State News Roundup
A committee of the Massachusetts legislature has ordered a detailed audit of the state's special-education program because the results of an earlier study showed that the state had proportionately more special-education students than any other state in the nation.
In a report released this month, the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight of the state legislature noted that the number of students receiving special-education services under Chapter 766, the state special-education law, is more than twice the national average.
The legislative report further alleges that school districts may be taking advantage of the weighted funding formula for handicapped students to get more revenue from the state.
In denying those findings, Roger Brown, director of special education for the state department of education, said that the legislative report compares 1978 and 1981 statistics, and the methods for computing the statistics differed. "It's like comparing apples and oranges," he said.
Mr. Brown said that the department is preparing a response to the legislative report that will refute the allegations point by point. "We do agree that there are questions that should be pursued," he said, adding that the department will be cooperating with the legislature on its planned audit.
The Maryland Court of Appeals early this month refused to force the Montgomery County school district to pay damages to a student who is handicapped as a result of a 1978 accident that occurred in a physical-education class.
In a 6-to-1 decision, the state's high court ruled that Gaithersburg Junior High School was not responsible for an accident in which Michael Harrison, then 14 years old, fractured his spine.
Mr. Harrison, who now lives at a special school for the handicapped in Illinois, was injured while doing a front flip during class. He contended that the teachers should have prevented him from doing the flip.
The plaintiff argued that the court should adopt a new standard to hold individuals liable for their actions. Under a 135-year-old state law, the district is not at all liable because the boy was at least partly responsible for the accident.
The teachers named in the suit testified that they had told students not to perform such acts and therefore had fulfilled their obligations.
The court, in overturning an earlier ruling by the Montgomery County Circuit Court, said that the boy contributed to his injury.
A federal judge this month ordered the state of Missouri to provide summer-school programs for handicapped students who need additional schooling beyond the normal school year.
U.S. District Judge John F. Nangle ruled that the state's failure to provide summer-school programs for students who need them violates the federal law that protects the rights of handicapped students.
In his decision, Judge Nangle said the state was denying handicapped students a "free and appropriate public education by failing to consider the educational needs beyond the 180-day school year."
The lawsuit was filed three years ago by Robert and Mary Yaris, whose handicapped son attends the St. Louis County school system's Special School District, which also serves students from parts of Jefferson County.
The decision will affect about 126,000 handicapped students in the state, according to Keith Givens, assistant director for community relations for the special district. He said the state does not plan to appeal the decision.
The Idaho Department of Education has entered into an out-of-court settlement requiring the state agency to monitor local school districts' efforts to provide special help to children whose proficiency in English is limited.
The consent decree, endorsed on March 3 by U.S. District Judge Harold Ryan of Boise, does not stipulate any particular method of instruction, such as transitional bilingual education, but requires the state to ensure that minority-language children are "adequately served" by local districts.
The case goes back to 1979, when the Idaho Migrant Council Inc. sued the state education department, contending that Spanish-speaking children of farmworkers in some portions of the state were not receiving special services to help them learn English and keep up in other subjects. The state contended at the time that individual districts, and not state authorities, were responsible for providing such programs. A federal district judge agreed and dismissed the suit.
But the migrant council, aided by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, appealed. In 1981, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the state had both the authority and the responsibility, under federal civil-rights laws and migrant-education rules, to oversee such services.
In the negotiated settlement reached this month, the state does not admit any wrongdoing but agrees to collect data on limited-English-proficient pupils, review districts' instructional plans, and intervene if necessary.
"There's no great difference from the way we've been doing it other than that school districts without migrant programs will have to develop them if they have migrant children," said Donald J. Carpenter, associate state superintendent.
Saul Cooperman, New Jersey commissoner of education, has given Fairleigh Dickinson University until July 1 to upgrade half of its teacher-education programs.
If improvements are not made by then, Mr. Cooperman said, the programs will lose their state approval, which would bar graduates of the programs from teaching in New Jersey or 28 other states with which New Jersey has teacher-certification reciprocity.
The commissioner based his decision on the report of a panel of state educators who recently evaluated the school's education offerings as part of New Jersey's ongoing oversight of its teacher-education programs.
The panel found that the university's 24 education programs were staffed with about the same number of faculty members, a number found to be inadequate. It also found the programs to be dispersed among three campuses, causing them to be, in Mr. Cooperman's words, "organizationally disjointed."
Similar criticisms were leveled against the university by another state accreditation panel in 1980. At that time, the university was given two years to improve its programs. The panel that conducted the recent review recommended that the school be given two more years to upgrade its programs. Mr. Cooperman rejected that recommendation.
In West Virginia, a public-school teacher who has a reputation as a homosexual may be fired from his or her job even if there is no proof for the charge, according to an opinion written by the state's assistant attorney general.
The opinion, issued earlier this month, argues that most West Virginia communities consider homosexuality immoral, and that teachers may be fired for immorality if it affects their ability to do their work.
The opinion is not binding, and as yet there has been no attempt to fire a teacher for homosexuality, said John Kozak, a Charleston lawyer and the local spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The opinion describes a hypothetical case of a female Hampshire County teacher who wears sideburns and a mustache, works as an auto mechanic, and lives with another woman. Hampshire County School Superintendent Harold C. Carl requested the opinion from the state attorney general's office, a spokesman there said.
A 44-member task force was appointed early this month to study Louisiana's teacher shortage, which is especially critical in mathematics, science, and special education.
The state's education superintendent, J. Kelly Nix, says the public schools need another 800 teachers in these subjects. He has asked the task force to consider modifying existing certification rules to allow people with liberal-arts degrees to start teaching before they have completed their certification requirements, a spokesman for the department said.
Mr. Nix is also recommending a program that would give students free college tuition if they agree to teach for 10 years in Louisiana schools.
About one third of the task-force members are businessmen. They will also study a state proposal to grant tax breaks to industries that release their employees to teach in public schools.