Federal officials -- for the first time -- plan to make provisions on the application for student aid for same-sex marriages, as well as unions where both parents are residing together but are not legally married.
The U.S. Department of Education reports on its website that the 2014-2015 Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, will, where applicable, replace gender-specific terms like "mother" and "father" with those like "Parent 1 (father/mother/stepparent)" and "Parent 2 (father/mother/stepparent)." The FAFSA also will provide a new option for applicants to describe parents' marital status as "unmarried and both parents living together."
"All students should be able to apply for federal student aid within a system that incorporates their unique family dynamics," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement. "These changes will allow us to more precisely calculate federal student aid eligibility based on what a student's whole family is able to contribute and ensure taxpayer dollars are better targeted toward those students who have the most need, as well as provide an inclusive form that reflects the diversity of American families."
Department of Education officials pointed out the new FAFSA does not contradict the federal Defense of Marriage Act because the Higher Education Act (HEA), under which it operates and dispenses aid, generally includes terms like "parent" and "parents'" and not "mother," "father" or "spouse."
The FAFSA changes are potentially pivotal for some students since the information collected is used in the calculation of applicants' expected family contribution (EFC), which not only determines eligibility for federal student aid but also aid from many states, institutions and private programs.
"It is critical that both of a dependent student's parents help pay, to the extent they are able, for the educational expenses of their child" reads a DOE release. "Collecting parental information from both of a dependent student's legal parents will result in fair treatment of all families by eliminating longstanding inequities based on parents' relationship with each other rather than on their relationship with their child."
The DOE said the FAFSA alterations will change some students' eligibility, decreasing it in some instances because of the inclusion of a previously discounted parent's income in the EFC.
Also, the DOE said, "In a small number of instances, the student would be eligible for more aid because the offset for an additional person in the parents' household, a factor in calculating the EFC, will exceed the income of the second parent."
Tough calls don't often confront the people responsible for deciding who belongs on a national memorial for officers killed in the line of duty.
But recognizing fallen men and women in blue isn't always a black-and-white decision.
The cases of two inductees this year highlight challenges for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. It holds a vigil Monday for 321 officers added to the wall in Washington, D.C.
Detective Sgt. Caleb Embree Smith of Flint died by poisoning in 1921. Wauwatosa, Wis., Officer Jennifer Sebena was shot multiple times while working last Christmas Eve, and her husband is a suspect.
Smith's case remains unsolved. Sebena's was originally viewed as domestic violence. Both have been memorialized.
Officials say most applications have been approved during more than two decades.
The victims of a Cleveland house of horrors are pleading with the public for privacy and time to heal amidst a deluge of requests from the media, as well as an outpouring of offers to assist them from around the world.
"There is a pending criminal investigation, and prosecution," said attorney Jim Wooley Sunday on behalf of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight.
"It is not in the best interests of anyone connected with that proceeding for Ms. Berry, Ms. DeJesus, and Ms. Knight to be making statements to the media while that proceeding is pending.
"Second, and most importantly, Ms. Berry, Ms. DeJesus, and Ms. Knight have asked – in fact, have pleaded – for privacy at this time so that they can continue to heal and reconnect with their families."
Wooley added that anyone wishing to contribute to the victims should specifically work with the Cleveland Courage Fund.
Meanwhile, the spokesman issued statements on behalf of the women with Berry stating, "Thank you so much for everything you're doing and continue to do. I am so happy to be home with my family."
DeJesus reportedly said, "I'm so happy to be home and want to thank everybody for all your prayers. I just want time now to be with my family," while Knight added: "Thank you to everyone for your support and good wishes. I am healthy, happy and safe and will reach out to family, friends and supporters in good time."
Berry, DeJesus and Knight disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004 and were found Monday after Berry escaped and screamed for help and contacted police. Cleveland man Ariel Castro is now charged with abducting and raping the three women, binding them with ropes and chains in his home and only allowing them out a few times in disguise.
Prosecutors have also said they plan to pursue murder charges against Castro, related to the as many as five miscarriages he induced after impregnating Knight.
Police say the bodies of a woman and a 13-year-old boy have been found after a dayslong standoff in New Jersey, and a suspect was killed in the rescue of three children inside the home.
Authorities said at a news conference Sunday that officers stormed the house and shot 38-year-old Gerald Tyrone Murphy because he was threatening one of the children. Murphy later died of his injuries.
The standoff ended at 3:45 a.m. Sunday, about 37 hours after it began. Murphy had been holed-up in a two-story red brick house in South Trenton since Friday afternoon.
Police say they were called to the home on reports that a man had barricaded himself inside. Authorities say police entered the home and found the man brandishing a gun.
