Category Archives: Investigative Reports

School Sports Put Students At COVID Risk

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This story was reported by the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal and written by Kayla Bey, Jariel Christopher, Melanie Paredes, and Daniel Sanchez.

Summer F., 17, is a high school senior in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she plays varsity volleyball. In March, Louisiana was stricken with one of the earliest and worst U.S. outbreaks of COVID-19, forcing the shutdown of classroom learning and youth sports. But months passed, cases subsided, and by early June the state had okayed the resumption of practices for fall sports. When Summer returned to volleyball practice, however, she felt her school, Port Allen High, might be courting disaster. “Most [athletes] decided to wear masks, but it didn’t last long,” she said. “It’s sometimes hot in the gym and with workouts it’s hard to breathe.”

Several regulations were in place, including prepractice temperature checks and a prohibition on locker room access. But the school, Summer suggested, was partly relying on students to police themselves, asking them to report any virus symptoms or contact with infected individuals. In July and August, cases again began to rise in Louisiana, which now has the highest per-capita infection rate in the country. Volleyball practice continued three times a week, as scheduled.

Port Allen High is following the re-opening guidelines set in June by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA). But the regulations may not be addressing major drivers of the virus. Cloth face masks are encouraged for coaches, but are not recommended for athletes engaging in “high-intensity aerobic activity.” Perhaps more troublingly, the LHSAA has has not prohibited teams from congregating in enclosed indoor facilities, from “meeting rooms” to gymnasiums. COVID-19 is thought to
spread primarily through airborne particles in poorly ventilated spaces.

According to Port Allen principal James Jackson, “two to three” student athletes have
recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus. But he defends the school’s protocols. “We never had an outbreak on any team,” he told The Princeton Summer Journal. This, he said, suggests the infections were “due to some type of gathering that they may have had outside of school.”

The situation at Port Allen High School is a microcosm of America’s unruly and improvised approach to safely resuming high school athletics.

In July, the Summer Journal conducted a survey of 33 school districts’ sports reopening plans, polling schools from California to Rhode Island. The results varied wildly.
Schools in Montgomery County, Maryland canceled summer practices and fall sports, as did the state of New Mexico. But in Chicago, Illinois, Orange City, Florida, and Tahlequah, Oklahoma, summer practices or conditioning drills continued. Some districts, such as Boston, Massachusetts, called off summer programming but pledged to resume competition in September. School districts were almost evenly split between those that held and cancelled summer practices—though districts in the Northeast,
where the virus hit early, tended to have more restrictions than elsewhere.

The survey may be most telling for what districts didn’t know. Many indicated that coaches would be wearing face coverings, but most were non-committal about how
athletes were meant to wear masks or socially-distance in team settings. The school district encompassing Orlando, Florida provided a detailed presentation about its summer practice protocol. Several weeks later, amid sharply rising coro-
navirus cases, the district postponed all practices until the end of August. Few districts stated with any clarity how fall competitions would be conducted safely, if at all. If anything, the survey reflected the Frankenstein monster that is America’s patchwork response to the pandemic.

While the COVID-19 fatality rate remains extremely low for minors, the resumption of classroom instruction and organized sports could spread the virus to coaches, teachers, and family members. Unlike professional sports teams, which have rigorous testing protocols, most high schools have virtually no way of detecting asymptomatic transmission between students.

For now, Summer is deciding to play volleyball, despite her anxieties. “I feel as if they do not care about our safety, even though there are some precautions put in place,” she said, citing her district’s decision to re-open.

“Most students who play sports are choosing to go to school in August because sports is all they have. For some, it’s their senior year. Who doesn’t want to play sports their senior year?”

On the night of July 16, the Gwinnett County Board of Education convened outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Though the county had the second-most COVID-19 infections in the state, the school district would resume in-person learning the following month. Just one board member, Everton Blair Jr., voiced his disapproval. After he spoke and as cameras continued to roll, Chairwoman Louise Radloff muttered, “I could strangle him.”

Radloff, who is white, later called her comment “out of order,” and apologized to Blair, who is Black. The subject of re-opening high school sports in Georgia, where football is close to a religion, has been no less charged.

Early in the summer, the Georgia High School Association released a strict re-opening protocol. Locker rooms were off-limits and group sizes were limited. But on July 22, with football season looming, the GHSA relaxed the rules. Locker rooms were opened and
athletes could huddle in unlimited number. Asked about the district’s latest protocols, Gwinnett County Assistant Superintendent Reuben Gresham told the Summer Journal, “It is not feasible for student athletes to social distance.”

