States News Roundup
Maryland's highest court has ruled that educators and other school officials in the state cannot be sued for improperly educating a child. The court, however, said that educators who maliciously and intentionally injure children can be sued for damages.
The Maryland Court of Appeals, on a 6-1 vote, upheld a state circuit court's ruling that the Montgomery County school board was immune from an educational-negligence suit. The case involved the parents of a 16-year-old boy, who claimed that their son was improperly evaluated as a youngster by a school official.
The parents' suit claimed that their son was taught first-grade material although he was placed in second grade, and that he was treated similarly throughout his entire elementary-school career.
The boy's misplacement in school caused him to feel embarrassed, to develop learning deficiencies, and to suffer psychological damage, the suit claimed.
The high court said that to allow parents to file such lawsuits "would in effect position the courts of this state as overseers of both the day-to-day operation of our educational process as well as its governing processes."
"This responsibility we are loathe to impose on our courts," the justices said.
The lone dissenter in the case, Judge Rita C. Davison, said: "In recognizing a cause for action for educational malpractice, this court would do nothing more than what courts have traditionally done from time immemorial--namely, provide a remedy to a person harmed by the negligent act of another.
"Our children deserve nothing less," Judge Davison concluded.
In an unprecedented decision, a superior-court judge in Yakima County, Wash., ruled recently that the Selah School District must pay attorneys' fees and the tutoring expenses of a high-school graduate who, because of a learning disability, can read only at the fifth-grade level.
In his decision, Judge Howard Hittinger ruled that school officials failed to provide 19-year-old Vicki Morris, who suffers from dyslexia, with an "appropriate education." Robert E. Patterson, an assistant attorney general, said the judge also cited a state law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a handicap, and ordered payment of Ms. Morris's attorneys' fees, an unprecedented move in a case of this nature.
In addition, Mr. Patterson said, the school district is required to reimburse the parents of Ms. Morris about $6,000 for past tutoring services and all future costs until Ms. Morris reaches the age of 21. Mr. Patterson said no decision has been made on appealing the decision.
A new, statewide program to encourage, recognize, and reward high-school seniors whose academic performance has been outstanding was announced last week by Florida's commissioner of education, Ralph D. Turlington.
"Individuals and teams are awarded accolades for all sorts of nonacademic accomplishments," Mr. Turlington said in his announcement of the program. "Academically talented students surely deserve the same recognition." The program is also intended to serve as an "indicator" in the state's progress toward its goal of reaching the top one-fourth of states in educational achievement.
The "Program to Recognize Initiative and Distinction in Education" (pride), as it is called, involves distributing more than $35,000 in state and privately donated funds to high-school seniors and community-college students. The pride awards will be given to students at the school, district, regional, and state levels for achievement in four subjects: mathematics, science, social studies, and writing.
Winners from the five regions of the state will receive a $400 cash award. The statewide winner for each subject will receive a $1,000 cash prize.
A bill aimed at actively involving parents in the sex-education courses taught in public schools will be reactivated in the 1982 Washington state legislature convening this week in Olympia.
The bill, which was first introduced last year but never got out of committee, would make parental consent mandatory for any students wishing to enroll in a sex-education class. It would also require all school districts to present to parents the materials to be used in the classes, including movies, texts, course outlines, and transcripts of speeches. Parents would also be given the names, addresses, and qualifications of any speakers not employed by the districts presenting the course.
Currently, at a parent's request, students may withdraw from classes teaching human reproduction. But it is the parents' responsibility to initiate the curriculum review, and there is no formal procedure for making such requests.
Senator Margaret Hurley of Spokane said last week that she wrote the bill after several parents complained that they had no control over what the schools were teaching about sex.
Senator Hurley, a retired second-grade teacher, stressed that the bill will not affect the content of the curriculum. "It's only to get a handle on something that's gotten out in left field," she explained.
Mrs. Hurley and Leanna Benn, a spokesman for a Spokane support group, Mead Parents for Excellence in Education, said such a bill is needed to provide a check on the literature passed out in the schools and on the movies and speeches given in many districts by representatives of Planned Parenthood.
"This organization [Planned Parenthood] promotes homosexuality, masturbation, and abortion as birth-control methods for men," charged Ms. Benn. "And abstinence as a single lifestyle is not even discussed."
The last, the longest, and one of the bitterest of the 35 teachers' strikes that swept Minnesota since last fall ended on Jan. 10.
The Howard Lake-Waverly School Board approved a two-year contract that had been ratified by a majority of the district's 67 teachers, and classes resumed as usual last week for 1,100 students in the district, located 25 miles west of Minneapolis.
The 94-day strike began on Oct. 6. In November, the board reopened some schools using substitute teachers and began holding classes for all grades by Dec. 2. In response, the striking teachers formed what they called an "alternate" school.
Teachers and school-board negotiators reached a tentative settlement in mid-December. The teachers ratified the settlement, but the board then rejected it. A trial-court judge later ruled that the board was guilty of not bargaining in good faith as required by Minnesota law.
The settlement provides for an average increase in pay and benefits of $4,803 over the life of the two-year contract--approximately $600 below the statewide average this school year, but "quite a bit" more than the board had budgeted for teachers' salaries, said Gordon Gruenhagen, president of the school board.
Students facing suspension or expulsion from public schools in Michigan have been granted detailed due-process rights by the state board of education.
The new regulations, which were adopted last month, also advise school administrators to refrain from using corporal punishment, and outline procedures which must be followed before a student can be struck.
State education officials say the new regulations were adopted to bring the state up to date with extensive legal changes that have taken place during the last decade. Michigan last revised its code of student rights and responsibilities in 1972.
According to the new regulations, students facing suspension or expulsion are entitled to rebut any charges that have been brought against them and in some cases can call witnesses to testify on their behalf.
Another section of the new regulations orders school officials to exhaust all other disciplinary methods before resorting to corporal punishment. Once a decision hase been made to strike a student, the act must be witnessed by another school official, and the child's parents must be notified of the punishment in writing.
The finance committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives last week passed a controversial tax-reform bill that would allow school boards in the state to levy both income and property taxes.
But the bill does not look anything like it did when the state Senate approved of it by a 2-1 margin in October. In fact, the House finance panel preserved little more than the Senate bill's number.
The Senate version would have allowed the state's 501 school districts to finance schools through a local income tax of up to 3.5 percent rather than with a property tax, as they do now.
And it would have allowed school boards to switch back to the property tax after testing the income tax for two years.
School-finance experts say they know of no state that currently allows school districts to use an income tax as a primary source of school revenue.
But the House finance panel's version strikes the Senate's either-or language, and instead gives school boards the opportunity to levy both a property tax and an income tax of up to 2 percent.
Even if the finance committee's version is endorsed by the full House, it must be returned for reconsideration by the Senate, where there is strong opposition to the idea of "mixing" property and income taxes.