Published Online:

Federal News Roundup

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments


An agreement between the Congress and the White House over the fate of the new U.S. Commission on Civil Rights appeared to unravel last week with the announcement that all three Presidential nominees to the old panel will be granted seats on the new body.

Early in the week, President Reagan surprised civil-rights leaders and members of the Congress by refusing to appoint the old commission's vice-chairman, Mary L. Smith, to the new panel. Instead, Mr. Reagan named a Laredo, Tex., high-school teacher, Esther Gonzalez-Arroyo Buckley, to the panel.

As expected, Mr. Reagan also appointed Morris B. Abram, John H. Bunzel, and Clarence H. Pendleton Jr. to the new commission.

A day later, House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois bypassed an incumbent commissioner, Jill Ruckelshaus, and designated Robert Destro, one of the President's original three nominees, to serve on the commission.

Under the agreement reached last month, the commission's membership was expanded from six to eight, with four members appointed by the President, two by the Speaker of the House, and two by the president pro tem of the Senate. The Congressional appointments were to be made upon the recommendations of the House and Senate majority and minority leaders.

Democratic Congressional leaders said last week that it had been "understood" that Ms. Smith would be one of Mr. Reagan's appointees and Ms. Ruckelshaus one of Mr. Michel's appointees.


The Reagan Administration has "substantially" reduced assistance to minority and poor children, the Democrats on a House committee charged last week.

The House Government Operations Committee's accusation was contained in a report on the Chapter 1 program for disadvantaged children and the Chapter 2 block-grants program. The report was prepared by its Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations and Human Resources.

The subcommittee's investigation "reveals that block grants have reversed 18 years of federal educational civil-rights policies that have been endorsed by every President, regardless of party, since 1965," said Representative Ted Weiss, Democrat of New York and the panel's chairman.

The Emergency School Aid Act, the largest program folded into the block grants, was intended to help minority children by aiding school districts undergoing desegregation, Representative Weiss noted. "But in every case where the Education Department was authorized to guarantee that federal [block-grant] funds be spent on needy students, the department has shirked its responsibility," he said.

The report was endorsed only by the panel's Democratic members. In a dissenting opinion, its Republican members said: "Frankly, we believe the report reflects an unabashed bias in favor of federal influence over and tight control of our nation's education system."


President Reagan appointed three more people to the new U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last week but refused to reappoint a prominent Republican who has generally criticized his stances on issues such as school desegregation and affirmative action.

Mr. Reagan's refusal to appoint Mary L. Smith, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, to the independent rights-monitoring agency was criticized by House and Senate Democrats, who claimed the act broke an informal agreement approved by White House aides last month.

Under the agreement, the commission's membership was expanded from six to eight, with four members appointed by the President, two by the Speaker of the House, and two by the president pro tem of the Senate. The Congressional leaders said it was "understood" that Ms. Smith would be one of Mr. Reagan's appointees.

Instead, the President appointed Ester Gonzalez-Arroyo Buckley, a Laredo, Tex., high-school science teacher, to the post supposedly being reserved for Ms. Smith. As expected, Mr. Reagan also appointed Morris B. Abram, a former president of Brandeis University, and John H. Bunzel, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, to positions on the panel.

Mr. Reagan had previously announced the reappointment of Clarence H. Pendleton Jr., to the new group and the continuation of his chairmanship.


National News Roundup

The Service Employees International Union has filed a rule-making petition with the Environmental Protection Agency intended to force the agency to establish rules on the levels of hazard and on removal requirements for asbestos in schools.

Earlier this year, the union conducted a survey of asbestos in the schools, which estimated that about 10 percent of all schools have hazardous asbestos. The union's members include 90,000 school employees.

At that time, the union accused the federal government of responding sluggishly to a potential hazard. There is no federal requirement that asbestos be removed from schools.

The petition filed last week, however, could establish such a requirement. The union has asked the agency to establish rules that would create standards to gauge whether a hazard exists, how it should be cleaned up, and how workers should be protected while cleaning it up.

The agency has 90 days to respond to the petition, after which the union may seek relief in the federal courts. Union officials have said that they will do so if the epa fails to act on its petition.


States News Roundup

The plaintiffs in New Jersey's new school-finance case, which was originally scheduled to go to trial this month, have appealed a trial judge's dismissal of their suit. Chancery Judge Virginia Long of Mercer County dismissed the complaint on Nov. 15 on grounds that the plaintiffs had failed to exhaust administrative remedies.

The suit, Abbott v. Burke, contends that the changes made in the state's school-finance system in response to the state supreme court's 1973 order in a successful challenge, Robinson v. Cahill, have failed to provide adequate or equal fiscal resources for urban districts.

