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A recent issue of an award-winning high-school newspaper in Iowa was scrapped by the school's principal because it contained an interview with the girlfriend of a former student accused of murder.

In addition, the student reporter involved handed over a copy of the unpublished article and her notes to the local police.

The incident took place in West Des Moines, where 18-year-old Michael Bickell and his 16-year-old brother, Alan, are charged with first-degree murder in connection with the fatal shooting of another youth at a mall last month.

A reporter for Valley High School's newspaper, The Spotlight, interviewed the freshman who dates Michael Bickell for an article. But the girl's mother asked the school's principal, Robert Brooks, not to allow her daughter to be quoted or named in the article. Police told Mr. Brooks that they were interested in the interview, and the school's lawyer had qualms about publishing the piece, Mr. Brooks said.

Because the paper had already gone to the printer, Mr. Brooks said, he ordered the run stopped without consulting with the student editors. The newspaper's faculty adviser was out of town at the time.

The police told the principal that a subpoena for the article was not necessary, Mr.ooks said.

But Tara Monson, 17, editor-in-chief of the paper, said she feels that both she and the reporter, Anne Andersen, were misled by the detectives.

"Anne and I, at the time, didn't know we had the option to say no," Ms. Monson said, and she said no one involved informed them of their right.

But since Iowa is one of only four states with a strict law protecting students' freedom of speech, according to Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, "this sounds like a situation where the reporter would not be compelled to hand over the information."

Mr. Brooks assured the paper's editors recently that they would be allowed to write about the case from now on.

A federal judge was incorrect in dismissing an out-of-court settlement between the Orange County (Fla.) school board and the parent of a severely disabled child, the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has ruled.

The appeals court Feb. 28 ordered District Judge G. Kendall Sharp to approve the $160,000-a-year settlement that lawyers for the board and the state health agency reached with the mother of Natalie Dawn Smith, a 15-year-old with a brain disorder.

Natalie had been enrolled in a special-education program in the district before being involuntarily placed in a state hospital. Her mother, Beth, sued the board and the state, saying that her daughter was not being provided the free and appropriate education guaranteed under the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

Before the case came to trial, the parties reached a settlement under which Natalie would be released from the hospital and receive a payment of $100,000 a year for educational costs and up to $60,000 a year for residential care.

Judge Sharp refused to approve the agreement, saying that it was "against public policy."

"We are going to be inundated within the next couple of years with drug-abuse children who are going to be infused into the school system," Judge Sharp said. Because of the cost of such care, he said, "the state of Florida is going to go broke within no time."

The appeals court overruled the decision, saying that a settlement can be against public policy only if it contravenes a federal or state statute or policy.

"The settlement at issue in this case was not against public policy," the court held. "It violated to statute or policy, state or federal."

New York City spends less than most other school systems on the care and upkeep of school buildings, resulting in the often shabby conditions of the city's schools, said a survey released last week.

The study, prepared by an independent management consulting firm, was released in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations between the 1,000-member custodians' union and the school board.

In the city's unusual system, custodians are hired by the school board, but have their own budgets and can hire their own helpers. Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez is seeking legislation that would de-unionze the custodians and give principals greater control over their budgets and performance.

The report traced poor custodial ratings to the unavailability of supplies and tools and to constraints on the resources available to do the job.

The 110-page document includes several recommendations for improving the upkeep of buildings, including increasing individual responsibility among custodians, improving the relationship between school-system managers and the custodians' union, and providing custodians with appropriate training, tools, and guidance.

It also urges principals to take a more active role in monitoring performance and defining custodial goals for their schools.

The Jefferson County, Colo., school board, which oversees the largest school district in the state, has decided to study what competencies it expects its high-school graduates to possess.

A task force appointed by the board will examine the issue with an eye toward moving away from a system based on accumulating courses and grades for graduation, according to a district spokesman.

The board also plans to look at strengthening parent and student involvement in the schools, integrating vocational and academic education, moving to a middle-school system, allocating money to schools on the basis of need rather than by a flat per-pupil amount, and restructuring the central office to support schools better.

The board and several task forces will examine these ideas during the spring through a series of workshops and public forums before a final restructuring plan for the 76,000-student district is approved, the spokesman said.

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