District News Roundup
A Winchester, Colo., principal violated a 5th-grade teacher's academic freedom and First Amendment rights by requiring him to remove the Bible from his desk and other religious books from his classroom, lawyers for the teacher argued in federal court last week.
The lawyers maintained that Kathleen Madigan, principal of Berkeley Gardens Elementary School, showed an "extreme and distorted understanding" of the First Amendment by ordering the books removed.
Kenneth Roberts did not use the books for "devotional or ritualistic" purposes, said Jordan Lorence, assistant general legal counsel for Concerned Women for America, a Washington-based group that is representing the teacher. Rather, he said, the books were part of a classroom library of more than 200 volumes, which students were permitted to use during a daily 15-minute silent-reading period. Mr. Roberts often read from the Bible during that period.
Citing Supreme Court decisions that affirmed teachers' rights to teach Biblical stories as literature, Mr. Lorence said that "it violates the establishment clause to remove the books." The action amounted to "government disapproval of religion," he argued.
"A teacher doesn't have the right to bring religious materials into class when they are not related to the curriculum being taught," responded Martin Semple, a lawyer for Adams County School District 50.
Missouri District Suspends 93
In Protest Over Christmas Rite
The Lee's Summit, Mo., school board has issued three-day suspensions to 93 high-school students who boycotted classes to protest the board's cancellation of an annual Christmas candle-lighting ceremony.
The board had voted to cancel the ceremony after a student complained about the event to the American Civil Liberties Union. In the ceremony, which was held during school hours, students read pass about the birth of Jesus and lit candles.
The event was sponsored by the local chapter of the National Honor Society.
The student protest began as a school-approved sit-in aimed at persuading the board to reverse its decision. When administrators told students to return to classes after an hour, about 200 of the school's 2,600 students refused.
Two hours later, the students were told they would be suspended if they did not return to class. Most of them did, but 93 remained.
A district spokesman said a committee of students, teachers, and administrators, with local ministers as consultants, is working to develop a secular holiday program.
Political infighting among trustees of the South San Antonio Independent School District has prompted state officials to appoint a "master'' with veto authority over decisions to run the system.
William N. Kirby, the state superintendent, appointed the overseer after the board failed to live up to its promise to stop open confrontations, said a spokesman for the Texas Education Agency.
State officials believe the board's problems are affecting instructional quality, the spokesman said, adding that the state could revoke the district's accreditation and withdraw all its funds if the situation does not improve.
Three other districts--Anthony, Westminster, and Kendleton--already have state-appointed masters.
The dropout rate in Boston schools has declined for the first time in the six years that records have been kept, according to new figures released by school officials.
The dropout rate declined from 46.1 percent for the class of 1986 to 45.1 percent for the class of 1987, according to the district's statistics. When first calculated in 1982, the dropout rate was 36.2 percent.
But officials say their current method for assessing the rate still overstates the problem, and they are working to revise the formula in an effort to exclude such factors as student migration and double counting.
Baltimore school police may search students with portable metal detectors when there is a "reasonable belief" that weapons may be present, under a sweeping safety policy adopted by the school board.
Under the new Organized Action for Safety in Schools program, the system will hire 10 more police officers, require schools to adopt dress codes, and recommend that elementary schools adopt uniforms.
The district also will stage a telethon this month to encourage volunteerism, said Jacquelyn H. Hardy, a spokesman for the system.
A survey taken after a spate of highly publicized shootings this fall showed that many parents view violence as the system's most pressing problem.
The measures adopted by the board mirror a series of recommendations presented to Superintendent Richard C. Hunter by a task force on school safety.
Some Seattle principals want students who bring guns to school immediately expelled and subjected to criminal charges.
Currently, students found with weapons are suspended.
The proposed district policy would take a "zero-tolerance" approach to weapons, similar to that of Milwaukee schools, where students face automatic expulsion if found on campus with a gun.
Deputy Superintendent Arthur Binnie said that the current district policy allows for expulsion in such a case. Principals throughout the district have been told that they may move to expell a student for carrying a gun, as long as they carefully document their decision, he added.