More Pandemic Fallout: The Chronically Absent Student

In Washington County, Md., the rate of public school students who were chronically absent rose to about 38 percent during the first semester of this school year — more than double the rate from a comparable time period before the pandemic.

The absences appear to have been driven in part by depression and anxiety among students, cases of which skyrocketed during the pandemic and are now overwhelming health care providers, according to Jeremy Jakoby, the district’s director of student services.

“Kids aren’t showing up as much as they used to,” said Leilani Ciampo, 14, a high school freshman in Washington County. Some students, she said, have jobs during the day, while others have simply fallen out of the habit of coming to class after months of online learning.

“And some of them get Covid,” she added.

That was what happened to Leilani, who was absent more than two dozen times during her freshman year, largely because of quarantines. She missed a fun experiment in her chemistry lab — classmates later told her they had watched compounds catch fire, making flames in fantastic colors — and she was not there when her English class worked its way through “Romeo and Juliet.”

Isolated in her bedroom and getting class notes online, Leilani stumbled through the Shakespearean tragedy. Now, she is scrambling to pull up her scores in time to pass English this year. “I’m really worried about it,” she said.

Students’ anxieties have only been compounded by economic pressures, said Emily Jones, a P.P.W. in Washington County whose work involves helping families find ways to cover food, utility bills or other expenses. “A lot of families I’m working with, it’s all hands on deck,” she said. “You have kids working jobs the minute they’re able to get a work permit.”

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Ukrainian Children and Caregivers Are Being Separated at U.S. Border

LOS ANGELES — After Iryna Merezhko persuaded her sister in Ukraine that her young nephew should join her in Los Angeles to wait out the war, she traveled halfway around the globe to pick him up. “I told him it would be a California vacation,” she recalled. “We would go to Disneyland, Universal Studios, the beach.”

The boy, Ivan Yereshov, 14, made it with her to Tijuana, Mexico, early this month, joining thousands of Ukrainians waiting at the border for permission to enter the United States.

To be on the safe side, Ms. Merezhko carried a notarized power of attorney attesting that Ivan had been handed over into his aunt’s care. But an officer informed them that Ivan could not enter with his aunt — because she was not his parent. “They told us we would be separated for one or two days,” recalled Ms. Merezhko, who said she embraced Ivan as his initial enthusiasm dissolved into dismay.

Ten days went by before she would learn his whereabouts.

Dozens of Ukrainian children have been separated from relatives, friends or older siblings with whom they have traveled to the southern border under a law designed to prevent migrant children from being trafficked. In effect since 2008, the law requires U.S. border authorities to place “unaccompanied minors” in government shelters, where they must remain until their guardians have been screened and approved.

were trapped at a large steel factory in Mariupol along with Ukrainian forces that are waging what appears to be the last defense of the city. Russia is seeking to take the city as part of a strategically important “land bridge” to occupied Crimea.

In the case of Ms. Merezhko, who has lived in the United States since 2014, the family had made a decision to try to get Ivan to safety in Los Angeles as quickly as possible, without waiting for the United States to begin issuing permission for refugees to fly directly. Entering through Mexico, which does not require visas for Ukrainians, has been a stopgap measure for an estimated 5,000 Ukrainians since the war began in February.

Ms. Merezhko spent about $7,000 to purchase airline tickets, took a leave from her job as a pharmacy technician and set out to retrieve the boy. They rendezvoused in western Ukraine, after he had managed to board an evacuation train out of the besieged city of Kharkiv, where the family lived.

“I thought I was doing the right thing because it was the only way to save the child, to bring him to a safe place,” she said.

From Madrid, they boarded a flight to Monterrey, Mexico, and connected on April 6 to Tijuana. They slept in a tent erected outside a gym that was already overflowing with Ukrainians waiting to report to the border checkpoint for processing.