As it turns out, it may not be feasible to relax standards either. On July 29, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that 655 positive cases had been shared with the GHSA,
more than double the number on file two weeks earlier.

By August, Georgia had cancelled summer football scrimmages. It’s anyone’s guess if most districts will play football in September.

“The decisions necessitated by the current pandemic are literally changing almost daily,” said Steve Figueroa, Director of Media Relations for GHSA. “What we believed would be the case a month or even a week ago has often proven to be quite different in the present.”

As states scramble to re-start the school year, there appears to be an inverse correlation between high coronavirus rates and postponements.

Some of the states with the highest infection rates in the country, such as Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, say they are proceeding with fall sports.

Meanwhile, some of the states with the lowest rates, such as Oregon and Colorado, have postponed them until 2021. (Some of the hardest-hit states are also some of the most
enthusiastic about high school football.)

School districts committed to gridiron clashes under “Friday night lights” may consider heeding the Centers for Disease Control. Players are at especially high risk for transmission, the CDC warns, during “full competition between teams from different geographic areas.”

But for schools that play it safe, and postpone sports, will there be unintended consequences?

“Swimming has been my life,” said 17-year-old Michael F., a senior at West Boca Raton Community High School. Ranked 25th in the state of Florida and 422nd in the nation, he is one of the best at his craft. Last year, he started generating interest from recruiters from Georgia Tech, The College of Wooster, and a number of other schools.

But what will happen to that interest—and the scholarships that could come with it—if sports don’t resume?

The Florida High School Athletic Association has released three options for returning to
sports, but Palm Beach County has not specified which they will choose.

If sports don’t resume, “recruiting will be harder than ever,” said Monte Chapman, who coaches track and field at West Boca Raton. “There will be no way of approximating how much an athlete has or has not improved.”

In New York City, school officials have similar concerns. Ciana DeBellis is an assistant principal at the Fordham Leadership Academy in the Bronx. “We have students that were going to college on scholarships,” she told the Summer Journal. “I’m not really sure how that is going to work.”

On August 9, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City—like Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities—would be reopening its public schools for in-person instruction. But high school sports in the Big Apple, for better or for worse, would remain indefinitely postponed.

Area Stores Stock Expired Food, Drugs

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Expired products were found at seven different area stores, including the above-pictured Family Dollar in Trenton. Photo credit: Brian Rokus

This story was reported by the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal and written by Emily Barrera Cedeno, Jasmyn Bednar, Justin Fajar, and Angela Nguyen.

Children’s ibuprofen. Pepto Bismol. Contraceptive sponges.

These are just a few of the expired products found in an investigation by reporters of The Princeton Summer Journal on the shelves of New Jersey’s pharmacies and convenience stores.

There were 41 expired products found among seven different stores—Walgreens, CVS, 7-Eleven, Tropical Supermarket, Family Dollar, Rite Aid, and Colonial Farms.

Eleven items were found at a New Brunswick Walgreens, including baby food, allergy medicine, and cold and flu medication. Ten were found at the Tropical Supermarket in North Brunswick, and nine at a neighboring North Brunswick CVS. A handful were found at Trenton’s Colonial Farms and Family Dollar, and a 7-Eleven and a Rite Aid in New Brunswick. The oldest expired product, a bottle of liquid Dial Soap found at Colonial Farms grocery store, expired in December 2017.

A majority of the products were three months past their expiration date, with two products over six months expired and three products over a year old. The products include aspirin, glucose testing strips, and baby food, which expired in April, May, and June 2019, respectively. Out of 41 items, 19 were medicinal, 17 were food products, and five were hygiene products.

Expiration dates are sometimes disregarded by consumers, who believe that they can still consume goods past the recommended date. According to an article on the FDA website, “expired medical products can be less effective or risky due to a change in chemical composition or a decrease in strength. Certain expired medications are at risk of bacterial growth and sub-potent antibiotics can fail to treat infections, leading to more serious illnesses and antibiotic resistance.” For instance, expired glucose testing strips like the ones found at a North Brunswick CVS may lead to inaccurate readings, which could be detrimental to diabetics.

The FDA began to require expiration dates on all medication in 1979. According to their site, “drug expiration dates reflect the time period during which the product is known to remain stable, which means it retains its strength, quality, and purity when it is stored.” However, the government does not regulate expiration dates within the food industry, with the exception of infant formula.

Many of the stores were located in low-income areas, where residents rely on local stores and don’t always have other options available.

The concept of people not having choices in the stores they shop at is called a food desert, which is defined by the USDA as “an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food.” New Jersey has food deserts, which contributes to food insecurity among residents, but it also has problems with a lack of medications. The number of stores selling expired products in New Jersey only adds to the problem of food and medicine insecurity. Notably, a few stores selected for the investigation in Trenton had closed in the previous year.

