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News in Brief: A National Roundup

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N.Y. District Faces $472 Million Tax Payback

A New York state judges ruling that a Long Island utility company paid too much in property taxes has threatened the financial security of the Shoreham-Wading River school district.

The decision, handed down this month, means that the 2,166-student district must reimburse the Long Island Lighting Company for taxes the company paid on a nuclear-power plant that never opened.

The utility paid 90 percent of the district's annual budget--which is $30.1 million this year--for two decades. There were ample funds to cover violin lessons for kindergartners, trips to Spain for Spanish classes, and Hudson River sails for young biologists.

The power company claims that the district owes it a $472 million refund.

School officials said the ruling was extremely unfair and the amount impossible to recover. Lou Lewis, a lawyer representing the district, said the district will appeal the ruling and fight to overturn a special tax law passed by the state in the 1980s that makes individual districts liable for property-tax refunds.

Colo. To Name Offenders

The Colorado state school board will make public the names of all teachers whose licenses are suspended or revoked, including those whose disciplinary actions are based on child sexual assault.

The information will be published monthly as part of the board's minutes. It will remain confidential until authorities finish their investigations, said Mary Ryder, the supervisor of licensing in the state education department.

Only Alaska and Washington state have policies similar to the one Colorado adopted this month.

Ed. School Loses Round

Over the protests of students and alumni, the faculty in the social sciences division at the University of Chicago have voted to shut down the school's education department by 2001.

The 75-41 vote this month marked the first step toward shutting down the department, which philosopher and educator John Dewey founded in 1895. The recommendation will next go to the university's faculty council, and then to the university's president and provost, with a final decision expected early next year.

The dean of the division, Richard Saller, had recommended the closing after a review found low morale, varying commitments to research and teaching, and an aging faculty. ("U. of Chicago Mulls Axing Ed. Department," Sept. 18, 1996.)

Archdiocese Rejects Union

The board of education for the Archdiocese of St. Louis has voted not to recognize a labor union organized by the area's Roman Catholic elementary teachers.

The board cited concerns about the school district's structure in rendering its decision. In St. Louis, as in most Catholic dioceses, elementary teachers are employees of individual parishes, not the diocese. "If we recognized a union, we'd have to centralize a lot of authorities," said board President John Schwob.

Concerned about the income disparity between them and their high school counterparts, a group of teachers in the archdiocese's elementary schools began organizing a union last spring. ("Catholic Teachers Start Union in St. Louis," Oct. 9, 1996.) Despite this month's board vote, union organizers vowed to continue pushing the archdiocese for recognition.

Home-baked Goods Banned

Health officials in Tulsa, Okla., have recommended that teachers stop preparing and serving food in the classroom unless it is "pre-packaged, individually wrapped snacks and drinks."

The letter sent to the 15 school districts in Tulsa County this month follows recommendations made earlier this fall that students stop bringing homemade treats to school for distribution to other students.

The warning on homemade goodies is a local response to an alarming two-year increase in cases of hepatitis A, said James Walker, a spokesman for the Oklahoma health department in Oklahoma City.

John Thompson, the superintendent of the Tupelo city schools, said that he has instructed principals to follow the health department's recommendation. Calling the recommendation "proactive," Anita Kabrick, the president of the Tulsa Council of PTAs, said that area parents have long been concerned about the safety of homemade food at school.

N.M. Athlete Is Charged

A high school football player from a federally run boarding school near Gallup, N.M., has been slapped with an aggravated-battery charge for reportedly attacking a referee during a game.

Gilbert Jefferson, 18, allegedly tackled referee Allen Bainter this month after Mr. Bainter removed the running back-linebacker for unsportsmanlike conduct in the final quarter of play.

Mr. Bainter was rendered unconscious and sustained a concussion in the incident, according to MaryAnn Slim, the assistant principal at Wingate High School, the Navajo boarding school that Mr. Jefferson attends. The school, which is run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, planned to hold a disciplinary hearing last week.

In local news reports, Darlene Jefferson defended her son as a "good boy," and contended that the referee had singled out her son for criticism that night.

Teacher Pens Note on Face

A South Carolina teacher has been suspended with pay after sending a kindergartner home with a note written on her face.

Phyllis Adelsflugel, a first-year teacher at Pepperhill Elementary School in North Charleston, this month scrawled the message, "Where are my glasses?" on 5-year-old Nina Campbell's face. School officials said the teacher told them that the child habitually left her glasses at home and she believed that messages to her mother were not relayed.

