States News Roundup
A coalition of Texas public-interest groups, education organizations, and unions this month called on the Reagan Administration to order the Environmental Protection Agency to play a more active role in the removal of asbestos from school buildings.
In a press release issued Oct. 16, members of the Texas State Teachers Association, the Service Employees International Union, the Texas Federation of Teachers, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and Public Citizen (a Ralph Nader organization) asked President Reagan to "replace epa officials handling the asbestos problem with people who care about our nation's children."
The coalition made its request after John A. Moore, epa's assistant administrator of the pesticides and toxic-substances division, told a Congressional subcommittee last month that the epa will not seek additional funds for asbestos cleanup in schools beyond the $50million already appropriated, because it would encourage schools to delay their own efforts to abate the problem until federal funds are available.
Michael Twombly of Public Citizen said the coalition is asking President Reagan to require the epa to develop standards for removing asbestos from schools and to allocate money "to prevent health problems for children in the future."
The epa has inspected 118 of Texas's 1,100 school districts for compliance with a requirement that all schools inspect for friable, or crumbling, asbestos and notify parents and employees of its presence, Mr. Twombly said; 36 of the districts that were inspected had not complied with the requirement, he said.
Mr. Twombly noted that Texas school officials, particularly in poor districts, lack the money and the guidance from the epa to safely remove asbestos-containing materials on their own.
Georgia's Education Review Commission last week decided to modify a plan that would have prevented school officials from suspending or expelling students from school except when their behavior posed an immediate danger or required police intervention.
The 41-member commission voted in June to limit school officials' use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions in favor of in-school suspensions and alternative programs that would not require unruly students to miss classes.
The commission originally proposed changes in the state's suspension and expulsion policies because it felt that suspended students often received positive peer support for having been suspended, returned to school even further behind in their studies, and sometimes did not return to school at all, according to Ronald C. Newcomb, a staff member for the commission and special assistant to Gov. Joe Frank Harris.
The commission re-evaluated its decision after principals and superintendents objected strongly to the proposed changes. "They felt that the threat of suspension is an effective tool in getting the kind of behavior that they want from students, and they hate to see that tool taken from them," said Mr. Newcomb.
The commission instead recommended that the state provide funds for in-school or alternative-school suspension programs that make available one teacher for every 15 suspended students. Schools that want to receive those funds would have to develop specific guidelines regarding the nature of those programs and how students would enter and exit from them, said David A. Watts, lead staff member for the service-delivery committee of the Education Review Commission.
The commission "strongly urges that local schools review their sus-pension and expulsion policies and attempt to eliminate them," he said.
He added that the commission is in the process of putting together its recommendations for the Governor.
School absences are down in South Carolina this year due to what officials say is a tougher truancy policy created by provisions in the state's new Education Improvement Act.
Absences in Columbia, for example, are down 40 percent from last year, according to Mont Morton, director of public information for the state department of education. He added that in Horry County, where Myrtle Beach is located, absences have dropped 32 percent from last year, from 9,700 total absences in the first 15 days of school to 6,700.
Local school officials are also referring more truancy cases to the State Department of Youth Services, according to Susan M. Durst, executive assistant to the commis-sioner of the agency. Last month, 229 such cases were referred to the agency, up 66 percent from the 138 cases referred in September 1983. During the 1983-84 school year, a total of 2,419 cases statewide were referred, she said.
Officials said one reason for the change may be the stiffer requirements in the Education Improvement Act. Under the act, students can lose academic credit for as few as 10 unlawful absences unless school officials waive that requirement. In the past, Mr. Morton said, students could miss up to 20 days of school without such repercussions.
The act also requires school officials to intervene to encourage attendance after a student illegally has missed either three consecutive days of school or a total of five days.
A district's board of trustees must approve or disapprove any absences in excess of 10 days, he said.
A California program that has paired up schools and law-enforcement agencies in an attempt to reduce burglaries committed by truants will shift its focus to drug-abuse prevention this year, particularly among younger students.
Attorney General John K. Van de Kamp and Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig said in a news conference earlier this month that they have identified 95 partnerships between local law-enforcement agencies and schools since the program began one year ago.
In the past year, the program has focused on truancy reduction because of the strong correlation between daytime burglaries and high truancy rates, officials said. The shift to a drug-abuse-prevention program was prompted in part by an Orange County survey conducted by researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles, Mr. Van de Kamp said. The survey found that youths' use of drugs and alcohol was more widespread than previously believed and it recommended that prevention programs be introduced in elementary schools.
Mr. Van de Kamp and Mr. Honig also said they would seek legislation to establish a permanent commission on school safety to forge an ongoing relationship between the attorney general's office and the state department of education and to encourage a permanent funding mechanism for joint projects.
The officials endorsed a proposal that employers allow parents to visit their children's schools during school hours by providing a paid leave of two hours every three months.