The plaintiffs, a group of schoolchildren from four urban districts, will ask the state supreme court to hear the case directly, bypassing the intermediate appellate level.

In the meantime, according to the lawyer representing the state officials who are defendants in the case, Judge Long's order will set into motion an administrative proceeding to investigate the plaintiffs' claims.

"First, you have to look at the education being provided in those districts and determine whether it is adequate," said Steven Wallach, a deputy state attorney general.

"If not, you have to look at why; it may or may not be financial. Several of these districts are running surpluses. The commissioner has very broad and extensive powers to remedy any deficiencies he finds in those districts," he added.

Marilyn J. Morheuser of the Education Law Center Inc. in Newark, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said Judge Long's order was without precedent in school-finance litigation. The state supreme court should act quickly, she argued, because the statistical data making up the evidence change from year to year and would have to be updated--a process that is both costly and time-consuming.

But even on the swiftest possible schedule, observers expect it will be at least two months before the case is tried, if at all.


An official in the Michigan Education Department has developed a model program to increase the number of women in educational administration by raising awareness in school districts.

Noting that the number of women superintendents and secondary-school principals has declined in Michigan since the beginning of the century, Jo Jacobs, coordinator of the office for sex equity, has tried to identify the institutional barriers that prevent women from reaching such positions.

Along with 30 other women who hold administrative positions in education, Ms. Jacobs developed a program that will be tested next year in three districts that want to increase the number of women in administrative ranks.

"Until women are seen to be legitimate in the role [of administrator], it will be very difficult for women to reach those kinds of positions," said Ms. Jacobs.

In each district, various groups--such as school boards and labor unions--will be involved in completing 19 objectives, such as participating in training sessions to increase awareness of the issue.

During the three-year project, the program administrators will analyze both statistical data, such as employment figures, and "perceptual'' data.

The researchers will ask, for example whether "the attitudes about the appropriateness of women as administrators" in a given school district undergo any change over time, Ms. Jacobs said.

Ms. Jacobs said she hopes the elements of the program, which is funded by a $265,000 grant from the Women's Educational Equity Act Program, will be distributed nationally upon completion of the pilot project.


The former principal of a special-education school in Louisiana has filed a $1-million suit against the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education alleging that the board's disciplinary action against him violated his civil rights.

The suit was filed earlier last month in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana by John Foster, who had been the principal of a school for handicapped children at the Southeast Louisiana Hospital until the state board removed him on charges of incompetence, willful neglect, and dishonesty.

David A. Hamilton, general counsel for the state department of education, said the suit alleges that the state board exceeded its authority when it ordered J. Kelly Nix, state superintendent of education, to transfer Mr. Foster from the principal's position to a temporary position as a "troubleshooter" for another state-operated facility.

Since both special-education programs to which Mr. Foster has been assigned are part of a statewide special-education district, the suit contends that any disciplinary action should have been initiated by the state superintendent, according to Mr. Hamilton.


A federal judge has awarded more than $30,000 to the parents of a dyslexic boy in Vance County, N.C., whose learning disability went unrecognized by North Carolina school officials for six years.

Under the order handed down by Federal District Judge Franklin T. Dupree, the Vance County Board of Education will pay $30,864 to his parents, Frances A. and James A. Hall 3rd., plus the cost of educating the boy at a private school for the 1983-84 school year.

The State Department of Public Instruction and A. Craig Phillips, state superintendent of public instruction, also were defendants in the suit.

Judge Dupree's order said the Vance school board could apply to the state for some of the money owed the Halls.

The Halls' son, James Hall 4th, attended the Vance public schools from 1974 to 1980 and had undergone several diagnostic tests that failed to show why he scored high on iq tests but lagged in reading ability.

School officials' placement of the boy in classes for pupils with learning disabilities failed to improve the situation.

The Halls withdrew their son from public school in 1980 due to his lack of academic progress and because he was developing emotional difficulties related to his failures, their suit states. He was then evaluated by private educational consultants, who diagnosed his dyslexia.

In 1981, they enrolled him in a specialized private school in Virginia, where he reportedly made rapid progress in reading under the school's program for dyslexic students.

The Halls asked the state to pay for their son's private education but were told that he would have to be re-enrolled in a public school and re-evaluated before the state funding would be possible.

After agreeing to the tests, school officials recommended that he be returned to a public school with a new individualized-instruction plan.

The Halls then filed suit in U.S. District Court in Raleigh, seeking state funds for the tuition they had paid.

