Published Online: June 4, 1997

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Officials Investigating Delay In Reports of Sexual Abuse

Investigators are pursuing separate incidents of alleged sexual abuse in New York City public schools in which administrators are accused of failing to respond to the charges promptly.

A 41-year-old music teacher at Intermediate School 246 in Brooklyn was arrested and charged last month with sexually abusing a 13-year-old female student in his locked classroom. The sexual relationship started in January, investigators said.

The arrest, however, came more than a month after the abuse was discovered by a custodial worker and reported to the school's principal on April 18. The school took no action for three weeks, according to Edward Stancik, the district's special commissioner of investigation.

Just days before the teacher's arrest, four seniors at August Martin High School in Queens were arrested and charged with gang-raping a 14-year-old freshman after luring her to an unused classroom.

Principal Richard Ross said in an interview that one day after the April 16 incident, the girl told a school counselor she had been "sexually abused." The counselor informed an assistant principal, but neither the principal nor a borough supervisor was notified.

Under school board regulations, counseling sessions that reveal possible sex abuse, child abuse, or other crimes must be reported immediately.

Baltimore Board Named

Signaling the beginning of expanded state and city control over the Baltimore public schools, new school board members appointed by Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke took office this week.

The new board of school commissioners will consist of nine leaders in government, business, and higher education as well as one nonvoting student member. The board was revamped under a restructuring of the district in which the state gained more power over the schools in exchange for providing them with more money.

The board members, who will not be paid, were selected from a pool of 112 applicants, 22 of which were nominated by the state board of education to be considered by the mayor and the governor, both of whom are Democrats.

The board's first task will be to select an interim chief executive officer by June 15 to lead the 109,000-student district. A permanent CEO is slated to be chosen by Oct. 30.

Judge Confers Honors

A U.S. District Court judge has ordered a Waterbury, Conn., high school to admit a senior to the National Honor Society on an interim basis.

Tisha Byars says she was denied admission to Wilby High School's honor society last spring because of her refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Under a now-defunct school policy mandating participation in the pledge to the flag, Ms. Byars sat in the principal's office every morning her sophomore year instead of attending homeroom. Ms. Byars, who is black, refused to recite the pledge because she believes there is no justice in America for blacks, said her lawyer, Frederick Krug.

The school district maintains that Ms. Byars was denied admission to the honor society because of other disciplinary problems that were unrelated to the pledge.

U.S. District Judge Peter C. Dorsey recently sided with Ms. Byars by issuing a preliminary injunction mandating that the school admit her to the honor society.

Though Ms. Byars' admission is on an interim basis, pending a trial scheduled for the fall, Mr. Krug said the ruling bodes well for the student's chances of winning a lawsuit she has filed against the high school.

Lawsuit Filed Over Rosary

The parents of two Texas high school students have filed a federal lawsuit challenging a district's policy that bars Roman Catholic rosary beads as a gang symbol.

The 5,500-student New Caney district, about 30 miles north of Houston, has included rosary beads on its list of prohibited gang symbols for several years, Superintendent Jerry Hall said.

Two freshmen at New Caney High School, David Chalifoux and Jerry Robertson, began wearing the beads early this year. In March, they were told they could not wear them outside their clothes because the beads were considered gang apparel.

The boys' parents sued the district in U.S. District Court in Houston on May 19. The suit claims the gang policy violates the boys' First Amendment right to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. It seeks a halt to the policy and unspecified monetary damages.

Mr. Hall said the district will defend its policy.

Textbook Flap Resolved

The Dallas school board has moved to adopt a revised list of social studies texts, ending a lawsuit brought by one publisher that charged the adoption process was unfair.

In an 8-1 vote, the board last month approved texts from Harcourt Brace & Co. for grades 1 through 4 and from Macmillan/McGraw-Hill for grades 5 and 6.

Harcourt Brace won an injunction from a state court in April that postponed the district's purchase of social studies textbooks. The Orlando, Fla.-based publisher had filed a suit charging that the board violated district policy when it failed to follow the recommendations of its textbook committee. ("Publisher Challenges Dallas Textbook-Adoption Process," May 7, 1997.)

The publisher dropped the suit last month after the board rescinded its previous vote, which left some of the publisher's books off the list, and approved a new list recommended by the committee.

Drugs Still Prevalent

Drugs, alcohol, and weapons are readily available in Wake County, N.C., high schools less than two years after dozens of students were arrested during a drug raid on the district's campuses, according to a student survey.

About 17,000 of the district's 21,000 high school students responded to the survey, which was conducted last fall and released last month. More than 60 percent said that it was easy, or very easy, to get marijuana at school. Some 38 percent said they had access to guns either in school or in their neighborhoods.

Most students, however, said they rarely, if ever, used drugs or alcohol.

In 1995, following a similar survey and reports of increased drug activity in the district's 12 high schools, school officials initiated a search of schools that resulted in 75 drug arrests.

Up-to-Minute Complaint

A teachers' union in Waterbury, Conn., has filed a grievance demanding payment for an extra minute teachers have worked each day this school year.

The 1,100-member Waterbury Teachers Association says it's using the demand to prod district leaders into making a minor change in work schedules.

The dispute dates back to the 1993-94 school year, when the 14,000-student district lengthened the elementary school day by 15 minutes. Union leaders argued that the change disproportionately affected classroom teachers, as opposed to those who teach subjects like music and art, which aren't daylong classes.

Because the school board hasn't responded in three years, the union has sought to remove what it sees as an inequity by seeking $1.04 for each additional minute worked this year, said Jack Cronan, the local's president. Teachers in grades 1-5 would receive $187.20; kindergarten teachers would get $374.40 because they generally teach two classes of students.

Superintendent Roger Damerow could not be reached for comment.

Students 'Launch' Bus

School officials in a Chicago suburb have found a novel use for an old school bus. Thanks to some help from local engineers, welders, and other volunteers, the former bus is now Discover 15, a sleek mock space shuttle.

During its May 22 inaugural "flight," the converted bus carried six K-8 students from Community Consolidated School District 15 in Palatine, Ill., across a parking lot before landing in front of 450 spectators.

During the countdown, the launch was officially "cleared" via a direct communications link to a NASA facility in Florida.

In addition to the astronauts, another 80 students worked as crew members, performing preflight reviews and lecturing spectators about the project.

Construction on the shuttle, which has six computer workstations, began more than a year ago. The project includes a "mission control," which has computer links to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and a "space station" for experiments.

The project, designed to promote interest in math and science, was a joint venture between the district and several business sponsors, including Northrop Grumman Corp.

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