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Denver Administrator's Plan To Suspend 98 Backfires

A Denver vice principal, eager to make a point about discipline, called in the media to announce a mass suspension of student troublemakers. But he wound up getting suspended himself--and making national news to boot.

Earlier this month, Ruben Perez chose a day his principal was out of town to prepare suspension notices for 98 of the 785 students at Horace Mann Middle School.

He invited reporters to attend an assembly where students would receive the notes that asked for parents to come in for a conference.

Offenses ranged from gum chewing to disruptive talking and fighting.

Word of the plan soon reached district administrators, who quickly put the kibosh on it. Mr. Perez was given administrative leave with pay for two days. His action would have violated state law for disciplining students, said Patti Murphy, a district spokeswoman.

The story made NBC's "Today" show, CBS's national evening newscast, and newspapers around the country. The district logged at least 1,000 telephone calls in support of Mr. Perez, and job offers for him came from as far away as Florida.

Mr. Perez was back at work last week, and district officials had not decided whether further disciplinary action was needed, Ms. Murphy said.

Off the Hook: A federal judge has decided not to hold the Muscogee County, Ga., school district responsible for the racial imbalances that persist in its schools.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Robert Elliott released the 30,000-student district in west Georgia from federal-court supervision last month after concluding it had done all it could to remedy past discrimination.

The judge acknowledged that about two-thirds of the district's schools continue to enroll substantially disproportionate numbers of black or white students. He determined, however, that such imbalances were the result of demographic changes, not the actions of the school board.

A lawyer who represents the plaintiffs said he plans to appeal the decision.

Wanted--Bus Drivers: A severe shortage of school-bus drivers in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota has led to disruptions in school and extracurricular programs.

Minneapolis, St. Paul, and their suburbs are seeking about 300 drivers, said Jan Dittbrenner, the transportation director for the Bloomington school district.

"We're all feeling the pinch," Ms. Ditt-brenner said. "At times we've had to hustle to get drivers, but we've never had a problem like this."

In Minneapolis, the shortage has forced Mickey Johnson, the school district's transportation director, to put many of his staff members behind the wheel. His department, which handles 530 buses and transports almost 50,000 children a day, is about 35 drivers short.

Stricter state requirements and federal mandates such as drug testing have led to similar shortages in other parts of the country, said Paula Hanna, the executive secretary of the National Association of Pupil Transportation in East Moline, Ill., a nonprofit organization that represents about 1,800 school districts.

Smaller Is Better: District trustees in Houston have voted to carve the nation's fifth-largest school district into 12 geographic subdivisions in an effort to improve management and performance.

The district previously operated with nine district administrators. But Superintendent Rod Paige said the vote earlier this month to further subdivide the district, which serves over 200,000 students, marked an important first step in his plans to increase efficiency. He is expected to recommend new regional superintendents to the board at its meeting this week.

The new districts are divided by high schools and the elementary and middle schools that feed into them. Each district includes between 17 and 28 schools. One of the districts will include the system's 27 alternative and magnet schools, which operate districtwide.

Heightened Tensions: Race relations in the St. Paul schools are tense--and worsening, a report by People for the American Way has found.

The civil-liberties-advocacy group, based in Washington, last month released the results of interviews and surveys of more than 2,000 students and teachers in the Minnesota district and two adjacent suburbs, Roseville and South St. Paul.

Eight out of 10 educators said race relations were getting worse in the schools, as well as in the metropolitan area and the nation as a whole, the study found. And 54 percent of students said they had been insulted because of their race, ethnicity, or gender.

Copies of the report, "Invisible Walls," are available for $7.95 each from People for the American Way, 2000 M St., N.W., Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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