The court found that the school district had failed to notify the Halls of their rights to examine their son's education records and to an independent evaluation of his problems.

Also, the final education plan the Vance schools designed for James was later found inadequate in an administrative review.


District News Roundup

Voters in the Southern Gloucester County (N.J.) Regional High School District will have their seventh opportunity to approve the money the district needs to build a middle school that would end 15 years of split sessions at Delsea Regional High School.

The high school, which now has 1,531 students, has been operating on a split schedule since 1968. The first shift of students arrives at about 7:30 A.M.; the second departs at about 6 P.M.

School officials have tried--and failed--repeatedly to get voter approval for the funds needed to build another school. The amount needed would have been about $2.9 million in 1974, when the voters first rejected the bond issue, according to Boyd A. Sands, the district's superintendent. Today, Mr. Sands said, the cost of the construction is $8.1 million, even though the building would be much less elaborate than was originally planned.

If voters do not approve the bond issue, the school could face loss of its state accreditation. Currently, it has conditional approval, but school officials say the state is losing patience with the situation. Regional accreditation is also in jeopardy, although the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges is not scheduled to re-accredit the school for another year.

Under New Jersey law, such capital-construction projects may only be carried out with voter approval. However, Mr. Sands said, another district faced with recalcitrant voters once sought the intervention of the state and was able to proceed with a major repair. "Our next step would be to ask the commissioner of education to step in," Mr. Sands said.


Worried about public-relations problems, the Baltimore County Board of Education last month turned back a proposal by the department of recreation and parks to convert an elementary-school basement into a rifle range.

Recreation officials asked the board to bring back a program that was conducted in the basement of Norwood Elementary School from 1963 to 1978. The board rejected the plan in an 8-to-1 vote.

A district spokesman said the board was sympathetic to the idea of reviving the rifle program but decided that holding it in a school would be "inconsistent" with efforts to re-duce violence in the district of 88,000 students.

Any student caught carrying a weapon in school is automatically suspended, said Donald T. Roscoe, a spokesman for the district. Board members feared that the policy would be applied to otherwise innocent students who bring guns to school for the rifle program.

The rifle range was closed in 1978 when a fire-department inspection found an insufficient number of entrances and exits and a poor ventilation system that violated the county's safety code, Mr. Roscoe said. No rifle-range users were reported injured in the 15 years that the range operated, he added.


A West Virginia grand jury has concluded that there were no irregularities in voting procedures during a special election called by the Logan County Board of Education last month, but it did offer unsolicited criticism of the schools that were the polling sites.

While praising the manner in which the elections were conducted, the grand jury criticized school officials for not keeping the schools clean. "The grand jury found that the schools were not clean and that the grand jury believes that the board of education currently has sufficient personnel to assure that the schools are kept in cleaner condition," the panel's two-page report said.

Sam P. Sentelle, superintendent of schools, said the grand jury was empaneled by the chief judge of the West Virginia Seventh Circuit Court "to oversee all aspects of the election." However, he said, the grand jury "had no business commenting on the maintenance and upkeep of the [school] buildings."

County residents were asked to consider a referendum renewing a local tax levy for the public schools and a $10-million bond issue that would have provided support for maintenance and repairs to school buildings.

Prior to the elections, several groups opposed to the bond issue alleged that there were irregularities in the election process, and that led to the involvement of the grand jury, according to Mr. Sentelle. Using many of the district's 37 schools as polling sites gave members of the grand jury access to school facilities.

Mr. Sentelle said he is writing to the grand jury to ask for more specific information on the problems it found.


A black parent who thinks Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains racial slurs, portrays blacks in an "ugly light," and should be removed from a school's required-reading list has filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission under the state's Human Relations Act, which prohibits discrimination in education.

Margot Allen first complained to the State College Area School District in 1981 when her son's 9th-grade English teacher at State College Area Intermediate High School asked him to read the part of the character Nigger Jim because he had "the perfect voice for it," Ms. Allen said.

Her son, Antwi, was the only black student in the class. Of a total school-district population of 5,817, only 87 students are black, according to Edward Frye, director of administrative services for the district.

Following Ms. Allen's complaints to the teacher, the principal, and other school officials, the district participated in a study with Pennsylvania State University's Forum of Black Affairs. Based on the study's finding that reading Huckleberry Finn enhances white students' attitudes toward blacks, the board voted in October to keep the book in the curriculum, according to Mr. Frye.

Ms. Allen said she then filed one complaint with the commission and another with the naacp because neither the district nor the study had addressed her other concerns, including how the teacher handled the instruction and how negative stereotyping affects youths. "The school needs to work on healthy images for youngsters," she said. "What is going to protect black children?"

