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News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Federal Judge Overturns D.C. Juvenile Curfew

A federal judge last week overturned a juvenile curfew in the nations capital, dealing a setback to a popular remedy for teenage lawbreaking that has been embraced by cities across the country.

The District of Columbia curfew is unconstitutional because the City Council put the law into effect based on dubious information on juvenile crime, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan found in a 47-page opinion released Oct. 29. The council had no real evidence that young people under 17 commit more crimes during the curfew period than during other hours, the judge wrote.

City officials said a decision on whether to appeal had not been made.

NTSB Faults District, State

An Illinois school district is sharing the blame with state transportation officials for mistakes that led to a fatal collision of a train and a school bus last year.

The Illinois Department of Transportation should have redesigned the railroad crossing so the rear of the bus did not extend onto the railroad tracks while the driver waited for a traffic light to turn green, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a report released last week. Community High School District No. 155 in Crystal Lake should have warned the substitute driver of the hazard at the crossing and suggested ways to avoid it, the federal board added.

Seven students from Cary-Grove High School died and 24 were injured Oct. 25, 1995, when a commuter train crashed into the tail of the bus waiting at a stop light in Fox River Grove. All of the fatalities and major injuries occurred in the rear of the bus.

A state transportation agency spokesman said that engineers have visited every railroad crossing in the state, and the agency is working to correct the dangerous ones. District officials did not return phone calls.

Record Grievances Filed

New York City's United Federation of Teachers will take more than 5,000 grievances to binding arbitration next month--an unprecedented number of complaints that is due directly to crowding in district classrooms, the union says.

The union contract contains parameters for maximum class size that allow teachers to file grievances when standards are not met. The 1.1 million-student district has faced record crowding this year. ("Class-Size Cuts Set Off Hiring Spree in Calif.," Sept. 4, 1996.)

More than 17,000 grievances, representing 17 percent of all classrooms in the district, had been filed by the 60,000-member union by the end of September, said Susan Amlung, the deputy director of the union. Most of the complaints were resolved as the district hired more teachers and found additional places to hold classes.

Stephen Allinger, a lawyer for the school system, said last week that he believed the problems were being corrected.

Newark Employees Suspended

Twenty-five employees of the Newark, N.J., public schools, including 12 classroom teachers, were suspended with pay last week pending the outcome of a state investigation into a scheme to defraud the state health-benefits program.

The investigation by the state attorney general's office alleges that the employees participated in part of a larger conspiracy of referrals and kickbacks organized by a Ridgewood, N.J., psychologist.

In a separate move, meanwhile, the Newark district has set up an office to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by district employees. The office was not involved in the investigation that led to last week's suspensions.

Swimmer Sues NCAA

A top swimmer from Illinois has filed a lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association, claiming that the organization has violated the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.

The suit, which was filed last month, seeks recognition of the special education courses that Chad Ganden took as a student at Naperville North High School in suburban Chicago.

The NCAA deemed Mr. Ganden, who graduated last spring, academically ineligible because he took several courses that the association said did not meet its criteria. ("NCAA Rules Violate ADA, Student Charges," Dec. 13, 1995.)

On appeal, he was granted "partial qualifier" status, which allows him to receive a partial scholarship and practice with the team but prohibits him from competing.

"We are serious about upholding our academic standards," said Kathryn Reith, a spokeswoman for the NCAA.

More Md. Students Meet Goal

About 2,000 seniors in Maryland public schools have yet to fulfill a state requirement that all students complete 75 hours of community service before they graduate, a survey released last week shows. But the numbers represent a big improvement since July, when 4,907 members of the class were failing to make progress, state education department officials said.

Maryland's class of 1997 is the first in the nation required to complete the hours to earn a high school diploma.

The state education department survey found that 29,000 out of a total of 44,000 seniors have completed their community service requirement, and more than 13,000 are making progress toward that goal. But 1,969 12th graders have not made any progress, the survey found.

Technology Access Backed

Eighty-one percent of Americans believe schools should have cut-rate or free access to a wide range of telecommunications services, according to a national poll released last week by the National School Boards Association.

The poll was released two weeks before a key advisory board gives its recommendations to the Federal Communications Commission on rules to provide telecommunications services to schools, libraries, and underserved residents. ("On-Line Access Appears To Benefit Student Projects, Study Finds," Oct. 23, 1996.)

The 800 registered voters who were surveyed were divided over who should foot the bill. But two-thirds of them said they would be willing to pay a monthly fee--typically $18--to ensure that students had regular access to computers.

MADD Aims at Youths

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has switched its primary target from adults to teenagers in its ongoing battle against drunk drivers.

A new grassroots initiative, launched last month in Baltimore, follows an increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities last year--the first in more than a decade.

The Irving, Texas-based group's program, called Youth in Action, includes a 38-minute multimedia show, stories from adolescents whose lives have been affected by underage drinking, and a 10-part curriculum designed to discourage student alcohol use.

N.C. District Mulls Bus Ads

School buses in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school district may soon carry commercial advertisements under a proposal the school board is studying. The ads would pay for cellular phones for the district's 1,000-bus fleet to allow drivers to alert officials quickly when they run into trouble on the road, Melissa Madura, a district spokeswoman, said last week.

Although all buses carrying disabled students are equipped with phones or radios, most of those carrying some 58,000 students daily are without a direct line of communication to district offices.

The buses would still be yellow, with the requisite lettering and safety features, and advertising deemed inappropriate would not be accepted, Ms. Madura said.

A 3-year-old policy in the Colorado Springs, Colo., schools has brought in thousands of dollars from bus advertising. School officials in a Washington state school district, however, rejected a similar proposal in July, saying such ads might cause a distraction to other drivers and threaten student safety.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg plan would also need the approval of the state board of education.

Texas Chief Orders Rehiring

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Moses has ordered the 198,000-student Houston school district to reinstate a kindergarten teacher who was fired in August for alleged excessive tardiness and discipline violations.

Under Texas law, Beverly Goodie, who teaches at Cage Elementary School, was able to appeal her firing to a state-appointed hearing examiner. The examiner ruled that the district did not have good cause to dismiss her. Mr. Moses agreed and reversed the decision. It was his first reversal of a Houston firing and the fourth statewide since the law was revised last year.

Houston school officials, in a written statement last week, said that they stood by their initial action. "Reassignment will not be decided upon until the district evaluates all of its available options," the statement said.

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