Two brothers of the Cleveland kidnapping suspect say they fear people still believe they had something to do with the three missing women found in his home.
Onil and Pedro Castro tell CNN that they've been getting death threats even after police decided not to charge them.
Pedro Castro says he would have turned in his brother Ariel if he had known he was involved in the women's disappearance.
Ariel Castro is suspected of holding the women captive in his home for a decade. Authorities say he kidnapped all three, raped them and fathered a child with one.
The women were found May 6 after one escaped and called 911.
The brothers were initially taken into custody but released Thursday after investigators said there was no evidence against them.
For nearly a decade, Nancy Ruiz hoped against hope her daughter was still alive.
Today, she celebrates "the best Mother's Day . . . ever" after a homecoming that – at last – brought the return of Gina DeJesus.
"This is the best Mother's Day I could ever have," Ruiz said, according to Reuters, following DeJesus' escape from the Cleveland house of horrors in which she and three others were held captive by the accused, Ariel Castro.
DeJesus, now 23, was kidnapped at 14 while walking home from junior high school in 2004, and allegedly held in the basement of Castro's Cleveland home, along with Amanda Berry, 27, and Michelle Knight, 32.
Berry escaped Monday, and phoned 911, leading to not only Castro's arrest, but also the freedom of the two others -- as well as the child Berry apparently bore while in captivity.
However, while this Mother's Day proved joyous for Ruiz, the occasion is likely bittersweet for Berry, who lost her own mother during the 10 years she was held, and mothered a child, as well; police said DNA indicates the child was fathered by Castro.
Prosecutors are seeking murder charges, which could carry the death penalty, against Castro, 52, a former school bus driver who police said induced several miscarriages by beating and starving Knight.
Castro is currently charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape, prosecutor Victor Perez said. He is being held on $8 million bond.
According to Reuters, a city councilman briefed on the case said the women were subjected to prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and suffered miscarriages, never finding a chance to escape until this week.
Councilman Brian Cummins said that many details remain unclear, including the number of pregnancies and the conditions under which the miscarriages occurred. He also said the women were kept in the basement for some time without having access to the rest of the house.
"We know that the victims have confirmed miscarriages, but with who, how many and what conditions we don't know," Cummins said. He added: "It sounds pretty gruesome."
The Cleveland community has joyously welcomed the three women – and Berry's child. But while DeJesus and Berry were reunited with their long-lost families, Reuters reports there was no such homecoming for Knight, who slipped into seclusion after departing a hospital on Friday.
While at the medical facility, she reportedly refused visits from family members, some of whom believed she was a runaway when she disappeared in 2002 after losing custody of her young son, her grandmother reportedly said.
Like a recurring nightmare, the return of O.J. Simpson to a Las Vegas courtroom come Monday will remind Americans of a tragedy that became a national obsession and in the process changed the country's attitude toward the justice system, the media and celebrity.
His 1995 trial is the stuff of legends, the precipitous fall of a Hall of Fame football player from the pinnacle of adoration to a murder defendant who, although acquitted of killing his ex-wife and her friend, was never absolved in the public mind.
He is arguably the most famous American ever charged with murder, and his "trial of the century" cast him in the role of the accused -- no longer the superhero-turned-movie actor held up to young people as an example of achievement.
But less is remembered about the 2008 Las Vegas trial that sent Simpson to prison for a bizarre hotel room robbery in which the celebrity defendant said he just wanted to take back personal memorabilia that he claimed was stolen from him.
When he comes to court Monday, it is that conviction for armed robbery and kidnapping that will be before a Nevada judge. Simpson is seeking freedom in what lawyers often call a "Hail Mary motion," a writ of habeas corpus. It claims he had such bad representation that his conviction should be reversed and a new trial ordered. Most defendants lose these motions, but in this case nobody is taking bets on the outcome.
"Nothing is the same when O.J. is involved," said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, who observed Simpson's Los Angeles trial. "An O.J. case is never like any other case."
With Simpson, the past is always a prologue -- and so memories of his murder trial are certain to serve as a backdrop throughout the Las Vegas hearing. This case, while less dramatic in nature, carries with it far more devastating consequences.
Now 65 years old, Simpson has already spent the last four years in prison and must serve at least nine years of his maximum 33-year sentence before he is even eligible for parole. He would be 70 by then. If Simpson doesn't win a new trial, he could conceivably spend the rest of his life locked up.
"I try to explain to people how somebody could come from nothing to live the American dream and then lose it all," said Simpson's former manager and agent, Mike Gilbert, who is expected to testify at the hearing. "I have a hard time with it."