When it was their turn two days later, Ms. Merezhko said, Customs and Border Protection officers carefully studied the documents and notarized letter from Ivan’s mother stating that her sister had been granted full responsibility for him.

An officer told them that they would have to be separated — for just one or two days.

“Everything will be OK,” Ms. Merezhko assured Ivan.

The following day, her phone rang, and an officer put Ivan on the line. “Mama, Mama, is that you?” he asked, thinking it would be his mother in Ukraine.

His aunt’s heart sank. In the 60-second exchange, all that he was allotted, the boy said he was still at the border. The officer told Ms. Merezhko to expect another call soon.

Days went by, no call came and her anxiety mounted.

Ms. Merezhko learned that Ivan was now probably at a government shelter, and she found the number of a hotline for families trying to locate children.

An attendant confirmed that Ivan was in the system, and told his aunt that she would be contacted by a case manager in a few days.

“I got no information about how he is, where he is,” Ms. Merezhkho recalled.

Days passed.

She called the hotline again, and an operator urged her to be patient: It could take 20 to 30 days before Ivan was released, she said, and that process had not even started.

During an anguished call, Ms. Merezhko’s sister, Kateryna, told her that she now regretted sending away her only child. “At least we would know where he was if he had stayed with us,” she told her.

Over the weekend, with the help of Ms. Revkin, from the nonprofit, Ms. Merezhko filled out 25 pages of forms to which she attached green cards, marriage certificates, birth certificates and pay stubs for her and her husband. Yet she had nowhere to send the file.

Finally, on Monday, Ms. Merezhko’s husband, Vadym, got a call from Ivan, who said he was at a shelter in California. A case worker said they could send the documents. But there still was no word on when Ivan would be released.

“Good news today,” Ms. Merezhko said. “But I am a little bit worried about how long it will be.”

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A Rising Tally of Lonely Deaths on the Streets

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Their bodies were found on public benches, lying next to bike paths, crumpled under freeway overpasses and stranded on the sun-drenched beach. Across Los Angeles County last year, the unsheltered died in record numbers, an average of five homeless deaths a day, most in plain view of the world around them.

Two hundred eighty-seven homeless people took their last breath on the sidewalk, 24 died in alleys and 72 were found on the pavement, according to data from the county coroner. They were a small fraction of the thousands of homeless people across the country who die each year.

“It’s like a wartime death toll in places where there is no war,” said Maria Raven, an emergency room doctor in San Francisco who co-wrote a study about homeless deaths.

An epidemic of deaths on the streets of American cities has accelerated as the homeless population has aged and the cumulative toll of living and sleeping outdoors has shortened lives. The wider availability of fentanyl, a particularly fast-acting and dangerous drug, has been a major cause of the rising death toll, but many homeless people are dying young of treatable chronic illnesses like heart disease.

the first public study of homeless deaths in Alameda County across the Bay from San Francisco.

In some cases, bodies are left undiscovered for hours. Others are unclaimed at the morgue despite efforts to reach family members. In San Francisco, where people sleeping in cardboard boxes, tents and other makeshift shelters are a common sight, the body of a homeless man who died on a traffic median last spring lay for more than 12 hours before being retrieved. “Guy lay dead here & no one noticed,” said a cardboard sign left at the scene.

Those who sleep on the streets speak of the wear that it imposes on the body, of several untreated illnesses and the loneliness of being surrounded by pedestrians who ignore you.

Billy, a metal worker and carpenter from New Jersey who now sleeps in the narrow alleys behind Venice Beach in Los Angeles, constantly feels the reminders of his previous jobs. At 50 he has chronic pain from an accident while trimming trees, treating it with a jumbo-size bottle of Aleve he keeps in his backpack.

He has overdosed twice from heroin, revived both times with the drug naloxone, and has watched as friends have disappeared around him.

froze to death last year.

A key distinction among the homeless population today is the graying of the destitute.

