Thursday, May 19, 2022

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Civic Skinny

Costly copyright infringements for schools. $13 million in transportation grants. And a moon tree in Des Moines?


Five days after Apollo 14 launched in 1971, Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell walked on the moon. Stuart Roosa, a former U.S. Forest Service wildland firefighter, orbited above in a command module. Roosa’s personal kit had small containers with hundreds of tree seeds, part of a joint project with NASA and the United States Forest Service. Upon return to Earth, the seeds were germinated by the Forest Service. Known as the “moon trees,” the resulting seedlings were planted throughout the United States and the world, all this according to Dr. David R. Williams with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. 

Williams says the project began after Roosa was chosen for the Apollo 14 mission. Ed Cliff, chief of the Forest Service, contacted Roosa about bringing seeds into space. Stan Krugman of the Forest Service was put in charge of the project and selected the seeds for the experiment. More than 2,000 seeds were classified, sorted and sealed in plastic bags that were stored in a metal cannister. Control seeds were kept on Earth for later comparison. Unfortunately, the seed bags burst open during the decontamination procedures after their return to Earth, and the seeds were scattered about the chamber and exposed to vacuum. It was thought that they might not be viable.

Krugman collected the seeds, and an attempt at germinating some of them was made in Houston. The effort proved successful, and the seeds started growing, but they did not survive long because the facilities were inadequate. A year later, the remaining seeds were sent to the southern Forest Service station in Gulfport, Mississippi, and to the western station in Placerville, California, to attempt germination. Many of the seeds, and later cuttings, were successful and grew into viable seedlings. Most were given away in 1975 and 1976 to state forestry organizations to be planted as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration. 

Roosa passed away in 1994, but many of the moon trees continue to flourish as a living monument to the United States’ first visits to the moon and a memorial to Roosa. No list was ever kept nor any systematic tracking was ever made of the disposition of all the trees, according to Williams. One of these moon trees, a sycamore, was believed to have been planted at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on April 20, 1976, but the location of the tree and its current status are unknown, as there is no marker and trees can be removed regularly for a variety of reasons, according to staff at the Capitol grounds. …

Winning may not be normal, but winning copyright infringement cases apparently is. Just ask administrators at several central Iowa school districts who have been settling potential lawsuits for up to $15,000 per incident. Some claim that the lawsuits are a result of a baiting game related to the posting/tweeting/retweeting of a “Winningisntnormal” phrase on social media. 

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According to Janelle Friedman of Jester Insurance Services, Inc. in Des Moines, which provides property casualty coverage for more than 90% of the public schools in Iowa, roughly 50 of their members have received notice of copyright infringement letters from Dr. Keith Bell, who wrote a book in the 1980s called “Winning Isn’t Normal.” The notices are accompanied by a cease and desist letter and a demand for monetary damages. Three tweets and a retweet cost the Rosemount-Eagan-Apple Valley (Minnesota) school district $40,000.

Friedman advised that the coaching staff of school districts not post, tweet, or retweet any material from Dr. Bell’s book or excerpts from any other copyrighted material. Bell’s book includes the following copyright notice: “All books, posters, and other items herein are copyrighted works, protected by U.S. & International laws of copyright. In addition ‘Winning Isn’t Normal®’ is a registered trademark. The use, in print, electronic, or any other way, of any of this material, in part or whole, requires expressed written permission from the author, Dr. Keith Bell. Attribution alone is not a substitute for the permission to use copyrighted or trademarked work. Nor, does ownership of a physical copy constitute permission for use. For licensing rights, contact Dr. Bell at Keel Publications.”

Friedman stated, since coaches are typically unaware that the phrase and any excerpts from the book are under copyright protection, they regularly post, tweet and retweet portions of Dr. Bell’s work. According to Friedman, even a post on a coach’s personal Facebook or Twitter account can adversely affect a school district, especially if followers are team members, students and colleagues.

“Basically, he waits for you to post his trademark, or photos, and then attacks,” an athletic administrator stated in an email to CITYVIEW. …

Although not officially announced as of CITYVIEW press time, a reliable source tells us that the Dew Tour, a contest series that brings the world’s best skateboarders together, will return to Des Moines at the Lauridsen Skatepark in 2022. …

Residents of Greater Des Moines are invited to share their opinions on local transportation projects they would like to see receive $13 million in funding from the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), according to Gunnar Olson, communications and strategy manager with the organization.

Olson says 19 projects are under consideration, ranging from roadways, bridges and transit buses to trails, safe routes to school and on-street facilities. More than $31 million has been requested from the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program, as well as the Surface Transportation Block Grant Set-Aside Program, which combined have approximately $13 million in available funding. Both grant programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and administered by the MPO. 

The MPO also scores the projects on how well they help meet the regional performance measures established in Mobilizing Tomorrow, the region’s recently updated long-range transportation plan ( The scores and public comments will be presented to a funding subcommittee of local officials, who will make a funding recommendation. The recommendation will be presented to the MPO Policy Committee in April for review and again in May for final approval. Once awarded, the grants will be allocated in federal fiscal year 2026. 

Enquiring minds want to know how much of the $13 million will go toward funding of DART (Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority). Olson says about 10 percent of Surface Transportation Block Grant awards go toward transit in most years, and they have no reason to believe there will be a change this year. Though, he says, there is an important caveat: the policy makers have final say on the matter. …

The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners established an emergency ruling in February to allow paraeducators employed in Iowa public school districts or non-public schools who hold a paraeducator certificate with a substitute authorization as an area of concentration to substitute outside their assigned special education classroom if permission is granted. They say this permission is not intended for long-term subbing but is, apparently, to help address the shortage of available teachers. Substitute authorizations have a day limitation for serving in one assignment (10 days in a row in a 30-day period); however, a district may request a waiver of the day limitation. 

The degree requirement to obtain a substitute authorization is an associate’s degree or 60 semester hours through a college or university accredited through an institutional accrediting agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education. The substitute authorization course is still required, unless an applicant is enrolled in a teacher preparation program and can provide transcripts showing how the course requirements have been met. Substitute authorization holders must be at least 21 years of age. A student teacher who holds a substitute authorization may serve as a substitute for their cooperating teacher only, on a very limited basis (no long-term subbing), and can be paid as a substitute teacher for that day.

A principal in a suburban elementary school told CITYVIEW that he used to get more than 100 applications for any open teaching position just five years ago. Today, he is lucky to receive a fraction of that. He says fewer certified teachers are in the job hunt, as the state universities are graduating a smaller number of students in elementary education programs. He adds that there are greater challenges in hiring high school math or science teachers. And for hiring of substitute teachers? “Good luck,” he offers. “Saydel had to shut down for a few days when they were not able to find substitutes. We are now paying our current teachers extra to use their down periods to help out in other classrooms.” He says they used to be able to count on retirees to serve as substitutes, but those folks are steering clear now. Why? “They simply don’t want to deal with COVID or with the behavioral challenges with kids today. I am afraid that the substitute teacher challenge is not going to go away.” ♦

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