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News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Dade Schools To Review Discipline Code for Bias

Following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Educations office for civil rights, the Dade County, Fla., district has agreed to review its discipline procedures and work to ensure that students of certain racial or ethnic backgrounds are not punished disproportionately.

Triggered by an OCR complaint that a black student filed after he was expelled last year, the agreement signed last month calls for the school system to convene a blue-ribbon committee to review discipline procedures and recommend ways to help prevent disciplinary problems and eliminate overrepresentation of minorities.The multiethnic panel, made up of business and community leaders, is to report to the OCR and the superintendent by July 31.

The OCR said that the district did not violate federal civil rights law in disciplining the student who filed the complaint.

Last school year, 34 percent of Dade's 330,000 students were black, but they made up 56 percent of those disciplined.

Anti-Abortionists Hit Schools

Officials in the Garland, Texas, public schools were bracing last week for more demonstrations by anti-abortion protesters outside their high schools after four consecutive days of picketing at the edge of one campus.

The protest at North Garland High School was a test case for Operation Rescue, which plans to target schools nationwide next year, said the Rev. Flip Benham, the director of the Dallas-based group.

He said his group demonstrated on the public sidewalk to bring directly to students messages that oppose abortion and promote sexual abstinence.

Some parents in the 45,000-student district were outraged that the protesters, carrying large photographs of aborted fetuses, were near an elementary school that abuts the high school campus, said Steve Knagg, a district spokesman.

Harassment Policy Revised

The North Carolina school district that punished a 6-year-old boy for kissing a female classmate has revised its policy on sexual harassment.

Superintendent James R. Simeon of the Lexington schools said that 1st grader Johnathan Prevette was "never charged with sexual harassment" but instead was punished for violating a Southwest Elementary School rule against "unwelcome behavior." The incident, however, caused the district to review the "age appropriateness" of its policy, Mr. Simeon said.

The policy approved last week states that the "student-to-student sexual-harassment policy shall not be applied in the case of young students unless it clearly appears that there is an intent [to] engage in harassment of a sexual nature."

Fewer People Give More

The nation's charities are receiving more in donations, but they're coming from fewer households.

Independent Sector, a Washington-based coalition of about 800 nonprofits, delivered the good-news/bad-news report last week with the release of its biennial survey, "Giving and Volunteering in the United States."

The average American household contributed about 2 percent more in total inflation-adjusted dollars in 1995 over 1993, but just 69 percent of households reported making any donation at all--the lowest since Independent Sector first conducted its survey in 1988.

Contributions to education made up 8.9 percent of all donations from households, reflecting a 10.1 percent increase in the average contributions to education charities from 1987 to 1995. Over the same period, contributions to youth-development groups grew 35.1 percent.

Houston Gets Savings Audit

The state comptroller's office recommends privatizing services, rescheduling the school day, and cutting staff in a new Texas-sized audit of the 206,000-student Houston Independent School District.

If the district followed all of the recommendations in the 665-page report, the system could save about $166 million over the next five years, said John Sharp, the Texas comptroller. The largest district in the state, Houston's annual budget tops $1 billion.

Mr. Sharp's recommendations include cutting 320 nonteaching positions and starting a voluntary year-round elementary school program to relieve overcrowding. He also said the district could save $16.7 million by turning over food services to an outside firm.

"This is a study that took six months to do and it cost the taxpayers nearly $1 million, so we're trying to give it as serious consideration as we can," said Rosalind Young, a district spokeswoman.

Jury Upholds Firing of Chief

A federal court jury has upheld the dismissal of the former superintendent of the Kansas City, Mo., schools, who claimed he was discriminated against because of a disability.

The verdict in the civil suit filed by Walter Marks was announced last month. He was fired in April 1995, five months after a television news crew filmed him lifting boxes in Florida while he was on leave for chronic back pain.

Mr. Marks, who sued the district for wrongful termination under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, testified that he took time off for illness, then was fired when he was ready to return to work.

Chicago Poor Can Sue Board

The Illinois Appellate Court paved the way last month for low-income parents and community groups to sue the Chicago school board over alleged misuse of $250 million in state Chapter 1 poverty funds earmarked for poor students.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the suit in 1988 on behalf of parents of poor children who claimed that the state money was being spent on administrative costs and programs that did not serve poor children.

Marilyn Johnson, a lawyer for the district, called the decision procedural. "With 70 percent of the student population in Chicago low-income," she said, "it's going to be hard to draw a bright line" in the pending case. The Chicago school board has not decided whether to appeal.

Women Killed Outside School

A Philadelphia man has been charged with fatally shooting his estranged wife and her cousin as the two women waited outside a city elementary school for pupils to be dismissed.

Most students were still inside the school during the Oct. 2 attack. But many kindergartners were in the schoolyard and witnessed the violence, said Barbara Grant, a district spokeswoman.

Stacey Buxton-Boyd, 26, was waiting for her three children outside Smedley Elementary School when she and her cousin, Leaola Coles, were shot to death by Steven Boyd, 25, according to police.

Poverty Rate Dips for Children

Fewer poor children lived in the United States last year than in 1994, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The proportion of children younger than 18 who lived in poverty also dipped during that time from 21.8 percent to 20.8 percent.

But the poverty rate still remained higher for children than any other age group.

Last year, 14.7 million children were living in poverty, compared with 15.3 million in 1994, the bureau said in a report released last month.

Overall, American households experienced an increase in median annual income for the first time in six years--from $33,178 in 1994 to $34,076 last year. And the percentage of people living below the poverty line dropped from 14.5 percent in 1994 to 13.8 percent last year. The poverty line for a family of four was $15,141 in 1994 and $15,569 last year.

"The decline is good, but it's not going to get us back to where we were even a few years ago," said Arloc Sherman, a researcher with the Children's Defense Fund in Washington. At the current rate, Mr. Sherman said, it will take until 2003 to bring the child-poverty rate to its 1979 rate of 16.4 percent.

Mr. Sherman also contended that the new federal welfare-reform law, which requires most recipients to work or perform community service after two years and limits benefits to five years, will "wipe out a lot of the progress ."

But Douglas Besharov, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, said the time was favorable for welfare reform."We've had a very good economy, and immigration is down, which helps the poor," he said.

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