Margot Kushel, a doctor specializing in homeless care, has tracked the rise of the average age of homeless people in the San Francisco Bay Area from their mid-30s three decades ago to their mid-50s today.

But even that rise in age does not tell the full story of their vulnerability, she said. Homeless people in their 50s are showing geriatric symptoms: difficulty dressing and bathing, visual and hearing problems, urinary incontinence.

“Poverty is very wearing on the body,” Dr. Kushel said. “Fifty is the new 75.”

A quarter of the homeless people she began studying nine years ago are now dead. The median age of death was 63, well below the average U.S. life expectancy of 77.

Across California, homeless deaths are overwhelmingly among men, and especially Black men who are dying on the streets at rates far disproportionate to their share of the general population. In Los Angeles County, men make up 67 percent of the homeless population but 83 percent of homeless deaths. In San Francisco, men in their 50s have the highest rates of overdose deaths among all age deciles.

Keith Humphreys, a Stanford psychologist, said the issue of death and despair among older men was underappreciated and understudied. He said society should ask the question: “Can we help men from dying so much?”

David Brown, 59, a former bus driver and fast-food employee in San Francisco who is currently enrolled in a rehabilitation program at the Salvation Army, describes the circumstances that put him on the streets as a life’s accumulation of woes. The knee problems from cramming his tall frame into the bus driver’s seat. The type 2 diabetes. The prison terms he served for burglary. A lifetime struggle with alcoholism and drug abuse.

So many friends died in shootings around the time of the crack epidemic in the 1980s and from overdoses on the streets that he feels entirely bereft.

“I don’t have anybody in my life,” he said.

Pamela Prickett, a sociologist who has studied death records in Los Angeles, said one measure of male isolation is that men’s bodies go unclaimed at the morgue at twice the rate of women. The rates that bodies go unclaimed, which have been climbing since the 1970s, are highest among men in their 40s and 50s.

“There are more people not getting married or getting divorced and not getting remarried,” Ms. Prickett said. “So we find lots of loners.”

Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, said he had seen a pattern of men being ill-equipped to handle “triggers” in life such as illness and losing a job or a spouse.

“As men get older they tend to be less good at building and maintaining relationships,” he said. “When people do not have a safety net to catch them in the form of community and strong healthy relationships, it’s much more likely they end up struggling with substance use disorders, with mental illness and homelessness.”

Ivan Perez, 53, is philosophical about what caused his life to go off the rails. His wife’s miscarriage and their marriage that fell apart. A marijuana habit that sank his career as a stockbroker. Prison time for an assault when he was high. Gambling.

“Being alone you kind of have no excuses to say it’s my wife’s fault, it’s my mom’s fault, it’s society’s fault,” Mr. Perez said.

In recent months he has slept on the streets in a tent near the North Hollywood subway station. The soundtrack to his life, he said, is the hissing of passing trucks next to his tent and the swoosh of street cleaners.

“There’s a certain posture that you take when you are homeless,” he said. “You lose your dignity.”

His goal, he said, was to live as long as his father, who died at 54 and a half. He is not far off.

Mr. Perez remembered the hopes he had when he was younger of becoming an actor or a playwright.

“I tried to do all the right things and it blew up in my face,” he said.

“What a raw deal this life turned out to be.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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She Never Stopped Loving Otis Redding. Her City Never Stopped Needing Him.

Such are the contours of Macon’s greatest contemporary love story. But for decades, it has also fallen to Mrs. Redding to manage another love story, this one involving her husband and Macon itself. Beset by poverty and bedeviled by the ghosts of segregation, Mr. Redding’s hometown, an old cotton hub 85 miles southeast of Atlanta, has long looked to the soul singer as a symbol of unity, holding up his tale of African American success as the best of what the city might be. For years, a portrait of the musician has been prominently displayed at Macon City Hall, as if the singer of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” were a founding father.

