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The school wall that collapsed onto a crowded lunchroom in New York State last November, killing nine schoolchildren, was flawed in its design, a new report concludes.

An investigation by an independent engineer hired by the New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission revealed that the wall of the East Coldenham Elementary School in Newburgh, N.Y., could not have withstood winds higher than 45 miles per hour.

The winds that blew over the wall during a storm last November were clocked at 100 m.p.h. (See Education Week, Nov. 22, 1989.)

Thomas Sobol, the state's education commissioner, last week said that he would favor passage of a state law requiring periodic structural inspections of schools, and that he planned to toughen the state education department's review of school construction.

A state building code for schools was adopted in 1985, according to a state education-department spokesman, but the majority of schools in the state were built before such standards were in place. The East Coldenham school was built in 1960.

Currently, there are no requirements for structural inspection of schools.

The architect of the Newburgh school, John Clark, is currently under investigation by the state's office of professional discipline. Mr. Clark also built four other schools in the state, according to the education-department spokesman.


A watchdog group in Selma, Ala., has filed a lawsuit charging that the school district's appointed school board violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

The lawsuit by Best Education Support Team is the latest development in a continuing controversy over the majority white school board's refusal to renew the contract of the district's first black superintendent, Norward Roussell.

The lawsuit alleges that the state did not seek pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department, as required by the Voting Rights Act, when it created the appointed school board in 1975, according to a lawyer involved with the case. Before 1975, the school board was a self-perpetuating body that appointed successors when members died or resigned, he said.

In a related development, black leaders last week organized a second one-day boycott of the schools to protest the decision on Mr. Roussell's contract. The number of students and teachers supporting that boycott is unknown, according to Alice Boynton, chairman of best. (See Education Week, Jan., 10, 1990.)

The Selma city council also voted to ask voters to approve a referendum creating an elected school board. Its members are currently appointed by the city council.


A civil-liberties case filed by a student who wrote to the Soviet government for information and was later investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation may be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The student--Todd Patterson, of North Haledon, N.J.--was in the 6th grade when he wrote to 169 countries, including the Soviet Union, to gather information for a "world encyclopedia" he was planning to write. The mail he received prompted the interest of fbi officials, who visited his parents in 1983.

In 1987, the youth sought to see his file to determine whether it contained anything that might hamper his plans for a career with the State Department.

After the agency would only turn over highly edited portions of his record, Mr. Patterson sued to see his entire record. (See Education Week, June 8, 1988.) A district judge dismissed his suit.

On Jan. 8, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that the fbi could maintain a file on Mr. Patterson and keep it secret even though its investigation was closed.

Frank Askin, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who represented Mr. Patterson, said the decision "guts" the federal Privacy Act, which the Congress passed to rein in secret investigations by the fbi He was also troubled by the fact that the trial judge and appeals panel reviewed Mr. Patterson's file in secret.

Mr. Askin said the aclu is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Police in Anchorage illegally read confidential school records during a raid on school and administration buildings last fall, the American Civil Liberties Union chapter in the Alaska city has charged.

The aclu has filed suit against the city police department on behalf of the city's teachers, following a complaint by three educators and a parent.

The complaint, which was also made by the local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, charges that the privacy rights of school employees and students were violated during a police investigation of alleged sexual misconduct by one teacher.

According to aclu lawyers, police entered an Anchorage high school and the district administration building with search warrants last Oct. 3 to investigate charges that a teacher, Gordon "Satch" Carlson, had had sexual contact with a 17-year-old student. (See Education Week, Oct. 25, 1989.)

School district officials have also filed a lawsuit. Both complaints assert that the police search of employee and students records violated the state constitution, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, as well as state privacy laws that protect the personnel files of school employees. Criminal charges against Mr. Carlson were dismissed last week.

Lawyers for the police department say the nine search warrants obtained by police to investigate the district's misconduct reporting practices allowed officers legal access to records in the Carlson investigation.

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