Close friend Jim Barnett describes Simpson as grayer, paunchier and limping a little more these days from old knee injuries. The Silicon Valley venture capitalist has visited Simpson several times at the medium-security Lovelock Correctional Center, an hour northeast of Reno.
Simpson, Barnett said, is a favorite among inmates. He has served as prison gym steward and coached a champion prison baseball team. "He gets along with everyone there," he said. "But he's slow. Last time I saw him, he had gotten quite heavy."
Before the "trial of the century," there were few televised court cases, no celebrity justice shows and a minimum of talking heads holding forth on TV about the prospects of famous defendants in court. Simpson's murder trial, televised from gavel to gavel, brought the legal arena into living rooms and turned lawyers into stars.
And Simpson, the quintessential American sports hero, was brought down by a trial that could not vindicate him even with a "not guilty" verdict. Too many people wanted him to pay for the deaths of his beautiful ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman, found stabbed in front of her Los Angeles condominium.
Too many people believed Simpson had gotten away with murder.
The man who had won the Heisman Trophy and was known for his phenomenal running on a football field -- and in commercials for Hertz cars -- ran again when he was named as a suspect in the June 1994 killings. The spectacle of police chasing after one of America's most famous men across Los Angeles freeways was an image for history books. The slow-speed white Ford Bronco pursuit became part of the legend.
It took a year for his trial to unfold. There were issues of racism, domestic violence, mishandled evidence -- and the many memorable moments, and lines, that quickly became part of the pop culture lexicon: Simpson struggling to squeeze on a bloody black glove and his lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, admonishing the jury: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."
The case so captivated America that on the day of the verdict, even then-President Bill Clinton watched it on TV.
Simpson walked out a free man. But he would be a pariah forever after.
As shocking as Simpson's fall from grace is his involvement in the hotel room heist that landed him in prison.
Those who try to explain it come back to one word -- hubris, the literary allusion to excessive self-confidence, pride and arrogance. Simpson refused to accept that people didn't idolize him anymore. He boasted about his continuing celebrity status. He was delighted that people still wanted his autograph and wanted to hang out with him at the pool of The Palms hotel in Las Vegas. And that was where the disastrous plan was born.
He had come to Las Vegas that September of 2007 for a happy event. His old friend, Tom Scotto, was getting married and invited Simpson to be his best man. Scotto still sounds anguished when he recalls the weekend.
"If it wasn't for me," Scotto said in an interview, "he wouldn't have been there."
Simpson, trial testimony would show, organized a posse of five friends and acquaintances to accompany him to a hotel where he was told some men were trying to sell his mementos, including family pictures. It was to be a sting of sorts, in which the memorabilia dealers would think an anonymous buyer was coming.
When Simpson walked into the hotel room, he realized he knew the sellers from previous dealings and he accused them of stealing from him. He shouted that no one was to leave the room -- an action that would be judged to fit the legal definition of kidnapping. As Simpson's guys began bagging up the memorabilia, one of them pulled a gun, according to trial testimony.
No one was injured, but the sellers called the police -- and another Simpson case for another century was launched.
It turned out that Tom Riccio, another memorabilia dealer who played middleman between Simpson and the sellers, had planted a tape recorder in the hotel room and the tape, played for jurors, was powerful evidence.
Simpson's cohorts testified against him, including the man who said he brought a gun. They were an odd assortment of down-on-their luck Vegas characters who received plea deals and were set free on probation.
Simpson's co-defendant at his trial, Clarence "C.J." Stewart, served more than two years in prison before the Nevada Supreme Court overturned his conviction. The justices ruled Simpson's fame tainted the proceedings and that Stewart should have been tried separately. Stewart took a plea deal to avoid a retrial and was released.
Simpson, meantime, was sentenced by Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass to nine to 33 years in prison. Referencing the earlier murder trial, the judge said that her penalty was not intended as "retribution or any payback for anything else." She made no mention of the two Las Vegas police detectives overheard in a taped conversation saying that if California authorities couldn't "get" Simpson, those in Nevada would. The tape was played at the trial.
On Monday, Simpson will be back before a different judge who agreed to hear evidence on 19 claims of ineffective counsel and attorney conflict of interest. Simpson contends his trial attorney never told him about a plea bargain that had been offered by prosecutors. He also said in a sworn statement that the same attorney knew about the memorabilia sting before it happened, and "he advised me that I was within my legal rights."
Simpson is expected to testify sometime during the weeklong hearing. Instead of wearing an expensive suit and tie, the man known to Nevada authorities as inmate No. 1027820 will be dressed in plain blue prison garb.