Today, Mrs. Redding is preparing what is likely to be her life’s crowning project: a 9,000-square-foot educational complex that the family nonprofit, the Otis Redding Foundation, is planning to build downtown. Mrs. Redding has donated $1 million to buy the property. The new home of the Otis Redding Center for the Arts will be a place for children to learn, practice and perform, with scholarships for poor students — a machine, if such a thing is even possible, for turning out more Otis Reddings.

After her husband’s death in December 1967, Mrs. Redding found herself, at age 25, terrified and grieving, without a high school diploma and responsible for raising the couple’s three small children. These days, locals refer to her as the Queen. The honorific suits her in many ways — not least because of her calculation, over the decades, that the Redding family should be deeply involved in Macon’s civic life yet somehow float above its politics and petty grievances, in keeping with her husband’s music, which was both apolitical and universally beloved.

In a recent interview, Mrs. Redding, a diminutive woman with a quick wit and occasionally salty tongue, noted with pride that the new arts center would be on Cotton Avenue, in the heart of the city’s historic Black business district. A bronze statue of Mr. Redding at the center will stand three blocks from a towering Confederate statue.

If Mrs. Redding sees her husband’s statue as a rejoinder to the Confederate monument, she does not let on. She can also be evasive when asked what it is like to miss him. To hold the grief at bay, she said, she keeps his memory close with a sea of mementos — at the couple’s old ranch house, and at the Otis Redding Foundation offices — though sometimes she imagines him alive and growing old with her.

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Days After Setting an Execution Date, a Texas Prosecutor Reverses Course

DALLAS — When a judge in South Texas signed an order this past week setting an execution date of Oct. 5 for John Henry Ramirez, it seemed like the end of the road.

Mr. Ramirez was convicted in 2008 for the murder of a convenience store worker, a crime he has acknowledged committing. He was sentenced to death and appealed his case to the Supreme Court — not to stop his execution, but to prepare for it. He asked to have his Baptist pastor pray out loud and lay hands on him in the execution chamber, a request that brought his case national notoriety. Last month, the court ruled in his favor, clearing the path for his execution to proceed as long as the state of Texas complied with his request.

But in a surprise turn of events on Thursday, District Attorney Mark Gonzalez of Nueces County filed a motion withdrawing the death warrant for Mr. Ramirez, citing his “firm belief that the death penalty is unethical and should not be imposed on Mr. Ramirez or any other person.” His own office had requested the execution date just days earlier, but Mr. Gonzalez, a Democrat, wrote in his motion that an employee in his office had done so without consulting him.

In a broadcast from his office on Facebook Live on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Gonzalez, whose district includes Corpus Christi, where the crime occurred, explained his decision.

Mexican biker lawyer covered in tattoos,” is part of a wave of progressive prosecutors who represent a shift away from an aggressively punitive approach to justice.

Mr. Gonzalez was elected in 2016, defeating a fellow Democrat in a long-shot primary. His views on the death penalty were muddled during the race, and several years into his tenure, he was still publicly conflicted on the issue, frustrating some advocates when he deferred to a jury on the question of whether to seek the death penalty in another high-profile murder case.

signed a letter to the Biden administration urging it to end the death penalty in the United States. The U.S. attorney general, Merrick B. Garland, imposed a moratorium on federal executions last summer.

In his Facebook Live broadcast, Mr. Gonzalez explained his shifting approach.

“I have to deal with my own growth and my own rationale and thinking and logic,” he said, apologizing to anyone upset by the decision. “I did this because I thought this would be the right thing to do.”

He encouraged viewers to research the pros and cons of the death penalty, arguing that it has a disproportionate impact on people “of color, low economic status or even low intellect.”

In prison, Mr. Ramirez got to know Dana Moore, the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi. Mr. Ramirez became a member of the church, and Mr. Moore visits him regularly to pray and talk. In August, Mr. Ramirez filed a federal lawsuit against prison officials for denying his request to have Mr. Moore pray out loud and lay a hand on him in the execution chamber.

