NYT: For-profit college fraud investigations scaled back under Besty DeVos

A Department of Education team that had looked into fraud and abuse by for-profit colleges has been dismantled to the point that it has “effectively killed investigations” into institutions where top hires of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos once worked, The New York Times reported Sunday, citing current and former employees.

The team has gone from about a dozen lawyers and investigators looking into advertising, recruitment, and graduate employment claims of several institutions at the end of the Obama administration to just three team members today, the Times reported. Current and former employees, including former team members, said the team’s mission has been reduced to processing student loan forgiveness applications and examining smaller compliance cases, the newspaper said.

An investigation into DeVry University, now known as Adtalem Global Education, “ground to a halt early last year,” and later, over the summer, DeVos picked Julian Schmoke, a former dean at the school, to be the team’s supervisor, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, probes into for-profit education companies Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corp. also “went dark,” the newspaper said. The Times reported that former employees of those institutions are working for DeVos as well, including Robert S. Eitel, a former Bridgepoint attorney who is now her senior counselor, and Diane Auer Jones, a former Career Education employee who is now a senior postsecondary education adviser at the department. The department’s recently confirmed general counsel, Carlos G. Muñiz, provided consulting services to Career Education, the newspaper said.

Eitel recused himself last year from matters involving Bridgepoint and Career Education, where he was previously a top lawyer. Jones has not recused herself from issues involving Career Education, according to a list of recusals the department provided the newspaper. The department did not say whether Muñiz had recused himself from issues involving Career Education, the Times reported.

Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill told the Times that the team had lost members due to attrition and that investigations are just one way the team helps the department provide oversight. Hill also said the new employees who had worked in the for-profit education sector did not influence the team’s work.

The department’s deputy press secretary, Evelyn Stauffer, did not immediately return CNN’s request for comment Sunday.

DeVry, which agreed to a $100 million settlement in 2016 in a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit that alleged its ads about employment and salaries after graduation misled prospective students, did not respond to the Times’ requests for comment. Schmoke, who the department said recused himself from matters involving DeVry, declined to be interviewed by the newspaper.

The Education Department reached a limited settlement with the for-profit college in 2016 after finding it couldn’t back up claims that 90 percent of its alumni since 1975 were employed in their field of study within six months of graduating, according to the Times, which added that investigations into its other practices continued afterward.

Although Hill told the newspaper that the probe was suspended early last year, before President Donald Trump took office, former and current employees disputed her account, saying the team’s work became a contentious issue in meetings with Trump’s transition team, the newspaper reported.

Regarding the team’s investigations into recruiting and advertising issues at the other companies, Bridgepoint said in a statement to the Times that it was aware of a review of certain issues beginning in 2015, but not of the involvement of the enforcement unit. Career Education did not respond to the newspaper’s requests for comment.

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Apple’s Tim Cook urges Duke graduates to think hard about data privacy

During a commencement address to Duke University Sunday, Apple CEO Tim Cook used some well-known platitudes, telling the students to make brave choices, rise to challenges and be unafraid to break with conventional wisdom.

He also appeared take yet another jab at Facebook and its handling of user data.

“We reject the excuse that getting the most out of technology means trading away your right to privacy,” Cook said. “So we choose a different path, collecting as little of your data as possible, being thoughtful and respectful when it’s in our care because we know it belongs to you.”

The comment echoed Cook’s earlier criticism of Facebook, which has endured months of criticism after it was revealed that a political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, was able to harvest data for nearly 90 million Facebook users.

“I wouldn’t be in this situation,” Cook told reporters from Recode and MSNBC in March.

“The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer — if our customer was our product,” he said. “We’ve elected not to do that.”

Cook also called for increased regulation of social media and questioned whether Facebook should monetize user data on its free platforms by selling targeted ads.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shot back at Cook in an interview published by Vox last month.

“You know, I find that argument, that if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib. And not at all aligned with the truth,” Zuckerberg told Vox.

Cook on Sunday again aimed to paint Apple’s handling of user data in stark contrast with Facebook’s. He credited Apple co-founder Steve Jobs with instilling within the company the drive to do things better.

“In every way at every turn, the question we ask ourselves is not, ‘What can we do?’, but ‘What should we do?” Cook said. “Because Steve taught us that’s how change happens, and from him I learned to never be content with the way that things are.”

Apple has had a few tangles with privacy issues as well.

