July 19th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

School principal missing after lunch deaths in India

By Harmeet Shah Singh, Sumnima Udas and Ashley Fantz, CNN

Bihar, India (CNN) - A father holds his limp child in his arms, carrying her from the school he trusted to take care of her. A video camera focuses on his face locked in total anguish. Everyone around him is shouting. He goes to the back of an open van and struggles to keep the white blanket he's wrapped around his child's body from slipping as he lays the body down.The mother of a 5-year-old repeatedly calls her daughter's name.

Why aren't you coming back, she pleads.

"Why isn't anyone bringing Dipu back?!"

These moments came in the wake of the deaths of 23 Indian children who were poisoned by school lunches they were given Tuesday, authorities say.

The students, who authorities said were between the ages of 5 and 12, started vomiting soon after their first bite of rice and potatoes at their government primary school in the northern state of Bihar. Some fainted.

Earlier, authorities had said 22 children had died, but on Thursday district magistrate Abhijit Sinha explained that one deceased boy had not been counted in the initial death toll because his father had taken his body without handing it over for autopsy.

Grief and anger so permeate this poverty-stricken community that parents of at least three children have buried their lost ones near the school - one right in front of the building, according to CNN journalists who saw the burial mounds. Sinha told CNN that the burials were acts of protest.

Demonstrations have popped up around the area as people seek answers about how this tragedy could have happened. One video segment showed men apparently attacking a school bus with sticks. Others gathered and held signs.

Students at nearby schools refused to eat.

"I am scared now. ... There is fear in our hearts," one child told CNN sister network CNN-IBN.

Meanwhile, a top federal official said authorities had warned of safety problems with the state's school meal program months ago.

And police told CNN that investigators have been unable to find the headmistress of the school in order to question her.

Authorities have not named the headmistress and her husband, whom they also want to interview, local police chief Sujit Kumar said Thursday.

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July 13th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Malala at U.N.: The Taliban failed to silence us

By Ashley Fantz, CNN

(CNN) - A Pakistani teenager nearly killed by Taliban gunmen for advocating that all girls should have the right to go to school gave her first formal public remarks Friday at the United Nations. It also happened to be Malala Yousafzai's 16th birthday.

"Today, it is an honor for me to be speaking again after a long time," she said. "Being here with such honorable people is a great moment in my life."

She looked out at an audience of hundreds of children from around the world and U.N. members, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and told them that she was wearing a pink shawl that once belonged to Benazir Bhutto, the two-time prime minister of Pakistan who was killed in 2007 in a suicide attack at a political rally.

"I don't know where to begin my speech," she said. "I don't know what people would be expecting me to say. But first of all, thank you to God for whom we all are equal and thank you to every person who has prayed for my fast recovery and a new life. I cannot believe how much love people have shown me."

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March 4th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

School's transgender ruling: fairness or discrimination?

By Josh Levs, Ed Payne and Ashley Fantz, CNN

(CNN) - A Colorado school's ruling over a transgender child has sparked questions that could affect schools all over the country.

Which bathroom should be used by a child who identifies as a different gender from his or her body? Where's the line between accommodation and discrimination? At what point is a child old enough for that to even be an issue?

The case focuses on Coy Mathis, a 6-year-old born with a boy's body. She identifies as a girl, and her family is raising her as a girl.

In kindergarten, she used the girl's bathroom with no problem, the family says. But this year, with Coy in first grade, the principal called to set up a meeting to discuss bathroom use. In advance of the meeting, the family asked what the policies are.

"We were told that there were no written policies and that the options would be for Coy to use the boys' restroom or the staff bathroom or the nurse's bathroom for the sick children, which were both on the opposite end of the building," Coy's father, Jeremy Mathis, said on CNN's "Starting Point" on Thursday.

That "would stigmatize her, having to be the only one having to go to a different bathroom, so we weren't OK with that."

The family contacted the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. When an attorney with that group could not work something out with the school, the group filed a state civil rights complaint on the family's behalf.

In the meantime, Coy is being home schooled - partly because her parents fear bullies may make fun of her.

"The district firmly believes it has acted reasonably and fairly with respect to this issue," the school district's attorney, W. Kelly Dude, said in a written statement. "However, the district believes the appropriate and proper forum for discussing the issues identified in the charge is through the Division of Civil Rights process. The district is preparing a response to the charge which it will submit to the division. Therefore, the district will not comment further on this matter out of respect for the process which the parents have initiated."

The school calls Coy a girl as the family wishes, Dude said.

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February 9th, 2013
12:22 PM ET

Malala, teen education activist shot by Taliban, leaves hospital

By Richard Greene and Ashley Fantz, CNN

(CNN) - In a stunning story of survival and recovery, the Pakistani teenager whom Taliban gunman shot in the head in October has been released from a hospital.

Malala Yousufzai left Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, on Friday. In the past two weeks, the girl famous for advocating that girls in Pakistan be educated - which stoked the ire of her attackers - proved her incredible strength by enduring two operations to repair her skull and restore her hearing.

READ: Malala's journey from near death to recovery

The gunfire caused swelling in Malala's skull and a break in the delicate bones that help turn sound into sensory impulses to her brain.

"God has given me this new life," she recently said, speaking for the first time on camera since the shooting. "I want to serve the people. I want every girl, every child, to be educated."Though the gunshots to her neck and head made many doubt that she would walk again, Malala continued to improve over the past several months.

"I can walk a little bit and I'm feeling better," the 15-year-old said on February 6.

At that time, she said she hoped to be fully recovered in a month.

READ: Pakistan's Malala: Global symbol, but still just a kid

Her medical team decided she was well enough to be discharged Thursday. The teen will continue her rehabilitation at her family's temporary home in Birmingham and will visit the hospital occasionally for outpatient appointments.

Malala has credited her survival to "the prayers of the people."

Her story captured worldwide attention, moving Pakistan to vow that it would more vigorously fight for girls' rights and against the Taliban. It also prompted global leaders to put pressure on the country to make good on those promises.

"Because of these prayers, God has given me this new life and I want to serve and I want every girl, every child to be educated," she said.

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