It’s important to note that the large majority of products investigated were unexpired. At one CVS in Trenton, no expired goods were found—the manager said they restock the shelves every Friday. All of these stores have a large inventory with a proportionally small staff, and products may slip through checks every so often. This does not necessarily speak to gross negligence across the board in these corporations, but rather can speak to human error.

According to the CDC, in the United States 76 million people a year get sick from the food they eat. When food expires, the nutrients they provide start to degrade—not to mention the fact that eating expired food can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Eating expired food can expose people to harmful bacteria such as E. coli.

At each store, managers declined to give a comment directly to reporters. When the owner of Colonial Farms was confronted about the expired products found in his store, reporters from this paper were asked to leave.

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Reporters from the Summer Journal found expired aspirin at a Rite Aid in New Brunswick. Photo credit: Alberto Lopez

When reached, Christopher Savarese, the director of public relations for Rite Aid, said, “We take this kind of incident very seriously, as we do the health and welfare of our customers. While we believe this to be an isolated case, this is totally unacceptable to Rite Aid. We have very strict policies, procedures and training in place to prevent outdated products on our shelves.” He added, “Our local management will be visiting the store, and we are using this as an opportunity to retrain our associates, to ensure that everyone understands our policies and procedures.”

Randy Guiler, a vice president for Family Dollar, replied with a similar statement, “We have store procedures to routinely check sell-by dates and to remove items from our shelves that have surpassed those dates. If instances occur where an item has been identified that surpassed its sell-by date, we immediately re-check the products in our store and reinforce these procedures with our store associates.”

CVS, Walgreens, 7-Eleven, Tropical Supermarket, and Colonial Farms did not respond to requests for comment.

The legal fights over expired products in the region have gone on for well over a decade. In October 2006, Rite Aid faced a civil suit in New Jersey for selling expired non-prescription medicine and baby food, which was settled for $650,000. The following year, the state pursued a civil suit against Duane Reade, a regional pharmacy chain, for similar reasons. It was settled for $175,000. In Pennsylvania, CVS settled a suit for $450,000 due to expired products.

These stores have significantly improved from last year’s findings, in which reporters for The Princeton Summer Journal found 75 expired products in 12 stores. The initial 2008 investigation found 191 expired products in seven stores.

The following stores had expired products: 7-Eleven, 358 George St., New Brunswick; Colonial Farms, 137 E. State St., Trenton; CVS, 949 Livingston Ave., North Brunswick; Family Dollar, 117 E. State St., Trenton; Rite Aid, 366 George Street, New Brunswick; Tropical Supermarket, 959 Livingston Ave., North Brunswick; Walgreens, 20 Jersey Ave., New Brunswick.

Expired drugs found in stores

This story was reported by the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal and written by Fernando Cienfuegos, Jayda Jones, and Evelyn Moradian.

There is a 7-Eleven located on a busy commercial thoroughfare in New Brunswick, next to a dollar store and across the street from a pub. Near the 32-ounce Slurpees and over-warmed pizza is an aisle devoted to health products. And several of these health products may not be as healthy as advertised.

Two boxes of 7-Eleven brand Migraine Formula Pain Relief expired in September 2017. Another box of Migraine Formula Pain Relief expired this July. A pair of All Day Allergy Relief boxes, also 7-Eleven brand, expired earlier this summer. And a cough suppressant sat six months past-due on the shelf. None of them should have been there.

The problem isn’t limited to 7-Eleven. This August, a team of reporters from The Princeton Summer Journal surveyed pharmacies and grocery stores in central New Jersey to investigate whether they were stocking outdated drugs, baby products and food. They found 75 expired products in 12 stores. The products ranged from dietary supplements to infant medication.

Eight stores were in the Trenton area: CVS, at 1100 Liberty St., Trenton; ShopRite, at 1750 N. Olden Ave., Ewing; CVS, 1618 N. Olden Ave., Ewing; Rite Aid, 201 N. Hermitage Ave., Trenton; Healthcare Pharmacy, 225 E. State St., Trenton; Rite Aid, 127 E. State St., Trenton; Episcopo’s Pharmacy, 1125 Chambers St., Trenton; Colonial Farms Food Market, 137 E. State St., Trenton. Four were in the New Brunswick area: CVS, 959 Livingston Ave., North Brunswick; Walgreens, 20 Jersey Ave., New Brunswick; Tropical Supermarket, 959 Livingston Ave., North Brunswick; 7-Eleven, 358 George St., New Brunswick.

