District News Roundup
Florida County First To Mandate Family-Related Leave for Workers
The county commission in Dade County, Fla., has passed a measure making it the first local government in the nation to require private businesses to provide family-related unpaid leave.
The measure, approved on an 8-to-1 vote Dec. 17 and scheduled to take effect 90 days from then, requires employers with more than 50 workers to grant up to 90 days of unpaid leave every two years for workers to care for a newborn, adopted, or newly placed foster child; a seriously ill close relative; or the workers' own serious illness.
It applies to county employers, private businesses in Dade County and businesses in Broward County that conduct business with Dade.
While some municipalities have considered family-leave laws covering city workers, experts say the Dade County ordinance makes it the first local government to extend the mandate to private employers.
According to the Women's Legal Defense Fund in Washington, 10 states have family-leave laws that apply to private as well as state employers, while about 7 have laws covering only state employees and several others have maternity-leave laws protecting women's jobs for the period of pregnancy-related disability.
In Florida, a law requiring state employers to grant workers up to six months of job-protected unpaid maternity leave was expanded last spring to include leave for fathers and to cover adoption or the serious illness of a family member.
At the federal level, family-leave measures have been approved by both houses of the Congress and await action by a conference committee, but the Bush Administration has threatened a veto.
The Durham County (N.C.) Board of Commissioners has sued the North Carolina Board of Education, charging that the state board exceeded its authority in rejecting the commissioners' plan to merge the Durham city and county schools.
The commissioners, who filed their complaint last month in Wake County Superior Court, want the court to order approval of the merger plan.
The main issue of contention in the merger proposal, which would combine the predominantly white county schools with the mostly black city schools, involves the method of electing the new school board. County residents have complained that they would not have enough control over the merged system.
"The level of disagreement about the merger within the county," said Edwin Speas, a senior deputy attorney general for the state, "suggested that implementation of the plan might not be successful and, thus, not in the interests of the children."
When community opposition to the original merger plan surfaced last fall, the state board of education asked Durham County officials to develop an alternative proposal. But the commissioners resubmitted the same plan, which the state board subsequently rejected.
In their suit, the Durham commissioners argue that the state board lacks the authority to reject a merger plan based on community opposition and that the board acted "arbitrarily and capriciously."
The board of education has 30 days to respond to the suit.
A group of Cleveland homeowners late last month successfully blocked a spate of administrative-personnel actions by the city's lame-duck board of education.
The group, consisting mostly of activists on housing and other issues, on Dec. 24 obtained a temporary restraining order from Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Frank J. Corman preventing the board from appointing Alan Mitchell, the district's financial administrator, as treasurer.
Reberta L. Reichtell, a housing activist who mobilized the homeowners' group, said she had questioned whether Mr. Mitchell was qualified to be treasurer. The judge upheld a state law requiting that the appointment of the treasurer be left until new board members took office on Jan. 2.
Two days later, the homeowners' group obtained a second restraining order from Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Corrigan preventing the outgoing board from awarding two-year contracts to 139 administrators. The judge said the administrators had not received evaluations and nominations for contracts from the district superintendent, as required by law.
The group also persuaded U.S. District Judge Frank J. Battisti, who oversees the city's school-desegregation plan, to order the school board to follow a state directive prohibiting it from approving the administrators' contracts.
Homeless children in New York City face a wide variety of obstacles that may prevent them from even attending school, a study asserts.
Advocates for Children, a local nonprofit group, charges the city's board of education with ignoring federal regulations that guarantee homeless children access to educational services.
The group based its study on interviews with 22 New York community-school-district coordinators responsible for ensuring that the nearly 3,000 children in the city's emergency shelters receive an education.
Among the findings from the study, entitled "And Miles to Go... ": . Homeless preschool-age children rarely are placed in early-childhood programs, because of inadequate outreach efforts.
Homeless kindergarten-age children routinely are denied access to schooling because programs in their districts are full or because they are placed in schools far from their shelters without being provided adequate transportation.
- The school system often fails to identify high-school students as homeless, so they do not receive the same services as other students at risk of dropping out.
- A lack of clothing and school supplies prevents some homeless children from attending school.
- School personnel are often insensitive to the needs of homeless children.
In response, city school officials have said that inadequate funding has created limited space in preschool programs for all children. They have acknowledged that homeless kindergartners sometimes must attend schools outside their shelter district, but said that transportation is provided in such cases. Furthermore, officials said, support services for homeless children in school and at shelters have been strengthened.
School officials in Lake Forest, Ill., are weighing the fate of an elementary school principal who has been found guilty of encouraging teachers to cheat on standardized student-achievement tests.
Linda Chase was suspended from her $67,000-a-year position as principal of Cherokee Elementary School in November, when the district, in a Chicago suburb, began an investigation into why the school's students posted extraordinarily high scores on standardized achievement tests. The district later charged Ms. Chase with eight counts of encouraging faculty members to cheat in the administering and scoring of the tests.
A Lake County judge appointed James C. Bakk, a local lawyer, to hear the charges. Testimony was presented to packed audiences in five unusual public sessions.
Late last month, Mr. Bakk issued a report concluding that the district had proved five of its charges.
Mr. Bakk found that Ms. Chase directed teachers to erase and change answers written by pupils in their test booklets; distributed copies of the Stanford Achievement Test to teachers months before they were to be given; gave teachers classroom materials on subject matter that would later be covered on the tests; encouraged cheating by faculty members; and manipulated the distribution of state assessments to 3rd grade teachers in violation of test guidelines.
Mr. Bakk said the district did not prove the three other allegations against Ms. Chase.
The district board was to meet last week to consider whether to demote Ms. Chase, who has denied all the charges, to a teaching job.
The district began the investigation when students at the school began scoring far better on the tests than students at the other three elementary schools in the district. Students' scores reportedly were as much as 40 percent higher than those at the other schools.
Vol. 11, Issue 16, Pages 4-5