as a Danville woman.
The Champaign County Sheriff and Coroner's office say 43-year old Angelica Vasquez had been reported missing by her husband. Her body was discovered Tuesday morning along Rising Road, just north of Bradley Avenue.
Authorities used fingerprints to identify the body, and are treating the case as a homicide investigation. Sheriff Dan Walsh says his office is not releasing any details on the cause of death.
The Champaign County Sheriff and Danville Police Department are handling the investigation.
The parent company of health insurance provider PersonalCare says it's continuing negotiations with Christie Clinic, but the Champaign-based medical clinic says it's not interested.
Christie Clinic first announced on Tuesday that PersonalCare had terminated its contract with the clinic, and that patients should switch to other providers in the next enrollment period (Oct. 10 - 28, 2011).
But in a statement posted Wednesday on the University of Illinois HR homepage, PersonalCare said it was still negotiating with Christie Clinic --- at least regarding its Open Access Plan for state employees and retirees.
"Although our agreement is scheduled to terminate on January 1, 2012, it is PersonalCare's strong desire to continue our long-standing partnership with Christie Clinic and that Christie Clinic remain an in-network provider for years to come", the statement said.
The News-Gazette reported that according to a spokesperson for PersonalCare's parent company, Coventry Health Care, the contract termination was a procedural move needed to renegotiate a new contract.
But a statement issued today on the Christie Clinic website that since their contract with PersonalCare had been renewed in the past by simply amending the old agreement, there was "no requirement to terminate the existing agreement in order to renegotiate specific terms".
"Because the Christie Clinic team is committed to providing the highest quality health care to the communities we serve, we are working closely with our patients, the state of Illinois and private employers to make this transition as seamless as possible for Christie Clinic patients," Christie Clinic said in an earlier statement. "We will be working directly with employers and their brokers who currently contract with PersonalCare about their options."
People in Champaign County who want to have uninterrupted access to Christie Clinic physicians are being urged to switch to Health Alliance HMO coverage or Health Link's Open Access Plans in the next enrollment period.
The University of Illinois said it is reviewing what the contract termination means for U of I employees and their dependents who are enrolled in the PersonalCare health plans, and if any decisions need to be made during the upcoming Special Healthcare Enrollment Period.
Four Republican senators traveled to Libya on Thursday to meet with the nation's new rulers, the highest-profile American delegation to visit the country since the ouster of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The four lawmakers - John McCain of Arizona, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida - met with the head of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, and other high-ranking officials of the group that is now governing Libya after revolutionary forces ousted Gadhafi from power.
The fugitive leader remains on the run and his whereabouts unknown, but Libya's new rulers suspect he is hiding in the southern desert of the North African nation.
The senators toured Martyrs' Square and planned a news conference later Thursday. They traveled from Malta, where they met with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi on Wednesday.
After months of fighting, anti-Gadhafi forces seized control of Tripoli late last month, and have solidified their control over much of the rest of the country. Battles still continue in three on three main fronts - Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, Bani Walid and the southern city of Sabha.
The leaders of Britain, France and Turkey have visited Libya, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman has met with the NTC's leaders in Tripoli. But the congressional group was the most significant American presence to visit Libya as the nation begins a new chapter.
McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and panel member Graham had pressed President Barack Obama for U.S. military intervention in Libya, weeks before the U.N. Security Council voted in March to authorize military action to protect civilians and impose a no-fly zone. McCain had invoked the humanitarian disasters in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s.
When other lawmakers criticized Obama for acting with limited congressional consultation, McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, defended the president.
In April, McCain traveled to Benghazi, where he called the rebels "patriots" and "heroes."
Rubio is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kirk serves on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.
The trip contrasted sharply to the last visit by McCain and Graham to Tripoli in August 2009, when they met with Gadhafi and his son Muatassim to discuss the possible delivery of non-lethal defense equipment as the erratic Libyan leader was moving to normalize his relations with the international community.
According to a classified document released by WikiLeaks, the delegation, which included McCain, Graham and two other senators, Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, held back-to-back meetings with Muatassim.
During that visit, McCain characterized the overall pace of the bilateral relationship as excellent during and noted the drastic changes over the previous five years. He also assured Muatassim that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its security, the WikiLeaks cable said.
It also noted the senators met with Gadhafi late at night and he hardly said a word. A note at the bottom of the memo said the delegation was told that they had to postpone the meeting from the afternoon because Gadhafi likes to nap after he breaks his fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Two Illinois researchers have been honored by President Barack Obama as distinguished U.S. science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their research careers.