The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in his favor, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. writing for the majority that while a state may limit the activities of spiritual advisers in the execution chamber, it ought not ban them.

Mr. Moore said he heard about the reversal on Thursday. He was confused, since he had been with Mr. Ramirez “feet from the death chamber” last fall and they had heard nothing from Mr. Gonzalez’s office at the time. Mr. Ramirez received a last-minute reprieve from the Supreme Court at that time so the court could hear his religious freedom case.

On Friday, the pastor said he was relieved for Mr. Ramirez, but he was also thinking about Mr. Castro’s family. “Whatever happens, I pray they find peace,” he said.

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Struggling Louisiana Neighborhood Sees New Highway as a Perilous Exit

When the Tapo family lived along the Thruway, their house was struck by cars twice. “I’ve seen motorcycle wrecks,” said Carl Tapo Jr., who grew up in the neighborhood. “I’ve seen a guy get hit by a bus. I’ve seen a guy killed. I’ve seen a guy run over on a bike looking at an accident on the Thruway.”

“It got to a point,” he added, “that you got so used to it.”

His father, Carl Tapo Sr., a retired railroad engineer, said that he taught his children to “respect the highway,” and that they mostly played in a spacious backyard instead of going out into the neighborhood. He has become reluctantly open to the prospect of an elevated highway.

“Now, what you do have to be concerned about is vagrancy,” the elder Mr. Tapo said. “Well, we got that now anyway.”

For Ms. Bonnet, one of the worst effects of the connector would be the displacement of the community garden that she has spent so much time and energy nurturing. She tilled the soil and harvested vegetables.

It is part of a land deal to make room for a water plant displaced by the interstate’s right of way. Her old house, where she lived with one of her daughters, was also bought by the state. Now, she lives in a repurposed shipping container, a prototype project by the local Habitat for Humanity.

The garden, planted on property lent to the McComb Veazey Neighborhood Coterie by the local school district, sits on sloping land beside a wastewater treatment plant. In a neighborhood that has endured so much decline, those two acres were a bright spot where she could see things take root and flourish.

“We did all this work to get it where we want it,” Ms. Bonnet said. “Now, we got to start all over again.”

Christiaan Mader is the editor and founder of The Current, a nonprofit news organization covering Lafayette and South Louisiana, and an occasional contributor to The Times.

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Videos Show Police Officer Fatally Shooting Black Man in Michigan

“The video clearly shows that this was an unnecessary, excessive and fatal use of force against an unarmed Black man who was confused by the encounter and terrified for his life,” Mr. Crump said. He called for the officer to be fired and prosecuted.

The videos released on Wednesday show Mr. Lyoya driving through a residential area on the cold, rainy morning of April 4 when an officer pulls him over. Mr. Lyoya steps out of his car, the videos show, and appears confused as the officer tells him to get back in the car. The officer asks Mr. Lyoya whether he speaks English.

Mr. Lyoya responds that he does speak English, and asks, “What did I do wrong?” After a brief exchange about whether Mr. Lyoya has a driver’s license, the officer grabs Mr. Lyoya, who pulls away and starts to run, the video footage shows.

The officer tackles Mr. Lyoya in a nearby lawn, yelling “Stop!” as Mr. Lyoya appears to try to regain his footing. At one point, body camera footage shows Mr. Lyoya grasping for the Taser that is in the officer’s hand. Chief Winstrom said he believed that the Taser was fired twice during the encounter, but that it did not hit anyone.

Midway through the struggle, the officer’s body camera stops filming. Chief Winstrom said pressure was applied to the camera to turn it off during the struggle. It was not clear who applied that pressure or whether it was intentional.

Other cameras — from the officer’s vehicle, a nearby doorbell security system and a bystander’s cellphone — capture different portions of the encounter. Shortly before the fatal shot is fired, the officer yells, “Let go of the Taser.” Mr. Lyoya is facing the ground and pushing up, with the officer on top of him, in the moments just before the shooting.

