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News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Judge Orders N.Y. District To Rehire Convicted Worker

A New York state judge has ruled that the Nyack school district must rehire and give back pay to a custodian who resigned after admitting he threw a lighted cigar into a trash can and started a fire in a school gymnasium.

The school board received an involuntary resignation from the custodian and failed "to make even a minimal inquiry regarding the circumstances of the resignation letter," despite the urgings of the Civil Service Employees Association, State Supreme Court Justice Howard Miller said in a written decision Oct. 15.

The custodian, Michael Maiorano, 41, was convicted in May of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief for starting the Sept. 22, 1994, fire that damaged Nyack High School. He was sentenced to probation and community service and was ordered to pay $5,000 for repairs.

Mr. Maiorano's lawyer, J. Keith Cornell, said that the fire was an accident and that his client was under great physical and emotional duress when he resigned on Nov. 29, 1994.

A spokeswoman for the 3,000-student Nyack school system told The Associated Press the district will appeal the decision.

N.C. Teacher's Case Proceeds

A federal appeals court has overturned a lower-court decision and ruled that a North Carolina drama teacher's suit against the Buncombe County schools should go forward, giving her another chance to prove that her constitutional rights were violated.

In a 2-1 ruling this month, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, based in Richmond, Va., said that Margaret Boring's selection of a controversial play for an advanced drama class at Charles D. Owen High School near Asheville falls under the freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment. The panel sent the case back to the district court.

According to Ms. Boring's complaint, a parent had objected to the content of the play, which touched on homosexuality and premarital sex. At the end of the school year, Ms. Boring was assigned to teach introductory middle school courses. District officials said the reassignment was unrelated to the controversy.

Walter Curie, a lawyer for the school board, said last week that officials were undecided about an appeal.

St. Louis Student Slain

A 17-year-old student died after he was allegedly shot by a classmate in the hallway of Sumner High School, according to St. Louis police. Lemond Jones died the morning after the Oct. 31 incident.

Police have arrested a 15-year-old student at the school. The shooting, which occurred at about 8:30 a.m. as students were changing classes, was the result of a fight between several students in the community, Chester Edmonds, a spokesman for the St. Louis public schools, said.

Police Charge Gang Rape

Police have arrested five middle school students in Petersburg, Va., on charges of rape and abduction for allegedly sexually assaulting a classmate at school.

School and police officials gave few details, but confirmed that the five male students--ages 13 and 14--allegedly gang-raped a 14-year-old girl at Peabody Middle School after school on Oct. 30.

Three of the alleged assailants were being held late last week in a juvenile-detention facility; the other two were confined to their homes, one wearing an electronic monitoring device. They all face a Jan. 23 hearing, but prosecutors were unsure which, if any, of the students would be prosecuted as adults.

"The school is a very secure school," said Wallace Saval, the superintendent of the 6,300-student Petersburg city schools. "We are working now to make it even more secure."

Justice Sides With Athlete

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a "friend of the court" brief last week in behalf of a student with learning disabilities who has battled with the NCAA over his academic eligibility to play football, his lawyers said.

The department filed the legal documents Nov. 5 in U.S. District Court in Seattle in support of Tour‚ Butler, who contends that the National Collegiate Athletic Association discriminated against him when it declared him ineligible to play football at the University of Washington. The NCAA determined that Mr. Butler, a graduate of Cascade High School in Everett, Wash., did not have enough core courses. But Mike Hunsinger, his lawyer, contends that the NCAA should count the courses he had to take because of his reading disability.

The NCAA did not return phone calls late last week.

Fired Chief's Name Honored

The Somerset County, Md., school board agreed last week to name an elementary school after a superintendent it had dismissed just a few years before.

Last spring, a federal jury awarded H. DeWayne Whittington nearly $1 million after finding that he was wrongly dismissed because he is black. The jury also suggested that a school be named for him.

Lawyers for the 3,200-student district agreed to drop their appeal and rename an existing school for Mr. Whittington if he agreed to reduce his monetary award to $835,000.

"Money alone could not undo the damage of intentional discrimination," said Mitchell Mirviss, a lawyer for Mr. Whittington.

However, Leslie Stellman, a lawyer for the school board, said that Mr. Whittington was dismissed over philosophical differences, not racial animosity.

Free Legal Advice Offered

South Carolina Attorney General Charles Condon is providing legal advice by phone to state educators and law-enforcement officials with questions about student discipline.

Mr. Condon's office set up a toll-free line, (888) NO-BULLY, as a school-violence hot line earlier this year to allow law-enforcement officials, teachers, administrators, and parents to report incidents of violence on school campuses.

In the wake of several widely publicized cases involving schools' enforcement of "zero tolerance" discipline policies, however, the hot line service for South Carolina has expanded to include legal advice.

Mr. Condon added the new feature after an 11-year-old honors student in Richland County, S.C., was suspended from school and arrested for bringing a knife to school to eat her lunch, said a spokeswoman for the attorney general.

Ala. Chief Warns Birmingham

Alabama education officials are eyeing the Birmingham city school system for possible state intervention if it doesn't clean up its academic and fiscal acts, the state schools chief said last week.

Superintendent Ed Richardson said he has given the state's third-largest district until the end of January to come up with a preliminary plan to improve student achievement and get on track with its budget. Mr. Richardson charged the 42,000-student system with mismanaging its $177.9 million annual budget.

District officials intend to work on the trouble areas, said Samuetta Nesbitt, a spokeswoman for the district.

Apple Unveils Computer

Apple Computer Inc. has unwrapped the "eMate 300," a portable computer that some educators are touting as a low-cost way to give classrooms and students versatile computing power.

The product differed slightly from details that had been leaked in advance of its debut this month. ("Apple To Aim New Computer at School Market," Oct. 30, 1996.)

The device weighs less than 4 pounds and has rechargeable batteries, which offer up to 28 continuous hours of use.

It has a built-in word processor, drawing program, spreadsheet, and graphing calculator.

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