Federal law requires manufacturers to label drugs with expiration dates, which reassure customers that they are safe and fully potent. According to the Federal Drug Administration, using expired medication can be ineffective or even dangerous. Certain drugs, for example, are susceptible to bacterial growth if past their expiration date. In New Jersey, state law bars stores from stocking outdated drugs.

CVS, Rite Aid, and 7-Eleven did not respond to requests for comment. ShopRite and Walgreens responded to the Summer Journal’s queries, but were not able to address them before publication.

To be sure, Princeton Summer Journal reporters did not attempt to buy any of the products; they merely identified the products on the shelves. If a customer had attempted to buy any of the expired products, it is possible that the expiration date could have been flagged at the checkout counter.

It is not entirely clear why this problem persists. When Sue Berrian, an assistant manager at the New Brunswick 7-Eleven, was asked why the store stocked outdated products, she explained that deliveries could be erratic. Asked when she expected the next delivery of health products, she said, “I have no idea,” before telling the Summer Journal that “we have one new [delivery] guy that keeps messing up.”

Expired items found at three CVS stores included acetaminophen capsules, multivitamins, foot creams, melatonin pills, probiotics, and condoms. “It could have just been an error or someone rotating the product incorrectly,” said Devin, a manager at a Trenton CVS, who didn’t give her last name. She then asked group of Summer Journal reporters, “You don’t have to announce yourself when you come in?”

CVS has been repeatedly penalized for allegedly stocking expired products. In 2016, the company settled with the Pennsylvania attorney general for $450,000 after investigators found out-of-date infant formula and over-the-counter medication at five of the six stores they visited. CVS did not acknowledge any wrongdoing, but did agree to institute training for certain employees and give coupons to Pennsylvania customers who find an expired product. Earlier, the New York attorney general’s office found that 142 CVS and 112 Rite Aid stores in more than 41 counties sold expired products—some of them two years past their expiration dates. As a result, CVS settled for $850,000.

Large corporations are not the only ones who appear to struggle with this issue. Episcopo’s Pharmacy, a small business in Trenton, sold an array of items, from sweets to toys. It also stocked expired medicine. These included gas relief medicine, nasal decongestant and vision supplements. Pharmacist John Berkenkopf said he checked his shelves “every few weeks,” but conceded that expired products sometimes slip through. “It just happens,” he said.

Shah Alkesh, who manages Colonial Farms Food Market in Trenton, explained why expired products can stay on his shelves past their sell-date. “Everybody [is] going to Amazon,” he said, noting that he has difficulty replacing his inventory.

No expired products were found at the CVS on Nassau Street in Princeton. Customers exiting that store were disturbed by the Journal’s findings. “I feel like it’s a disservice to consumers who are trusting these companies and are purchasing something that they think they can use,” said 31-year-old Brigid Gardner, after learning some New Jersey pharmacies were stocking expired drugs. Arifa Khandwalla, 47, of Princeton, New Jersey, agreed: “I don’t think they should be doing that. They don’t have the right to sell it to me.”

New York’s broken subway system: 39 student reporters’ moment-by-moment account of travails and complaints during a single rush hour

By Princeton Summer Journal staff

As the summer of 2017 comes to an end, the long-simmering problems with the New York City subway system have reached full boil. The congestion caused by nearly 6 million riders a day has dramatically slowed down the rail system. The 112-year-old signaling system is unable to withstand everyday use. Rail cars built more than 50 years ago are breaking down more frequently than ever before. Two high-profile derailments – including one that injured 34 people and an incident in which people were trapped underground – have New Yorkers demanding changes from their elected officials.

On Tuesday, August 8, during rush hour, 39 reporters from the Princeton Summer Journal spread out to dozens of subway stations across the city, interviewing riders about how the crisis is affecting them. While some people told us that their experiences with the subway system have been positive, many other riders had major frustrations, which we relay below.

Continue reading

Investigative Report: Student Journalists Find Rampant Violations of NYC Environmental Law

By Aracely Chavez, Taylor Fetty, Breonna Reese, Sarah Santiago and Michael Williams with the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal

On Wednesday, August 10, ABC News correspondent Sunny Hostin was in the driver’s seat of her parked Mercedes SUV in lower Manhattan, unaware she was breaking the law.  Hostin, simply by sitting in her air-conditioned vehicle, was one of many of New Yorkers who every day violate a little-known, seldom-enforced rule designed to reduce auto emissions. An infraction won’t land anyone in Rikers Island prison, but advocates argue that failing to enforce the law quietly wreaks financial and environmental havoc on the city.