Gary Ling, a lawyer for the Campbell family, said the teacher's act was humiliating for Nina, who cried and was upset when she got home. Mr. Ling also claimed that it was racially motivated. Nina is black, and Ms. Adelsflugel is white.

But Meg Howle, spokeswoman for the district, said that the teacher commonly used face painting on students.

Chip Zullinger, the Charleston County superintendent, apologized to the child's mother, Teresa Campbell, for the incident. He insisted that the incident was not racially motivated, but conceded that the teacher used "extremely poor judgment."

Ms. Adelsflugel could not be reached for comment last week.

N.J. Board Member Indicted

A federal grand jury has indicted a member of the Camden, N.J., school board on charges of defrauding the 19,700-student district by racking up nearly $25,000 worth of unauthorized expenses.

Elaine A. Bey, 53, is accused of billing the district for expenses that included rental cars, hotel accommodations, liquor, and adult movies while she was the president of the board from 1987 to 1994.

Ms. Bey, who remains on the board, declined through a district spokesman to comment on the charges.

The indictment, handed up Nov. 13, also alleges that Ms. Bey used a district car for her personal use and charged personal expenses to a credit card issued to the system's business administrator.

The grand jury charges come on the heels of two state reports that paint the southern New Jersey district as rife with mismanagement, overspending, and poor educational results.

Students Rule on Dress

After a dispute over whether religious T-shirts should be allowed in school, students at an Ohio middle school have drafted a new school-clothing policy.

Students at Willis Middle School in Delaware, Ohio, worked with the principal and a guidance counselor to draft the new guidelines, which are now under review by the system's lawyer for possible adoption by the entire district. The policy states that students "should be allowed to wear any clothing as long as it does not conflict with the student code of conduct" in areas such as violence, profanity, illegal drug use, or any other area that might disrupt the educational process.

Kathy LaSota, a spokeswoman for the 4,000-student Delaware city school district, said that students' request for a new policy came when one student was asked to cover up a T-shirt with a satanic message, while another was allowed to wear a T-shirt with a Christian message.

While the proposed policy is under review, students can wear shirts with any religious message as long as it is not profane or violent.

Movie Extra Penalized

A 15-year-old Corpus Christi, Texas, girl who was chosen for a bit part in the movie "Selena" is being punished for missing two hours of school to take part in the film about the slain Hispanic singer of that name.

Nicole Young, a sophomore at Aransas Pass High School, was assigned to detention for her unexcused absence and given zeros for assignments she missed while on the movie set in Corpus Christi this month.

"She only missed two hours of class, and I signed her out," Elizabeth Young, the girl's mother, told The Associated Press. "I made a decision I thought would be beneficial to her. And she would be glad to make up the work."

The Aransas Pass school district has a "zero tolerance" policy in place for absenteeism. Under the district's rules, performing in movies is not an excusable absence.

Bob Smith, the superintendent of the 2,250-student district, said that Ms. Young's predicament had been blown out of proportion by the media. "There's no big story here," Mr. Smith said. "A girl missed school, and we have a policy in place to resolve the issue."

Fired Creative-Writing Teacher Is Awarded $750,000

A federal jury last week awarded $750,000 to a Missouri high school English teacher who was fired for violating her district's student-conduct code.

Cissy Lacks, a 25-year veteran teacher, was dismissed from her job at Berkeley High School in suburban St. Louis last year after students used profanity in creative-writing assignments. ("Expletives Deleted," June 21, 1995.)

The jury found that banning profanity served no legitimate academic purpose. It also found that Ms. Lacks, who is white, was discriminated against by black officials who disapproved of black students' use of profanity in a lesson.

"This decision is so important because it means it is the obligation of the teacher to use methods that work," she said.

It was the second court decision in her favor. In August, a U.S. District Court judge ordered the Ferguson-Florissant district to reinstate Ms. Lacks with back pay. The district is appealing that decision, and Ms. Lacks has yet to return to the classroom.

Stan Scheer, the superintendent of schools, said he was disappointed by the jury's decision.

"The conduct code says that profanity is not allowed, period," he said. "The assumption was also applied to the conduct of teachers that they would not do that in the classroom."

School officials have yet to determine if they will appeal last week's decision as well

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