State News Roundup
Iowa parents who teach their children at home suffered a setback late last month when the state supreme court rejected a challenge to the state's requirement that such parents file reports on their children's courses of study.
The high court let stand a ruling by a district judge who convicted Aaron and Theresa Rivera on the misdemeanor charge that they failed to furnish the required home-schooling report in 1990 for their two children.
The defendants maintained that the law violated their right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to court papers.
They contended that their religious beliefs dictate that a Supreme Being has exclusive authority over their children's home-education program. Any requirement for reporting the details of that program to the state impedes on the free exercise of that belief, they said.
However, the high court ruled that "in setting minimum educational standards, the state is also empowered to adopt reasonable requirements to assure that those standards are honored.''
"We see no alternative to reasonable reporting requirements,'' the court concluded.
Officials at the Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal-defense organization in Virginia, last week were reviewing the possibility of assisting the Riveras in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Melanie Davis, a laywer for the organization.
School boards in New Hampshire cannot mandate the scheduling of contract-bargaining sessions with teachers' unions, the state supreme court ruled last month.
The court upheld a ruling by the state public labor-relations board that the Amherst school board could not require that its bargaining sessions with the Amherst Education Association take place at the end of the school day.
The union contended that flexibility in negotiating scheduling is important, and did not want any time excluded.
School officials asserted that the decision could restrict the pool of qualified negotiators due to potential work conflicts should bargaining sessions take place during a regular workday.
Superintendent Richard Lalley said that negotiations held during or at the end of the school day limit the board's ability to pick the strongest negotiators.
He also said that the ruling may have an effect on who would be willing to run for the school board.
Currently, no union in the state has a policy restricting bargaining sessions to school hours, according to Mark Benson, a spokesman for the state affiliate of the National Education Association.
Virginia's Family Life Education Program, a sex-education curriculum that was highly controversial when begun four years ago, has gained wide acceptance throughout the state, according to a report by the state education department.
The report, based on a recent survey of nearly all of the state's 134 school districts, was presented to board last month.
The program is designed to teach children about human reproduction, how to make wise decisions about sexual behavior, and the consequences of risky behavior.
The program must also include information on pregnancy prevention, with an emphasis on abstinence.
While many parents spoke against the program's implementation four years ago, the survey found that only 1.7 percent of students were held out of the program by parents last year.
The survey did find that nearly one-fifth of the state's school systems are not complying with every aspect of the program, however.
State education officials said they were not overly concerned about that figure, though, and said the violations are possibly due to discrepancies in interpretation.
Eight utility companies in New York State have agreed to study the possible effects of high-voltage power lines near schools, State Attorney General Robert Abrams announced last month.
The attorney general had written the firms asking for the study because of research showing a possible link between exposure to electromagnetic fields and childhood leukemia.
One firm, Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation, has already found 35 elementary and secondary schools in upstate New York that are within 100 feet of high-voltage lines--a distance considered potentially risky.
The utility has agreed to make modifications at Voorheesville
School, near Albany, which has two high-voltage lines near the school.
One line that is 10 feet from the building will be taken out of service
and another 70 feet away will have its power reduced, utility officials