District News Roundup
High-school officials in Wilson County, N.C., citing provisions of the federal Equal Access Act, have barred a student religious group, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (fca), from meeting in school during morning homeroom period, before classes begin.
The act, which the Congress passed last year, guarantees student-initiated religious, political, and philosophical groups the right to meet on school grounds. At the same time, the law allows school authorities to deny access to all non-curriculum-related groups, which the three Wilson County high schools have done, according to Thomas Stott, principal of the 1,385-student Fike High School.
But Mr. Stott said the policy, which affects only the 57-member fca chapter at Fike, remains under study.
Dean Van Horn, fca's central area representative in North Carolina, claims that other non-curriculum-related groups have been allowed to meet.
fca, a national organization founded in 1954 that claims "tens of thousands of members" in junior high schools, high schools, colleges, and among adults, will ask the county school board next week to reconsider the ban or face possible litigation, according to Mr. Van Horn.
A federal district judge in Miami last month ordered the Dade County school district to pay private-school tuition estimated at about $25,000 for a learning-disabled student, on the grounds that the public schools cannot provide her with an appropriate education.
U.S. District Judge Joe Eaton said the school board will have to pay for the education of Lisa Siegel, 15, at a private school until the district can provide residential programs that meet her educational needs, according to Madelyn Schere, assistant counsel to the school board. Ms. Siegel needs 24-hour, highly structured, one-to-one instruction, Ms. Schere said.
Ms. Siegel's parents filed suit in 1982, charging that the district should pay her tuition in accordance with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act's requirement that schools provide an "appropriate'' education for handicapped students, Ms. Schere said.
There are approximately 78 handicapped, emotionally disturbed, or multiply-handicapped students in the district currently enrolled in private programs, but the Siegel case is the first time such a situation has been decided on the federal-court level, Ms. Schere noted.
Parents of pupils at the 1,200-student Reynolds Middle School in Hamilton Township, N.J., are not satisfied with the answers they have received from school and town officials about religious groups' right to distribute Bibles to students near school property.
"We are very concerned that students can be intercepted on their way to and from school and that there is nothing that we can do if it is a religious organization," according to Jan K. Wible, president of the school's parent-teacher group.
The parents have been told by their town counsel and school officials that religious groups are allowed under the First Amendment to distribute Bibles and other materials off school property. That occurred in late November when volunteers of Gideon International, the Nashville-based organization that places Bibles in hotel rooms, distributed bright orange-covered Bibles to students on the main street near the school.
According to Principal Michael6Rovello, the Bible give-away was disturbing because "impressionable" students were being "proselytized" and the situation threatened the safety of students.
"We had adolescents 10 or 12 years old seeing people on the sidewalk giving things away for free ... Instead of an ordinary dismissal, we ended up with children running across the grass helter skelter" trying to get one of the orange Bibles. One student, he said, ran between two buses into the side of a moving car. Several other students collected several Bibles and tossed them out school bus windows at pedestrians.
"We teach children to be wary of strangers and then we permit6strangers to accost and entice children on the street," he said.
Police cars in Susquehanna Township, Pa., have been following school buses and monitoring bus stops for the past two months in the wake of a number of attempts to abduct children in the suburban Harrisburg area.
According to William C. Trapnell, police chief for Susquehanna Township, 8 to 10 abduction attempts have been reported in Susquehanna, Derry, and Hampton Townships, and in Harrisburg since early November.
Police do not know what has motivated the incidents, he said, but they speculate that the suspect, who appears to be acting alone, is a pedophile. "There is no rhyme or reason to take any of the victims for ransom," Mr. Trapnell said. "It could be that someone wants a child, but the victims are between 9 and 12 years old, so that seems unlikely. We're assuming it's for sexual reasons."
The police department has also sponsored three meetings with parents and children to discuss precauinued on Following Page Continued from Preceding Page
tions and has circulated copies of a composite drawing of the suspect. The schools have tightened their security as well, he said.
The reaction from students and parents has been "very good," Mr. Trapnell commented. They have responded to precautions in a "constructive and favorable fashion. There's been great concern, but not panic."
"We've tried to put the fear of God into the suspect," Mr. Trapnell said, and it seems to be working. There have been no reports of attempted abductions in the area for more than four weeks.
A newspaper report charging that more than half of the 575 school-bus and van drivers employed by the Boston Public Schools last year had criminal records has prompted Superintendent of Schools Robert R. Spillane to order a review of drivers' records.
The Boston Globe article followed the indictment of a van driver for possession of heroin and marijuana.
Ian Foreman, a spokesman for the district, called the newspaper's ac-count accurate but disputed the im-plication that "half of our drivers are criminals."
"You have to understand," he said, "that anyone who goes into a court, even if the case is dismissed, acquitted, continued without a finding on any kind of offense, has a court record." Ten percent of driver applicants have "serious court records," he said.
Because of driver shortages, the district is forced to accept some applicants who have records in order to comply with court-ordered busing of 35,000 students, Mr. Foreman added.
The day the article appeared in the Globe, Superintendent Spillane ordered that court records of all bus and van drivers be reviewed and that drivers with serious records be dismissed, Mr. Foreman said.
Mr. Foreman also noted that because screening of driver applicants is not conducted by the district but by the bus and van contractor, district officials may not have been fully aware of the scope of the problem.
A delegation of school officials, state leaders, and parents from Ar-kansas will travel to Washington this week to persuade the Justice Department to back their effort to derail a federal district court's ruling requiring the consolidation of the predominantly black Little Rock school district with two predominantly white suburban districts.
According to Robert Fisher, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, the delegation will be headed by former Gov. Frank White and will include State Attorney General Steven Clark, the superintendents of the North Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts, the suburban districts' lawyers, and representatives of a group called Parents Against Consolidation.
The delegation, he said, will ask officials in the federal department's civil-rights division to file a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit supporting their position.
Last April, U.S. District Judge Henry Woods ruled that actions by state, North Little Rock, and Pulaski County officials contributed to segregation in the 56,000-student Little Rock district, which has shifted from about 50-percent black in 1974 to about 70-percent black today. Saying the problem "cannot be solved by equivocation or half measures," he ordered the consolidation of the districts and required the state to cover its costs.