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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit late last month affirmed a lower-court decision preventing the merger of two Mississippi school districts.

The unanimous three-judge appellate panel upheld a federal district judge's 1989 denial of the bid by the predominantly black Laurel School District to merge with the surrounding Jones County School District. Most students in the county schools are white. The Laurel schools sought the merger in 1987.

"The law has been correctly applied," the appeals court held. "Federal courts may impose a desegregation remedy only if a Constitutional violation is shown."

The federal government, the City of Laurel, and the Laurel schools backed consolidation. Opponents included the Jones County schools, the state, and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which said the merger would dilute black voting L strength.

Both districts are under court desegregation mandates. The court termed the Laurel schools, with modern facilities and higher per-pupil spending, "objectively superior" to the county schools.


In its first year, the Detroit Compact appears to be working to improve student performance and provide summer jobs and scholarships to eligible students, a new report concludes.

The study, conducted independently by a local research and evaluation firm, also noted improved attendance and fewer code-of-conduct violations among students in the compact.

Under the compact--a business-school partnership--high schools and middle schools pledge to improve their test scores, attendance, and curriculum. In exchange, their qualified students are eligible to receive summer jobs and needs-based college scholarships.

One high school and four middle schools participated in the first year of the program. Of the more than 2,700 students involved, 635 (23 percent) met the compact's standards for improved performance.

Summers jobs went to 114 high-school students and 128 middle-school students, and 35 scholarships totaling more than $70,000 were awarded to graduating seniors who met the compact's standards.

The program cost $890,000 for the first year, according to the report, with money coming from the city and state and the private sector.

The study called for improvements in the schools' data-gathering systems and a resolution of the issue of whether the compact's role is to bring about organizational change in the school system or simply to provide needed resources.

Seven new schools joined the compact in the current school year, with nine additional schools slated to join next school year. The program hopes to include all the city's public schools by 2000.

The school-board president in a Texas district has been indicted on eight counts of falsifying the records of a fed ; erally funded day-care center he once ran.

The indictment, handed down late last month by a federal grand jury, charges Romeo Villarreal with falsely declaring as indigent children enrolled in El Tule Day Care Center in Edinburg. The children included those of center employees, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack L. Wolfe.

Mr. Villarreal, the president of the South Independent School District's board, directed the center from 1979 to 1987, Mr. Wolfe said. Mr. Villarreal is free on bond pending trial.

Each of the crimes, allegedly committed in 1986, carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The scheme cost the government about $250,000, Mr. Wolfe said.

The charges against Mr. Villarreal stem from a three-year investigation spurred by a routine audit by the Texas Department of Human Services in 1987, Mr. Wolfe said.

Sixteen other people, including day-care center employees and parents, have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors in connection with the case, the prosecutor noted.

The Fairfax, Va., board of education voted unanimously late last month to revamp its progress reports for elementary students by including grades for effort as well as achievement.

The new report will include ratings for effort and social skills, as well as for achievement, in mathematics, science, language arts, physical education, and music. Pages for teacher comments and parents' responses are also included in the new format.

A committee developed the new progress report, which was tested in 24 pilot schools over the past three years, in response to vast changes in the system's educational needs since the current report-card system was enacted in 1976, officials said.

It is the first district in the Washington metropolitan area to rate students on the basis of effort as well as achievement. The program will be implemented in the rest of Fairfax county's 129 elementary schools next fall.

"We want to take the focus out of grades and put it on progress,'' says Pam Latt, director of student services for the district. "We feel [the new progress report] is closer to the parents' needs, as well as a more effective tool of communication for teachers.''

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