The human-relations commission plans to investigate Ms. Allen's complaint and to interview those involved in the case, according to Homer C. Floyd, executive director of the commission.

"We're not in the business of censoring or banning books from the shelves," he said. "We would concentrate ... on the manner in which the book is being used and how it is being taught, if it's taught in such a way that there would be racial discrimination attached to it."


One of the pioneers of the open-classroom movement--Castle Rock (Wash.) High School--which 12 years ago established liberal attendance, individualized learning, and advisor/advisee programs--has reverted to more traditional ways.

The removable partitions of the open classrooms have been replaced by real walls, and this year new attendance policies require that students, who at one time could roam the halls or remain off campus all week for independent study, must be present in every class every day. Students must also carry hall passes when they are not in class, according to the school's principal, Thomas L. Quigley.

The new rules were adopted this year upon the recommendation of a citizen's committee that included students, teachers, and administrators.

In addition, the school has stiffened its graduation requirements in core subjects and has imposed more strict discipline standards, according to Mr. Quigley.

"When the alternative programs were adopted, people were very sup-portive intellectually," Mr. Quigley said. "They understood the need for students to obtain off-campus experience, to have links to the workplace, and to be independent thinkers." Yet at the same time, many did not like the fact that to accomplish these goals, students had to be allowed to stay out of class for long stretches of time, he added.

Research conducted by the Uni-versity of Washington, Mr. Quigley said, indicated that the open-classroom experiment produced no measurable changes--positive or negative--in student achievement, but that student satisfaction with school had improved substantially.

But today, the times--and students--have changed, he said. The students prefer the more traditional structure, in part because the competition for jobs makes them keenly aware that "if they are going to succeed they have to do well in school."


News Update

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials will not appeal federal-court rulings that prohibited implementation of regulations that would have required federally funded health clinics to notify the parents of minors who request prescription birth control.

The department had until Dec. 5 to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, but did not do so.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia ruled against hhs this year.

The controversial regulations, frequently referred to as the "squeal rule," would have required some 5,000 family-planning clinics to notify parents within 10 days when a girl under 18 received prescription contraceptives, such as a diaphragm, pills, or an intrauterine device.


A former Seattle School District football player paralyzed in a 1975 accident has settled a lawsuit with the district's insurance carrier for $3.8 million.

Chris Thompson, who became a quadriplegic when he lowered his head while being tackled in a football game, contended the district was negligent because it failed to warn him of the danger of such a move.

Mr. Thompson was awarded $6.4 million by a King County Superior Court jury last year. The district's insurance carrier, The Insurance Company of Pennsylvania, appealed the award. Arguments were scheduled this month before the Washington Supreme Court.

The size of the award raised concerns in school districts across the nation, prompting many to endorse a new insurance plan to free them from catastrophic-injury liability.

Under the settlement, Mr. Thompson will receive about $1 million in cash and $175,000 annually for the rest of his life from an annuity fund. Thompson's attorneys will receive about $1.5 million.


People News

A schoolteacher who teaches in a one-room schoolhouse and earns $6,300 a year may have a chance for fame and fortune if she decides to allow a California movie-production company to make a film of her life.

Janice Herbranson lives in rural McLeod, N.D., population 50, where she teaches five students at Salund School. When a survey was published naming her as possibly the lowest-paid teacher in the country, Ms. Herbranson was contacted by Ron Shere Productions.

"At first I thought it was kind of a joke," Ms. Herbranson said. "And sometimes I still do."

The producers have asked Ms. Herbranson to submit an autobiographical sketch, she said. But before deciding whether to go ahead with the project, she has tried to get advice about the film industry. "I need to feel comfortable with my decision," she said.

Ms. Herbranson said that if she writes the sketch, she will include information about how, to become a teacher, she had to overcome alcoholism and the grief of losing her husband and son. "Maybe somebody else can identify with my story," she said, explaining why she might choose to have her personal tragedies chronicled on television.

One of the actresses being considered to play the 49-year-old teacher is Jane Fonda. Ms. Herbranson's reaction: "I don't know her. I don't watch television. I don't go to movies. I don't have time." Besides teaching at Salund School, Ms. Herbranson runs a saloon, teaches Sunday school, and is a church organist.


A Spokane, Wash., man on parole for printing counterfeit money may have used a school district's printing press to produce up to $100,000 in $20 bills.

