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Capital Digest: Order Aims To Get Schools More Surplus Computers

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President Clinton signed an executive order last week that aims to make excess federal computer equipment more readily available to schools.

Under the order, federal agencies will be able to transfer computer equipment to schools for use in all academic subjects.

The computer-transfer program is not new, but the old rules required agencies to distribute used equipment only for use in mathematics and science classes.

The new order also allows agencies to give computer equipment to nonprofit groups for upgrading it before it goes to schools. And it expands eligibility to include Head Start and other preschool programs, teen tutoring centers, student drug-prevention programs, and education programs in children's hospitals.

Schools within the 15 "empowerment zones" designated in December 1994 for extra help in rebuilding local economies and community services are to receive priority.

Meanwhile, Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley announced last week the launch of the "CyberEd" truck, a classroom on wheels that is designed to offer educators, community leaders, and families hands-on experience with educational technology. The truck will visit empowerment-zone communities first.

Appeals Denied

The U.S. Supreme Court last week rejected two special-education appeals filed by parents.

In Scott P. v. Carlisle Area School District (Case No. 95-1270), the parents of a blind, brain-injured boy sought reimbursement from the Carlisle, Pa., district for the cost of placing the child in a residential school for the blind in Maryland. Lower courts and a state special-education appeals panel had rejected the residential placement and agreed that the school district had offered an appropriate local educational plan.

In Neely v. Rutherford County Schools (No. 95-1248), parents sought to force the Rutherford County, Tenn., school district to hire a licensed practical nurse for their daughter, who has a serious breathing disorder known as congenital central hyperventilation syndrome.

The district argued that the assignment of a licensed practical nurse fell under the medical-services exclusion of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the main federal special-education law.

A federal district court ruled for the parents, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled last November that the care sought by the parents was not required by the idea.

The high court on April 15 rejected both appeals without comment.

Affordable Access

The Federal Communications Commission has a historic opportunity to guarantee schools and libraries access to the so-called information highway, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said at a recent hearing.

"Every effort should be made to give our nation's schools and libraries free access to the new telecommunications world that is now emerging or access at substantially discounted rates," Mr. Riley told the fcc's Federal State Joint Board on Universal Service Issues at the panel's April 12 session.

The eight-member board, composed of fcc commissioners, state public utilities commissioners, and a consumer advocate, held public hearings to gather suggestions on how it should implement provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that offer an unprecedented guarantee of "affordable access" to telecommunications for schools and libraries. (See Education Week, April 3, 1996.)

Officials of the American Library Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and educators from Connecticut and South Dakota joined Mr. Riley in testifying on the education issue.

Parental Rights

A Senate panel last week approved legislation designed to strengthen parents' legal authority to control their children's education, discipline, and health care.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, states that government agencies or officials, including school officials, cannot "interfere with or usurp the right of a parent to direct the upbringing of the child of the parent."

It was approved 4-3 on April 17 by the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts.

The bill is particularly supported by religious conservatives, who have claimed that the courts have sometimes given the decisions of school officials or other authorities greater deference than parents' wishes.

Several education groups have opposed the measure, fearing it could lead to a flood of lawsuits over curriculum decisions and other school matters.

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