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Published in Print: February 16, 1994, as District News Roundup

District News Roundup

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An Illinois district's use of the controversial "Impressions'' reading series does not violate the U.S. Constitution's establishment-of-religion or free-exercise-of-religion clause, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on Feb. 2 upheld a federal district judge's dismissal of a suit filed by parents against the Wheaton-Warrenville elementary school district.

The parents alleged that the supplemental-reading series promotes witchcraft and the supernatural and teaches children deceit and parental disrespect. There have been similar complaints across the nation.

The parents contended that the use of the series amounted to a government establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment and that the series interfered with their ability to control the religious upbringing of their children in violation of the amendment's free-exercise clause.

The appellate panel rejected both arguments, saying the stories in the series did not amount to a "pagan religion'' but were fantasies that were important in developing children's imaginations.

"What would become of elementary education, public or private, without works such as these and scores and scores of others that serve to expand the minds of young children and develop their sense of creativity?'' wrote Judge William J. Bauer in the unanimous decision in Fleischfresser v. Directors of School District 200.

Desegregation Settlement: Officials of the Delaware state board of education have reached a tentative settlement with local officials and a community group to end nearly 15 years of court-ordered busing in Wilmington, Del., and its suburbs.

The state legislature appears unlikely, however, to give the agreement its required approval any time soon.

A House committee on desegregation has objected to the financial burden the settlement would impose on the state and filed a petition in federal court early this month asking to intervene in the case. Committee leaders have asserted that they would rather see the court decide the case than accept the proposed agreement, which calls for new programs that likely would cost the state about $10 million over four years.

Under the accord, approved by the plaintiffs and the four northern New Castle County school districts involved in the litigation, the districts would achieve "immediate unitary status'' and would gain greater flexibility in assigning students to schools.

Case of the Missing Piano: Several pieces of expensive furniture and equipment that Missouri's attorney general had charged were missing from Kansas City schools have been found, often after only a cursory search, exactly where they were supposed to be.

At a news conference earlier this month, Attorney General Jay Nixon produced a 500-page list of allegedly missing items, including a baby grand piano, microscopes, and robotics equipment.

Walter L. Marks, the district's superintendent, then called a news conference of his own to discount those charges, noting that the district had been working covertly with Mr. Nixon's office to investigate possible losses.

Mr. Marks also charged that Mr. Nixon's public statements may have interfered with any attempt to prevent possible thefts.

The $8,000 piano was found on an auditorium stage at Paseo High School; the high school shares the stage with the city's Middle School for the Performing Arts, but inventory lists indicate that the piano should have been at the middle school.

District officials said the extent of any losses will not be known until next month, when a districtwide inventory is completed.

Board Reverses Decision: The school board in Evans County, Ga., has given up its fight to keep a student-assignment system that had been termed discriminatory.

The board's decision came just weeks after it had voted to defy the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights and stand by its practice of placing students based on test scores and teacher evaluations.

The board was swayed to reverse its stand after being threatened with the possible loss of $850,000 in federal funds. Board members have continued, however, to deny allegations that their system intentionally discriminated against black students by tending to put them in lower-track classes.

Shift in Colorado: The Littleton, Colo., board of education, which recently scrapped the district's performance-based graduation requirements, has voted unanimously to offer Superintendent Cile Chavez early retirement. Supporters of Ms. Chavez said she was forced out by a new three-member majority that supports "traditional education,'' but the board president said her departure was due to philosophical differences.

Vol. 13, Issue 21, Page 4

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