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District News Roundup

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The District of Columbia schools superintendent last week announced a multifaceted plan aimed at improving the city's 165 public schools based on their individual needs.

Superintendent Franklin L. Smith proposed privatizing 10 to 15 of the city's worst-performing schools; transforming some schools into magnet schools and publicly funded, independent charter schools; and hiring a private company to help 11th and 12th graders who read below the 8th-grade level.

School officials went to Baltimore last week to observe schools there being managed by Education Alternatives Inc., one of the companies the district is considering. (See related story, page 1.)

Mr. Smith also recently introduced the Bringing Educational Services to Students program, which would promote site-based management at some schools. The program would empower principals to contract directly for education services and make them accountable for school and student performance.

If the comprehensive reform package is approved by the district's board of education, Mr. Smith will begin selecting schools for the various programs in January.

Settlement in Arizona: Officials of an Arizona school district have agreed to apologize and to pay restitution to a 13-year-old disabled student to whom teachers presented derogatory awards at a school ceremony.

The Bonita Elementary School District #16 agreed last month, as part of a settlement worked out in Pima County Superior Court, to pay John Henderson 2nd a lump sum of $15,600 and to establish a fund that will pay him an $8,900 annuity for four years beginning on his 18th birthday.

The boy was identified in kindergarten as suffering from numerous learning disabilities. At a 1992 school awards ceremony, teachers presented him with a "Procrastinator's Award,'' a "Pigsty Award,'' and a "World's Worst Athlete Award.''

Judge Orders Counseling: A Los Angeles teenager who accidentally shot to death a high school classmate last January will receive counseling rather than serve time in a juvenile lockup, a judge has ruled.

Following a recommendation by officials of the California Youth Authority, Sylmar Juvenile Court Judge Morton Rochman last month ordered a "suitable placement'' for the 15-year-old, such as in a group home where he can continue his education, Peter Swarth, a deputy public defender, said.

Detroit Charters: A Detroit school board panel has approved three-year charters for five of the district's 24 site-based-management schools.

If the charters are approved by the full board next year, the schools would be given further authority to make budget, hiring, and curriculum decisions. The schools would continue to be subject to union contracts, board policies, and state laws, however.

School officials said last week that if the proposals are accepted, the district would be the first in the nation to allow charters written by teachers, parents, and administrators.

Group Alleges Discrimination: A Hispanic advocacy group this month filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights against five entities that have a hand in the Chelsea, Mass.-area schools.

The allegations center on what the Chelsea Commission on Hispanic Affairs called "separate but unequal'' vocational programs in two high schools serving Chelsea students.

Chelsea High School in 1989 was turned over to Boston University for stewardship; it spends much less per student than what the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School spends. Many of the regional school's Chelsea students are white; most of Chelsea High School's students are Hispanic.

The commission alleges that the regional vocational school's environment is "hostile'' to Hispanics.

Missouri Ruling Upheld: A federal appeals court has upheld a ruling that requires the state of Missouri to pay costs associated with magnet schools launched under Kansas City's landmark school-desegregation case.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis decided that while progress has been made toward desegregation, officials in Kansas City still have much to accomplish. Beyond implementing a magnet-school plan, improving facilities, and curbing white flight, the court ruled that issues of student achievement and improved performance must also be taken into account before the district can be ruled unitary.

Ex-Priest Sentenced: James R. Porter, a former Roman Catholic priest convicted of sexually abusing 28 people when they were children and adolescents, was sentenced last week to 18 to 20 years in prison.

Mr. Porter, who had been a priest in three Massachusetts parishes, pleaded guilty in October to 42 counts, including sodomy, assault and battery, unnatural acts on a child under the age of 16, and indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14.

Juvenile Justice: The Dade County, Fla., public schools, parents, juvenile-justice system, and community share responsibility for the lack of effective and tangible solutions for juvenile-justice problems, a study by a county grand jury says.

The highly critical report, released late last month, builds on the work of a 1990 grand jury. It studied the 2,613 juvenile offenders in the county who had been committed to the care and custody of the department of health and rehabilitative services--the most serious sanction available to juvenile courts--between March 1991 and August 1993.

The report urges early intervention and the identification of potential juvenile offenders through public school profiles designed to identify students at risk of dropping out.

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