District News Roundup
The Houston Federation of Teachers has filed suit in state district court claiming that the Houston Independent School District violated a teacher's privacy by videotaping her without her permission and then using portions of that videotape to fire her.
Verna Roberts, 55, a teacher for 10 years in the Houston public schools, was fired at the end of the last school year based on her poor evaluation, according to Gayle Fallon, president of the union. Ms. Fallon said the Houston school district used a 30-minute videotape of Ms. Roberts's teaching, edited down from about four hours, to supplement the evaluation.
Ms. Fallon said that Ms. Roberts repeatedly asked the district, in writing, not to videotape her, and that on at least one occasion she burst into tears when the video equipment was brought into the room. Ms. Roberts was videotaped four times, she said.
Irene Kerr, director of employee relations for the district, said officials regularly videotape teachers as part of their assessment and evaluation procedures. She said the district does not request permission before videotaping a teacher, but usually notifies him or her a day in advance. District officials had no comment on the suit, Ms. Kerr added.
Ms. Fallon said that the union has received seven other complaints from teachers concerning videotaping, but that Ms. Roberts's case marked the first time a videotape was used to determine whether a teacher should remain employed.
The suit, filed late last month, asks the district court to reinstate Ms. Roberts with back pay, Ms. Fallon said, and to rule on when and how videotaping can be used in classrooms.
The Kentucky Board of Education has voted to refer evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Clinton County school officials to federal, state, and local authorities.
The evidence is the result of an investigation by the state education department that began last summer. But the local controversy over the management of the system also received nationwide attention last month when the CBS news program "60 Minutes" devoted a segment to it.
According to Alice McDonald, Kentucky's superintendent of public instruction, the investigation of the Clinton County School System has revealed evidence of "multiple violations" including:
Noncertified staff working in administrative positions;
Abuse of certification requirements;
Violations of state and federal requirements for management of handicapped children's programs;
Irregularities in the disbursement of the school system's activities fund;
Failure to execute proper teacher contracts; and
Failure to keep the state informed of capital expenditures.
The Clinton County Board of Education voted last month to accept the resignation of Robert Polston, superintendent of the 1,750-student school system. Mr. Polston, who is 63 and has been superintendent of the school system for more than 30 years, will retire in June.
The West Virginia Human Services Department, investigating two complaints of alleged child abuse in Fayette County, has found that a teacher tied 1st-grade students to their chairs and taped their mouths closed.
The report, portions of which were released to the students' parents last month by Human Services Commissioner Ed Burdette, confirmed 18 incidents of child abuse at Gauley Bridge Elementary School, Mr. Burdette said.
"The complaint spanned two years," Mr. Burdette said. "There were 1st-grade students [affected] last year and 1st-grade students this year."
Information on the identity or current teaching status of the teacher was not made available.
Mr. Burdette gave copies of his investigation to the county's prosecuting attorney, the county board of education, and Fayette County Superintendent Matt Edwards. He received a response from Mr. Edwards last week and planned to take the superintendent's response to the students' parents.
"We're not going to say that we're satisfied or dissatisfied with the response," Mr. Burdette said, but he added that it was "very thorough."
Mr. Edwards was unavailable for comment last week.
A New Jersey investigative commission has charged the former managers of a benefits fund for Newark teachers with misusing more than $1 million in fund assets and has recommended that the fund, now insolvent, be abolished.
The watchdog commission has asked that the New Jersey attorney general take legal action against the former fund director and certain fund trustees and associates for al-legedly diverting trust money for their own personal use.
In remarks at a public hearing on the alleged abuses held last month, Arthur S. Lane, chairman of the State Commission of Investigation, accused former fund officers, who represent the Newark Board of Education and the Newark Teachers Union, of misusing $1.2 million of public money.
Mr. Lane said the commission had "developed harsh evidence, in the form of admissions in executive-session testimony and audits of books and records, that the fund was utilized as a vehicle for the callous and irresponsible self-enrichment of its administration and the union."
The fund was established in 1971 as part of a collective-bargaining agreement between the Newark Board of Education and Newark Teachers Union to handle such supplemental benefits as dental care for teachers and aides. It has been facing insolvency since 1982.
A teachers' union in Dade County, Fla., has filed suit against the state board of education in an attempt to have the state's master-teacher plan declared unconstitutional.
The United Teachers of Dade, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, filed suit last month in Dade Circuit Court against the state board, the Dade County school board, and the superintendent of schools, Leonard Britton.
The union claims that the state's new master-teacher plan, which will pay some 6,000 teachers a merit-pay bonus this year based on performance and scores on subject-area tests, violates the state constitution by bypassing the right of teachers to bargain for wages. The suit also alleges that the plan violates existing union contracts that cover salary schedules.
The union is asking the court to require Mr. Britton to seek amendments to the master-teacher plan that would eliminate conflicts with the union's current collective-bargaining agreement.
"We feel that the state of Florida has interposed itself in the employer-employee relationship between the union and the school board," said Annette Katz, media coordinator for the union.
Gov. Robert Graham has said that he regrets the union's decision to pursue a lawsuit rather than trying to work with the state on the master-teacher plan, according to Patrick Riordan, deputy press secretary in the Governor's office.
An incident in Quincy, Mass., in which a white cafeteria worker dressed up in blackface as "Aunt Jemima" to promote a pancake lunch at three elementary schools has prompted officials to organize a racial-awareness program for the city's school administrators, teachers, and general staff.
The issue arose when a black parent, one of 200 blacks in a city of 84,000 residents, charged that the Aunt Jemima promotion was racist and said that her daughter had been taunted by other children after the Aunt Jemima character appeared at her school.
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination organized a meeting with local and state officials to discuss the incident. They decided to organize the racial-awareness program, which Alex Rodriguez, chairman of the commission, called "a step in the right direction."
The pancake promotion was "highly insensitive," Mr. Rodriguez said. "This is a problem of institutional racism, especially since those involved didn't see a problem with it."
A New York City educator has won a discrimination suit against the city school board and has been awarded $275,000 in damages by a federal jury.
David Krulik, who was appointed director of the school system's English-as-a-second-language program in 1970, charged that he was repeatedly passed over for promotion and stripped of his responsibilities during reorganization of the program either because he was Jewish or because he was not Puerto Rican, according to his lawyer, Ray Beckerman.
Mr. Krulik filed a complaint with the state division of human rights and the U.S. Equal Employment6Opportunity Commission in 1980. In 1983, after resigning from his position, Mr. Krulik brought the case to federal court. There, he charged the board with discrimination and breach of contract and asked for $5- million in compensatory damages, Mr. Beckerman said.
"Mr. Krulik feels that he has been vindicated by a jury of his peers, and that he has struck a blow for fair-ness," Mr. Beckerman said.
The school board has moved to overturn the federal court's verdict, according to Denise L. Thomas, assistant corporation counsel for the city and one of the lawyers for the school board. Mr. Krulik's charges were "totally unfounded," Ms. Thomas said. "There was certainly no evidence of discrimination on the record."