The company caught flack when it announced in February a plan to move iCloud accounts registered in mainland China to state-run Chinese servers. Apple made the move after it unsuccessfully fought to be exempt from a controversial new cybersecurity law in the Asian nation, but the decision alarmed privacy advocates.

And in 2014, hackers were able to steal nude photos from celebrities’ iCloud accounts.

After that, Apple committed to increased transparency, and the company encrypted iPhones to make it more difficult for anyone — even authorities — to get their hands on data.

Cook, who often weighs in on social issues, also used his platform at Duke University to praise the “fearless” women who have spoken out in the #MeToo movement, the Parkland student advocating for tighter gun control, and people who “fight for the rights of immigrants.”

— CNN’s Sherisse Pham, David Goldman and Seth Fiegerman contributed to this report.

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Waffle House hero James Shaw meets Parkland survivors

It was a meeting of the mutual admiration society.

The man who stopped a mass shooting at a Waffle House met Saturday with Parkland, Florida, students who want to prevent mass shootings everywhere.

James Shaw Jr., hailed as a hero for wrestling a gun from a shooter at a Nashville-area Waffle House last month, tweeted photos of his meeting Saturday with survivors of February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“Meeting the young adults of the Parkland incident so much fire and inspiration in their eyes was a great joy,” Shaw tweeted after the breakfast meeting in Florida. “I met one of my heros (sic) today.”

Shaw set up a GoFundMe campaign that has raised more than $240,000 for the families of the four people killed in the April 22 Waffle House shooting and has become an advocate for shooting victims.

Parkland students David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, who have become highly visible gun-control activists in recent months, were among the students who met Shaw.

“This was the Most Legendary Breakfast ive ever had in my life,” Gonzalez tweeted. Hogg also tweeted a photo of himself posing with Shaw, saying “lots of work ahead but the young people will win.”

The meeting marks a sort of full-circle moment for Shaw and Gonzalez. Last month rapper Kanye West applauded Gonzalez, describing her on Twitter as “my hero.” In what appeared to be a response to West, Gonzalez tweeted a photo of Shaw about 20 minutes later, calling him “my hero.”

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Caged tiger among live animals on display at Miami-Dade prom

The theme of this year’s prom for Christopher Columbus High School students was “Welcome to the Jungle” — and some denizens of the jungle even made an appearance, which caught the attention of some people after cellphone video from the event surfaced.

“My son paid to go to a prom,” said Maria Castellanos, a parent. “This was the surprise entertainment.”

Castellanos said she wasn’t just concerned for the safety of the students, but also for the animals, including a tiger.

“That tiger was in distress,” she said. “The reason he is pacing up and down and his ears (are) going back is because he is showing you distress.”

Video captured the students watching in awe as the caged tiger rolled into prom Friday night at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Miami Airport and Convention Center.

The school has since issued a statement on the situation.

“The tiger, which was displayed for a few minutes in a cage, was never harmed or in danger, was not forced to perform, was always accompanied by his handlers, and for the great majority of the time, was laying down in a relaxed state, facing away from the audience,” a school spokesperson said.

But video obtained by Local 10 shows a different picture. The tiger is seen pacing in the cage while performers use fire to entertain the graduating class.

“These animals are not entertainment,” Castellanos said.

School officials contend that several animals — including a lemur, two macaws, an African fennec fox and the tiger — were displayed in a very controlled situation.

But the pictures obtained show those animals and others, such as other birds, used as centerpieces.

The school said the animals were provided by a facility that’s licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

But despite credentialed handlers, Castellanos said it’s the message that worries her.

“The saddest part of it all is teaching the children that there is no merit to the life of that animal — that that animal doesn’t deserve any better,” Castellanos said.

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Mom with terminal cancer sees son graduate at hospital

Like many parents, Stephanie Northcott dreamed of the day she would get to see her son Dalton walk across the stage to receive his high school diploma.

That dream took on an urgency when she was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2015 and given 10 months to live.

“For two years, that’s all she’s (been) talking about. She wanted to make it to her son’s graduation,” said Julie Northcott, her friend of 21 years.

The two women are as close as sisters and share the same last name because Julie is married to Stephanie’s ex-husband.

Stephanie’s son, Dalton Jackson, finished all his requirements and was set to graduate from Halls High School in Halls, Tennessee, on May 18.

But doctors were afraid she wouldn’t make it, so her friends and loved ones worked to bring the graduation to her.