Dr. Carla Pugh of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Gang Logan Liu of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are among 94 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.
The awards honor the pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology, as well as the honorees commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach.
"It is inspiring to see the innovative work being done by these scientists and engineers as they ramp up their careers-careers that I know will be not only personally rewarding but also invaluable to the nation," President Obama said.
Pugh is known for her research to develop a physical test that measures medical students' and doctors' ability to perform clinical breast exams. She is using plastic models embedded with data-capturing sensors and simulated tumors to measure the ability to tell the difference between a cancerous lump and a benign cyst.
Liu's research focuses on ways nano-engineering might one day be used to cure diseases and preserve the environment.
The two scientists will be invited to the White House to meet President Barack Obama and attend an awards ceremony.
Three magnet schools in Champaign's Unit 4 school district will split up more than $5 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Education.
The elementary schools, Garden Hills, Booker T. Washington, and Stratton will receive just over $1 million dollars each of the next three years, and part of will go for teaching specialists and a site coordinator. Unit 4 learned word of the grant late last week.
The schools had already started up modified versions of their magnet programs. Unit 4 grant writer Sue Schumacher says the district had already applied for the grant and was denied, but additional funds became available in the second year of a 3-year cycle. She says that doesn't happen often.
"We had a very competive grant, and it didn't get funded because they ran out of funds after the 36 applications that they accepted last year," said Schumacher. "So it's a relatively rare thing to get granted an off-cycle grant, but we're very thrilled."
Washington Elementary will use the funds to expand its STEM program, or science, technology, engineering and math initiative, while Garden Hills expands its international baccalaureate program with by visiting other nearby schools using the same lessons. And Stratton uses a Leadership in a MicroSociety model, in which students get real world experience, including electing leaders and starting careers.
Stratton Principal Stephanie Eckels says this year, the grant will boost the technology throughout the building.
"We want to really kind of vamp up our library so that the students have access to a lot of good media," she said. "We have smartboards in our 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classrooms. We also also received grants last year for laptops for all those students, so we hope to kind of fill in the gaps."
Likely the biggest investment for Stratton will be a full-scale TV and recording studio to boost their lessons. WILL assisted with the writing of Stratton's grant.
Garden Hills Principal Cheryl O'Leary says the funds will bring in proper science equipment for the school's lab, and staff development. But she says the funds will also help the students see other schools using the same theme.
"We'll be taking the kids on field trips to the theater districts in Chicago, to Indianapolis, to St. Louis, and working hand in hand with Krannert (the U of I's Krannert Center) to develop arts projects here in the school that will also go out in the community," said O'Leary. "Each grade level will have to work on a community service project as well now."
O'Leary says the school is also looking at using Skype to talk with classrooms around the country and abroad.
The news Tuesday that PersonalCare is terminating its contract with Christie Clinic leaves some unanswered questions for people who rely on PersonalCare for service.
Claudia Lennhoff heads the group, Champaign County Health Consumers. Lennhoff said her organization just renewed its employer group plan with PersonalCare.
"I don't know what kind of coverage PersonalCare will actually be offering us, so that we can access physician services," Lennhoff said. "So, It's a very distressing situation, and certainly if we had known that this was something that might happen, I really probably would not have renewed with PersonalCare.
In a statement, Christie Clinic said it will work with employers and their brokers who contract with PersonalCare to discuss their options.
Meanwhile, the University of Illinois said it is reviewing what the contract termination means for U of I employees and their dependents who are enrolled in the PersonalCare health plans, and if any decisions need to be made during the upcoming Special Healthcare Enrollment Period.
A request for comment from PersonalCare was not returned.
Indiana's attorney general says he'll fight a federal judge's ruling limiting Indiana's ban on political robo-calls to in-state phone calls only.
U.S. District Judge William Lawrence in Indianapolis ruled that federal law pre-empts the Indiana's ban when it comes to interstate phone calls. The ruling says Indiana can still bar in-state robo-calls.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Wednesday he plans to appeal the ruling.
Patriotic Veterans Inc. filed a lawsuit last year saying the law violated the First Amendment and federal telecommunications laws. Lawrence did not rule on the constitutionality of the state measure in his decision Tuesday.
The ban allows Zoeller to seek fines of up to $5,000 for each violation. However political campaigns can still place robo-calls if a live operator obtains a person's permission first.
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