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.