Stanley Baker, who served as foreman of Cheney School District's print shop for six months last year while on parole from a federal corrections center on counterfeiting charges, has admitted in a signed, sworn statement that he printed $70,000 in counterfeit bills using the district's facilities, according to Tim Trombly, an agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

But Gale Marrs, Cheney's superintendent, said he questions Mr. Baker's statement. "Our equipment really isn't of the nature that would be useful for counterfeiters," Mr. Marrs said, noting that the district owns two small offset presses on which student work and the school newspaper are printed. Mr. Marrs added that he thinks Mr. Baker named the school district to "throw suspicion away" from the Baker family's press.

Mr. Baker is now back at a federal corrections center at Lompoc, Calif., for violating parole. Five other men have also been arrested.


Research And Reports

Drug abusers have two personality traits in common, according to the results of research conducted by James M. Schuerger, a professor of psychology at Cleveland State University.

Four out of five substance abusers shared two common traits, Mr. Schuerger found--they were guilt-prone and had low self-control.

Fifteen years ago, Mr. Schuerger and a group of colleagues administered psychological tests to 3,000 males between the ages of 14 and 19. Recently, about 200 of the boys' parents were contacted as follow-up to the initial testing.

About 15 percent of the parents reported that their sons had trouble with drugs or alcohol.

The research also indicates that youngsters who scored high in self-control and meticulousness were likely to be good students.

The personality tests, Mr. Schuerger said, predict success in school just as well as the Scholastic Aptitude Test.


Most parents think they could better help their children learn if teachers provided them with frequent, organized activities to do at home, according to a Johns Hopkins University study.

But in most cases, parents whose views were sought for the study reported, teachers had not taken advantage of their desire to be helpful by telling them ways to enhance learning through home activity.

The study, entitled "Effects on Parents of Teacher Practices of Parent Involvement," was conducted by Joyce L. Epstein of the university's Center for Social Organization of Schools. It surveyed teachers, principals, parents, and students in grades 1, 3, and 5 at 600 elementary schools in 16 Maryland school districts.

The study looked at the issue of parental involvement in the schools from the perspective of both parents and teachers, the researcher said. Such involvement is widely believed to be helpful to children, but there is little specific information on how the various ways of involving parents affect the parents' perceptions of teachers and schools, according to the study.

The data gathered in Maryland, however, indicated that teachers who frequently involve parents in their children's learning at home were rated higher by parents in their overall teaching ability and interpersonal skill than were those teachers who did not involve parents.

Parents, the survey found, have "remarkably positive" attitudes toward schools. About 90 percent of those surveyed said their children's elementary schools were "well run"; about the same number of parents said they felt comfortable in the school.

But few parents took part in in-school programs--volunteering in the school library, for example. Sixteen percent said they had never received a memorandum from a child's teacher, about 21 percent said they had never talked to a teacher before or after school, and 36.4 percent said they had never had a conference with a teacher.

Many parents, however, spent time working with their children at home if asked to do so by the teacher. Eighty-five percent said they spent more than 15 minutes on those occasions when teachers asked them to help their children with homework.

And 80 percent said they could and would spend more time with the children if the teacher showed them specific techniques and exercises to use.

The study's findings have two "clear messages," according to the researcher. The first is that parents support the idea of being involved in their children's learning at home. The second is that they are likely to help the children with or without advice from teachers, and hence would benefit from any guidance that teachers could offer.

The report (No. 346) is available from the Publications Office, Center for Organization of Schools, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md. 21218.


Requiring poor readers to repeat the 1st grade isn't as useful as letting them proceed to the 2nd grade, a study by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has found.

The study, conducted by researcher David Craig, indicated that the differences between students pro-moted and students held back carries through to reading tests in the 2nd grade, but that by the time students complete 3rd grade the differences in reading achievement are so minimial that they "[lack] educational importance."

Students who took four years to finish 3rd grade scored about 5 points higher on a standardized test than students who took three years to finish 3rd grade, the study said.

The state based its study on Prescriptive Reading Inventory tests given 1st- and 2nd-graders and California Achievement Tests given 3rd-graders. Mr. Craig compared the scores of 1,967 students who were promoted in 1978-79 with those of an equal number who were not promoted.

Statistics from 1978 to 1982 suggest that about 10 percent of all North Carolina 1st-graders are held back annually, according to William J. Brown, director of the department's research division.

Mr. Brown said more information is needed to interpret the study results but noted that, from the point of view of the new research, "it might not be a bad thing to promote a child and carefully plan what happens to the child in the promoted grade."

The research model and data base, Mr. Brown said, provides the state with a resource that can help districts and schools--which have different promotion policies--examine whether their policies are beneficial.

Web Only

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login |  Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories

Viewed

Emailed

Commented