Published Online: March 26, 1997

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News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Detroit Cops Son Killed In High School Parking Lot

Three Detroit high school students were facing murder charges last week for their alleged roles in the March 17 shooting death of the son of two city police officers.

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Kenneth Baumgart, 16, a freshman at Pershing High School, was shot in the school parking lot, allegedly by a fellow student with whom he had an ongoing feud. Mr. Baumgart's mother and stepfather are members of the Detroit police force. The arrests of the students--two of whom attend Pershing--came hours after the shooting.

School and police officials noted that while the victim was an A student and a standout football player, he also wore gang colors and spent time with gang members.

"There's a very clear message to anyone thinking about getting involved in a gang," said Michele Edwards, the district's press secretary. "Don't do it."

Judge Nixes Split La. District

A federal judge has ruled that a Louisiana school district cannot split in two because it would defeat the purpose of the district's desegregation plan. Residents opposed to cross-parish busing had sought the change.

In 1995, voters statewide approved the creation of a new district from part of what is now the Rapides Parish school system. But that change violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, U.S. District Judge Nauman Scott said in his March 10 ruling. Because the new district would be created in a largely white area, the loss of those students from the existing district "would have the effect of resegregating the races," Judge Scott wrote.

The new district would have opened in the 1998-99 school year. Although the school board in the 24,300-student Rapides Parish district is not expected to appeal the decision, the state attorney general's office plans to do so.

Master's Powers Grow in Pa.

A federal judge has granted a special master expanded powers to overhaul special education programs in the troubled Chester Upland district in Pennsylvania.

The 7,500-student Philadelphia-area district has been embroiled in a class action brought in 1990 on behalf of students with emotional and behavioral problems. The lawsuit charged the district--and the state education department, which oversees the "financially distressed" district --with failing to provide students an appropriate education and improperly suspending and expelling students.

In 1994, the judge cited the district for contempt for failing to make needed improvements to its special education programs, and he appointed a special master in 1995 to monitor the reforms.

U.S. District Judge Robert S. Gawthrop III ruled March 10 that the district remains in contempt and that the state continues to be in noncompliance with earlier orders. The judge's order grants the special master greater control over the budget and personnel issues.

District lawyer Leo Hackett said last week that the district would likely ask the court to reconsider its latest order.

Test Scores Ordered Released

Minnesota education officials must release statewide test scores school by school, a state judge has ruled.

The state education department had refused to make public the scores for schools with low enrollment or where all students either passed or failed. Officials argued that individual students' results might be apparent, violating their privacy.

But the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper, which filed a lawsuit over the issue last September, contended that as long as test scores include no personal data, they are public under state law.

Eighth graders took the first tests ever mandated by the state last year. No appeal of the judge's ruling is planned.

Free E-Mail Access Available

Two Silicon Valley companies believe that they are the first in the nation to offer free, stand-alone e-mail accounts to schoolchildren, teachers, school administrators, and parents.

The firms, Four11 of Menlo Park, Calif., and WhoWhere? of Mountain View, Calif., both operate on-line white-page directories and say that the offer will help them cultivate long-term customers for their just-launched electronic-mail services.

The companies employ a new technology that allows users to access e-mail from any computer with a connection to the World Wide Web. WhoWhere? plans to include advertising, returning a portion of the profit to participating schools for computer purchases.

Schools nationwide can obtain more information about the service from Four11 at http://www.rocketmail.com or from WhoWhere? at http://www.whowhere.com.

La. Union Sues ETS

Four Louisiana teachers have decided to fight the Educational Testing Service in court over what they say was a breach of contract when their scores on a test needed for administrator certification were discarded. After discovering that some test-takers had seen advance copies of the Educational Leadership: Administration and Supervision assessment, the Princeton, N.J.-based ETS, which administers the exam, said all of them would need to retake the test or cancel their scores and receive a refund.

The Louisiana Association of Educators filed suit in state district court this month on behalf of four members. The plaintiffs claim that exam materials promised their right to third-party arbitration if the validity of their tests was questioned but that arbitration was denied.

"It is unfair to punish the innocent for the acts of any individual who may have cheated on the test," union President Mary A. Washington said last week.

ETS officials would not comment.

Embattled Principal To Retire

The principal of a Connecticut school mired in a test-tampering scandal has agreed to retire as part of a settlement reached between him and his district's school board.

Roger Previs, the principal of Stratfield Elementary School in Fairfield, Conn., announced this month that he will retire in July. The school board suspended Mr. Previs last month after a months-long investigation into the tampering. ("Whodunit?," Oct. 2, 1996.)

District officials would not release the exact terms of the agreement, nor would they clarify if they thought Mr. Previs was responsible for the tampering himself.

Mr. Previs said that he was stepping down to spare his family the cost of a legal battle and restated his denial of having any knowledge of the tampering.

D.C. Reviews Charter Schools

District of Columbia school officials' decision to re-examine five charters granted by the city's elected school board has prompted a firm to back out of its plans for a special education charter school.

Since the elected board granted the charters last August, an appointed emergency board of trustees and a new chief executive have taken over the district, and a former congressional aide, Richard Wenning, has been hired to oversee charter schools.

Mr. Wenning said this month that the charter for the proposed special education school lacked details about services, transportation, and per-pupil spending. He said he was examining all five charters. Two of the schools are already open, including one whose principal has been indicted in an alleged assault on a reporter. ("School Head Indicted in Scuffle With Reporter," Jan. 15, 1997.)

The special education school was to be run by Kids 1 Inc., a New Jersey-based company that spent about $200,000 on equipment and correcting fire-code violations at a district-owned building. Bobby Durran, the school's director, said Kids 1 could no longer afford to wait for approval.

The company is negotiating to run a school in another Washington site under a contract--instead of a charter--with the school district.

Indianapolis To Close Schools

Following decades of declining enrollment, the Indianapolis school board has decided to close 10 of its 61 elementary schools next fall.

The decision came after a federal judge rejected the school system's bid late last month to reabsorb 5,500 students from the district who now attend suburban schools under a desegregation plan. ("Judge Spurns Indianapolis Bid To Recover Bused Students," March 12, 1997.)

Last summer, board members rejected a recommendation by Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas to close schools, citing the possibility that the judge would allow those students to return.

Even before this month's vote to close schools, the district was drawing new school boundaries as part of a scheduled switch next fall from a controlled-choice system of student assignment to one based on attendance areas. Enrollment in the district has dropped from a high of 108,200 in 1969 to 43,900 this year.

Reward Offered for Clues

Seattle schools Superintendent John Stanford has offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who have terrorized several high schools with bomb threats.

Police have arrested one suspect as a result of a tip and said that other arrests are expected.

Meanwhile, the district has taken extra precautions to ensure students' safety. For example, only one entrance will be used for student re-entry after a building has been evacuated, and all who re-enter will be inspected by security officers or staff members.

Teacher's Benefits Upheld

An orchestra teacher fired for screaming obscenities at her principal is entitled to unemployment benefits, the Idaho Supreme Court has ruled.

Marsha Folks, who led Moscow Junior High School's orchestra program for 17 years, was fired in 1993 following an outburst in which the teacher used off-color language in addressing Principal Alan Lee. The incident at the school in Moscow occurred one day after Ms. Folks was informed that the orchestra program would be canceled for the upcoming year.

By a 4-1 vote this month, the high court decided that the firing was not due to employment-related misconduct, citing instead Ms. Folks' emotional state of mind.

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