In New York City, it is illegal for cars, vans or buses to idle for more than three minutes—or for more than one minute near a school. Over the course of several hours last week, a team of 37 high school reporters from the Princeton Summer Journal observed 104 vehicles idling for over three minutes in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Roughly 80 percent were private automobiles; the rest were commercial vehicles, limousines and taxis. After being approached and informed of the city’s three-minute anti-idling law, less than one in five drivers turned off their engines. Many weren’t shy about voicing their displeasure. “What difference does it make?” huffed an elderly woman in Brooklyn Heights who identified herself as Mrs. Pittman. “I don’t care about a law.” Continue reading

Expired food and drugs found in multiple Trenton stores

By Vayne Ong
with Samuel Lee, Jeannie Regidor and the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal

In a Krauszer’s Food Store in Trenton, New Jersey, five two-liter bottles of Barq’s root beer collect dust on the bottom shelf of the soda aisle. When the dust is wiped away, text reveals these bottles all passed their sell-by dates in June 2014.

These were just five of the 272 expired products, ranging from food to over-the-counter drugs, found in an Aug. 4 Princeton Summer Journal investigation. In a survey of convenience stores and pharmacies in Trenton, a team of 23 Summer Journal reporters discovered a wide range of products that have passed their sell-by, best-if-used-by, use-by, and expiration dates. Continue reading

Facts of Gaza conflict elude many in New York

A demonstrator displays a flag at a gathering for Universal Peace Day, which commemorates the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on Aug. 5.

A demonstrator displays a flag at a gathering for Universal Peace Day, which commemorates the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on Aug. 5.

By Angela Kim, Amna Nawaz, Nicholas Santiago and Hasani Valdez
with the staff of the Princeton Summer Journal

ByTheNumbersNew Yorkers are known for their global-mindedness, diversity and strong opinions. But in a survey conducted by the Princeton Summer Journalism Program last week in New York, a majority of respondents did not know some of the basic facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza.

A large majority of 410 people interviewed around Union Square on Aug. 5 did not know the name of the leader of Hamas, the political faction which governs Gaza and is regarded as a terrorist group by the United States. Although 58-year-old Khaled Meshaal has run Hamas for the past ten years, 99 percent of those surveyed could not name him. Just three percent of those interviewed were aware that the Hamas leader resides in exile in Qatar.

Of those interviewed, just under 25 percent correctly identified the approximate number of Israeli casualties, which numbered 67 as of Aug. 6, according to BBC world news. (Responses within the range of 47-87 were considered correct answers.) Similarly, just under 25 percent of those polled correctly identified the number of Palestinian casualties within a range of 1300-2300. The number was 1,888 on Aug. 4, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Continue reading

New Plan B rules cause confusion for NYC pharmacists

By Erick Arzate, Shemaiah Clarke, Miguel Diaz and Hunter Richards
with the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal

Confusion On The Morning AfterThis June, in response to a federal judge’s ruling, the Obama administration made the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B One-Step available over the counter to people of all ages and genders.

But an investigation by The Princeton Summer Journal revealed that the vast majority of pharmacists interviewed in New York City did not know about this recent change regarding the rules for access to Plan B One-Step, the most common “morning-after” pill.

Of 49 pharmacists interviewed Wednesday in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, only 16 were even aware that Plan B One-Step was now available to everyone without age or point-of-sale restrictions.

And of those 16 pharmacists, only 11 were actually selling Plan B One-Step without any restrictions. Several of the pharmacists interviewed said they were still enforcing the now-defunct age restrictions and cited lack of guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the pill’s manufacturer, Teva Pharmaceuticals, as a cause of confusion. Continue reading

Unpaid journalism internships may serve as barrier to profession for low-income students

By Ashley Jones-Quaidoo, Lesley Le Platte, Jeanne Li and Ellen Pham
with the staff of The Princeton Summer Journal

Like many aspiring journalists, Harvard University student Michelle Hu went hunting for media internships this summer. But as a student on financial aid, Hu had to consider money when making her decision. Hu simply couldn’t afford to take an unpaid internship.

In the end, she got an internship with Al Jazeera in Washington, and was able to pull together money to cover basic expenses—a $1,000 stipend from Al Jazeera and a $1,000 scholarship from the Asian American Journalism Association. Even with this funding, however, budgeting for the summer still wasn’t easy.

“I had to find a place with cheap rent,” Hu said. “Every time I bought food it was a conscious decision.”

At least Hu was able to find funding. With the economy sluggish and the news industry struggling, unpaid journalism internships seem more common than ever. And that means students from low-income backgrounds are facing a major barrier to entry in the industry. Continue reading