Chief Winstrom called the shooting a tragedy but declined to say whether he thought the officer followed department policy or state law, citing the investigations into the case. The officer is on paid leave and his police powers have been suspended, officials said.

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What’s Happening With Abortion Legislation in States Across the Country

A law signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma on Tuesday makes it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to perform an abortion in the state. It is the latest in a cascade of restrictive abortion legislation proposed in Republican-led states across the country.

The measure, Senate Bill 612, which takes effect in August, allows for an exception only “to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency.”

The bill’s enactment comes after Oklahoma became a haven for Texans seeking abortions after Texas enacted a ban on most procedures last fall, the most far-reaching abortion restrictions to go into effect since the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. It also comes as the Supreme Court prepares to rule this year on a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade.

Here are answers to some common questions about the legislation nationwide.

Near-total abortion bans have been introduced in 30 states this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Bans have passed at least one legislative chamber in seven states: Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia. They have been enacted in four of those states: Oklahoma, Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming.

temporarily blocked by the Idaho Supreme Court on Friday. Planned Parenthood said on Tuesday that it would “challenge any abortion ban enacted in Oklahoma.”

Even as they pass more far-reaching bans, states have not let up passing other restrictions, including waiting periods and parental consent laws. On Tuesday, a judge in Florida allowed a 24-hour waiting period that abortion rights groups had spent seven years attempting to block.

With Roe v. Wade’s future unclear, many states are pushing legislation that protects the right to an abortion. Some 30 states and the District of Columbia are considering measures that protect and expand access to abortion, according to Ms. Nash. Laws that protect the right to an abortion already exist in at least 16 states and the District of Columbia.

Some states have gone further: Lawmakers in Vermont voted in February to move forward on an amendment to the State Constitution that would guarantee the right to an abortion.

make the state a “refuge” for women seeking abortions. The bills would make it easier for clients to access abortion services and for providers to be paid.

A proposal released late last year with the backing of Gov. Gavin Newsom and the leaders of California’s two legislative chambers calls for increasing funding for abortion providers, reducing administrative barriers to accessing abortions and strengthening legal protections for abortion patients. In March, Mr. Newsom, a Democrat, signed legislation to eliminate out-of-pocket costs for abortion services.

A “near-total” ban typically refers to a law that restricts abortions except in cases when a patient’s life is in danger, said Ms. Nash of the Guttmacher Institute. Lawmakers are considering two major types of near-total bans. One is a ban modeled on Texas’, which deputizes private citizens to bring a lawsuit against anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” a procedure. The Texas law bars abortions once cardiac activity is detected in the embryo; such activity typically occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy, before many are even aware they are pregnant.

A bill heading to the floor of the Senate in Oklahoma would go further, enabling citizens to attempt to enforce a ban on any abortion occurring after fertilization. That law would take effect immediately.

Other states are considering 15-week bans. These do not constitute “near-total” bans but are still a significant rollback of Roe, which protects the right to an abortion until a fetus is viable outside the womb, usually considered around 23 weeks.

According to a 2017 census of abortion providers conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, the largest state share of abortions were performed in California, at 15.4 percent. The second-highest share were performed in New York State, with 12.2 percent. The third-highest state was Florida with 8.2 percent.

Those are three of the four most-populated states, along with Texas.

Abortion bans apply to both surgical abortions and to medical abortions, which are done using a two-drug combination of mifepristone and misoprostol. Medical abortions accounted for over half of all abortions in the United States in 2020, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Additional bans on the use of medical abortion pills have been proposed in at least eight states this year and have passed at least one chamber in both South Dakota and Wyoming. Bans on the delivery of medical abortion pills have been proposed in at least seven states this year, and passed at least one chamber in both Georgia and Kentucky.

Kate Zernike contributed reporting.

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