Cities News Roundup
Allegations that schools in Jackson, Miss., discriminate against minority students have been dismissed by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in Atlanta, but the district must provide better documentation of its activities in two key areas: discipline and referral to programs for gifted children.
In a complaint filed last year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People charged the Jackson Municipal Separate School District with 47 counts of racial discrimination in the treatment of students and employees.
After investigating the charges, ocr determined that "the allegations were not substantiated by the facts," according to Lamar Clements, southeastern regional director of ocr's Elementary and Secondary Division.
The civil-rights office has asked for improvement of the system's practices in discipline and entrance to programs for gifted students. The naacp complained that in some schools, officials suspended disproportionately high numbers of minority students. The civil-rights investigators found that the district's records did not always reveal why a particular disciplinary measure had been used. Hence, Mr. Clements said, it was difficult to tell if the student was the victim of discrimination.
Similarly, the district has no formal screening process for identifying and referring children to programs for the gifted. The Jackson schools, unlike those in many other districts around the country, do not use test scores or other formal guidelines for identifying children who may be good candidates for special programs.
After the district develops formal criteria, Mr. Clements said, the process is likely to become somewhat more objective. "They seemed to recognize that they needed to develop new procedures in these areas," he said.
Students in some cities work on urban-renewal projects, but at Miami Springs Elementary School, they've gone a step further, replacing a patch of the city with a bit of the Everglades.
Located on a 2,000-square-foot patio near the Dade County, Fla., elementary school, "Springs Slough" is the product of two years of hard work by elementary-school students, community members, and architecture students from the University of Miami. The little swamp contains water plants, cypress, mangrove, and dozens of other subtropical native plants.
Construction began two years ago, when the school's principal, Margot Silverman, enlisted the aid of university landscape-architecture students to determine the project's proper shape and location. The project was partially underwritten by state grants for science education, but most of the money and labor came from students, teachers, parents, other citizens, and Dade Partners, a school-business alliance.
Miami Springs students planted the flora themselves and packed handfuls of marl--a mixture of clay and other substances that form a fertilizing loam--into the swamp-bed to create conditions resembling an Everglades hummock. Now, Ms. Silverman says, the area looks much as it did before the arrival of civilization.
New York City school officials are still working hard to get unimmunized students back in the schools, but the situation isn't as grim as it was several weeks ago, when officials estimated that 200,000 to 400,000 students could be barred from school if they did not comply with state inoculation laws.
On Oct. 1, the latest date for which figures were available, 41,306 students remained out of compliance, according to a spokesman for the school board. This was down by 14,000 students from the previous week. The Board of Education estimates that some 11,000 of the 41,306 uninoculated students represent "long-term absences"--students who are presumed to have left school but are still on the rolls because they are under 16.
In-school inoculations, carried out by the city's health department, are expected to begin this week, the board spokesman said. And city school officials hope that the state education department will be sympathetic to the argument that the system should not be penalized for the drop in attendance, since it occurred when the city was enforcing a state law. Each absent student represents a potential loss of approximately $5 per day in state aid, which is tied to attendance.
A Philadelphia city court ordered striking teachers back to work last Wednesday, but a union spokesman said the group was likely to resist the injunction. "To objey the injunction would the death of the union," said Mickey Metelits, a member of the group's executive board.
The 22,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has been on strike since Sept. 8, charging that the school board violated the union contract when it decided to lay off 3,500 employees and to rescind a scheduled 10-percent pay raise.
After five days of round-the-clock negotiations in the Philadelphia school strike, talks broke off last Tuesday when the union reportedly rejected a settlement offer.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, quoting sources close to the negotiations, reported that union President John Murray rejected the offer because he wanted to retain the 10-percent pay increase, although he reportedly was willing to concede a certain number of layoffs. Carolyn Phillips, the secretary of the union, denied those allegations and said the talks ended because of the intransigence of the school district.
In l973, the last time a judge ordered striking Philadelphia teachers back to work, hundreds of teachers were arrested and a general strike was threatened until President Richard Nixon dispatched a federal mediator.
A St. Louis-area teacher who was fired by her school board for helping pupils cheat on a statewide basic-skills test has taken her case to court.
Teresa Banks, a junior-high social studies teacher with 11 years of experience in the University City School District, has filed a suit in the state circuit court of St. Louis County alleging the board acted in an "arbitrary and capricious manner" in dismissing her.
Ms. Banks, who also is appealing a recent decision by the state to deny her unemployment payments, admitted in a hearing before the school board that she gave one pupil's test answers to another pupil who had not taken the test.
But she claims that she was unfairly singled out of a group of several teachers, who, while acting as test monitors at Hanley Junior High School, gave illegal help to students taking the Basic Essential Skills Test last March. The other teachers involved were others were reprimanded.
David T. Oshige of the Missouri Federation of Teachers, which is representing Ms. Banks, said that the widespread coaching resulted from public pressure on teachers to raise student scores on the basic-skills test.
In 1980, only 49.7 percent of the University City eighth-graders passed all three parts of the test. In 1981, 77.1 percent passed.