“No matter what, you’re going to see Dalton graduate,” Julie recalled telling Stephanie. “I just had to do it one way or another.”

Graduation day

Getting the school on board was easy. Julie said the principal told her “just give me a time and a date and I’ll be there.”

The medical staff at Baptist Memorial Hospital East in Memphis was just awesome and did everything to make sure Stephanie was as comfortable as possible, Julie said.

“My baby’s graduating,” Stephanie said as staff wheeled her hospital bed into the chapel.

Once Stephanie was settled in, “Pomp and Circumstance” started playing and Dalton walked in along with his football teammates in their jerseys and friends from his graduating class in their caps and gowns. He gave his mom a big hug and some balloons.

It was a struggle for Stephanie to speak, but she thanked everyone for giving her this moment and told Dalton she’d always be with him.

“You can do anything you ever put your mind to,” she said. “Don’t ever forget that.”

Then Dalton got his diploma.

There were cheers, applause and so many tears when the graduates threw their caps in the air.

Dalton helped his mom stand up, and they danced to Rascal Flatts’ “I Won’t Let Go.”

When she couldn’t dance any more, she got back in bed and sang to Dalton and her 7-year-old granddaughter, Maddyson, who sat in her lap.

Now that he’s graduated, Dalton hopes to go to college in Mississippi and play football.

Heartbreaking diagnosis

Stephanie is battling cancer from Lynch syndrome, a genetic condition that increases the risk of several types of cancer. Her daughter, Amber, died of the same condition in 2012 at just 21.

She’s been in the hospital since April 25.

Julie said Stephanie hasn’t been doing well, but they hope to bring her home soon, so she can go into hospice care.

“She is so strong-willed. It’s just amazing how strong she really is,” Julie said.

Julie said they’ve set up a fund to help pay for Stephanie’s funeral expenses at the Bank of Ripley in Tennessee.

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Mom with terminal cancer sees son graduate at hospital

Like many parents, Stephanie Northcott dreamed of the day she would get to see her son Dalton walk across the stage to receive his high school diploma.

That dream took on an urgency when she was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2015 and given 10 months to live.

“For two years, that’s all she’s (been) talking about. She wanted to make it to her son’s graduation,” said Julie Northcott, her friend of 21 years.

The two women are as close as sisters and share the same last name because Julie is married to Stephanie’s ex-husband.

Stephanie’s son, Dalton Jackson, finished all his requirements and was set to graduate from Halls High School in Halls, Tennessee, on May 18.

But doctors were afraid she wouldn’t make it, so her friends and loved ones worked to bring the graduation to her.

“No matter what, you’re going to see Dalton graduate,” Julie recalled telling Stephanie. “I just had to do it one way or another.”

Graduation day

Getting the school on board was easy. Julie said the principal told her “just give me a time and a date and I’ll be there.”

The medical staff at Baptist Memorial Hospital East in Memphis was just awesome and did everything to make sure Stephanie was as comfortable as possible, Julie said.

“My baby’s graduating,” Stephanie said as staff wheeled her hospital bed into the chapel.

Once Stephanie was settled in, “Pomp and Circumstance” started playing and Dalton walked in along with his football teammates in their jerseys and friends from his graduating class in their caps and gowns. He gave his mom a big hug and some balloons.

It was a struggle for Stephanie to speak, but she thanked everyone for giving her this moment and told Dalton she’d always be with him.

“You can do anything you ever put your mind to,” she said. “Don’t ever forget that.”

Then Dalton got his diploma.

There were cheers, applause and so many tears when the graduates threw their caps in the air.

Dalton helped his mom stand up, and they danced to Rascal Flatts’ “I Won’t Let Go.”

When she couldn’t dance any more, she got back in bed and sang to Dalton and her 7-year-old granddaughter, Maddyson, who sat in her lap.

Now that he’s graduated, Dalton hopes to go to college in Mississippi and play football.

Heartbreaking diagnosis

Stephanie is battling cancer from Lynch syndrome, a genetic condition that increases the risk of several types of cancer. Her daughter, Amber, died of the same condition in 2012 at just 21.

She’s been in the hospital since April 25.

Julie said Stephanie hasn’t been doing well, but they hope to bring her home soon, so she can go into hospice care.

“She is so strong-willed. It’s just amazing how strong she really is,” Julie said.

Julie said they’ve set up a fund to help pay for Stephanie’s funeral expenses at the Bank of Ripley in Tennessee.

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