District News Roundup
Wisconsin Teachers Protest Year-Old Contract Dispute
Teachers in Kenosha, Wis., protesting a year-old contract dispute, have stopped participating in all voluntary and after-school activities.
The boycott began May 1 when the 1,300-member Kenosha Education Association rejected a contract offer from the district and voted instead to approve an earlier, tentative offer with a larger salary increase.
The union then voted to end all work beyond a 7-1/2-hour day, including chaperoning a high school prom. "If it isn't in the contract, we aren't doing it," said Michel Bernier, the executive director of the union.
Several hundred students staged a walkout this month to protest the potential end to extracurricular activities. But the 18,700-student district has vowed that extracurriculars will continue with the help of administrators and parent volunteers.
Teachers' Dress Code
Teachers in the Alton, N.H., schools have been prohibited from wearing jeans, T-shirts, and any clothing that depicts drugs, alcohol, or violence or that makes a political statement.
Alton school board Chairman Arnold "Pete" Shibley proposed the policy after parents complained that some teachers were not dressed appropriately. The board approved the policy late last month.
"The teachers' handbook had the statement that teachers would wear proper attire," he said. "Apparently, they didn't know what proper attire was, so we defined it for them." The new policy does not require administrators or school board members in the 608-student district to comply.
The local teachers' union plans to file a grievance and may also challenge the code in court.
Candidates running for office this month in the Baltimore Teachers Union have raised questions about the union's former practice of allowing its employees to receive interest-free advances on their salaries.
Citing auditor's figures, The Sun newspaper of Baltimore reported last week that the union's two top officers and 15 other employees have received $254,000 in salary advances over the past four years.
The figure reported by the newspaper was "vastly inflated," said Lorretta Johnson, the president of the union's paraprofessionals. She said the union had nothing to hide.
The union provided salary advances because its employees could not belong to the municipal credit union that serves most district employees. But the practice was discontinued last summer, Ms. Johnson said, when too many employees wanted advances.
Both sides are claiming victory in a case in which a Wyoming teacher sued her district for forbidding staff members to publicly criticize school officials.
The dispute began last spring when special education teacher Pamela Westbrook sent a letter to two Jackson newspapers criticizing the Teton County district's handling of a discipline problem. Administrators in the 2,160-student district told Ms. Westbrook she had violated a policy against criticizing district officials in public.
A federal district judge ruled in March that the policy violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Despite the judge's ruling, Ms. Westbrook sought a jury decision and an award of damages.
The jury ruled this month that the system had made a "detrimental employment decision," but it awarded no damages to Ms. Westbrook.
"The trial was about whether there were any rights violated," said Pat Hacker, Ms. Westbrook's lawyer. "Basically, the jury said yes."
But school officials saw the outcome differently, focusing on the jury's refusal to award damages. "The jury could not have been more clear in their rejection of Westbrook's claims--they wrote zero not once, but three times on the verdict form," Bill Swartz, the district's lawyer, said in a written statement.
A former Massachusetts private school teacher was convicted last week by a New Hampshire jury of attempting to sexually assault a 12-year-old boy and of possessing and exhibiting child pornography.
David Cobb, 59, was convicted May 6 by a jury in Strafford County Superior Court of more than 300 misdemeanor and felony counts of attempted sexual assault and exhibiting and possessing child pornography. Mr. Cobb taught English at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.
Mr. Cobb's arrest last August shocked the respected private school, where he had taught for 27 years. Investigators have said they found no evidence he had ever attempted to abuse any of his students.
Mr. Cobb was arrested at his home in Gilford, N.H., after he tried to assault the 12-year-old boy on the street, prosecutors said. At the time of his arrest, police found in Mr. Cobb's knapsack more than 500 photographs of naked bodies with superimposed photos of children's faces.
Mr. Cobb will be sentenced June 12 and faces a maximum of one year in prison for each misdemeanor charge and up to seven years for each felony.
A high school newspaper in Palo Alto, Calif., has ruffled administrators with charges that credit cards issued by the district are misused.
A front-page story last month in The Campanile, the student newspaper at Palo Alto High School, said that credit card bills for meals, flowers, and office celebrations "raise the question of whether the district prioritizes its spending in an appropriate way."
Independent auditors regularly review the district's credit card expenditures and have found no abuse, said Walter Freeman, the business manager of the 8,900-student Palo Alto district. Reporters at The Campanile "believe they've discovered something when, in fact, they haven't," Mr. Freeman said. "There's no information being hidden; there are no secrets."
Teachers should add lessons on honesty, integrity, and other values to their traditional classroom fare, Fairfax County, Va., school board members have decided.
In a preliminary step, the school board last month directed its instruction committee to research and draft a plan to incorporate character education into the 143,000-student district's curriculum, said Mark H. Emery, the board's vice chairman.
"There are growing instances of participation in gangs, and we've seen respect for authority being questioned," Mr. Emery said. "It's something that needs to be addressed head on." The board expects to vote on a specific curriculum in the fall.