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Senior Killed in Water-Slide Collapse

An annual picnic for seniors at a California high school turned nightmarish last week as an amusement park water slide collapsed, killing one student and injuring 32 others.

Just 10 days before the school's graduation this week, the June 2 accident at Waterworld USA in Concord, Calif., plunged the Napa High School students 30 to 40 feet onto pavement and trees, said David Brown, the superintendent of the Napa Valley Unified School District.

An 18-year-old student, Quimby Ghilotti, died. Ms. Ghilotti was a well-liked peer-mediation counselor at the school, Mr. Brown said.

He said the students were holding hands in a chain as they went down the slide.

About 200 of Napa High's 400 seniors attended the picnic.

At least 25 counselors and psychologists were expected to be at Napa High last week to meet the needs of students, parents, and staff members.

Ohio Appeals Court Allows Voucher Program To Continue

An Ohio appeals court has granted the state's request to allow the Cleveland voucher program to complete the school year. But the future of the program beyond June 30 is less clear.

A three-judge state Court of Appeals panel on May 1 declared the voucher program unconstitutional. The program's inclusion of private religious schools violates federal and state constitutional prohibitions against government aid to religion, the court said. ("Voucher Plan in Cleveland Is Overturned," May 7, 1997.)

In a written order on May 30, the court said the program could continue for the 1,900 current students until the end of the school year or June 30, whichever is later.

State officials also asked the court to allow the program to continue next year while they appeal its constitutionality to the state supreme court. But the appeals court said the request was premature because the legislature has not yet appropriated any voucher funds for next year.

L.A. OKs Partner Benefits

The Los Angeles school board voted 5-2 last week to offer health benefits to live-in, unmarried partners of its 60,000 employees.

Only a handful of other school districts, including New York City, San Diego, and San Francisco, offer similar health insurance to domestic partners. ("L.A. Board Considers Insurance for Unmarried Partners," Jan. 15, 1997.)

Before the June 2 vote, some board members and employee union members said insuring domestic partners was a civil right, while other board members questioned whether the cost would detract from academic programs.

The insurance will cover homosexual and heterosexual partners and will become available Jan. 1, said Sheldon Erlich, a spokesman for the 682,000-student district.

The district estimates that the extra benefits will cost $3.1 million for the second half of the 1997-98 school year and $6.4 million the following year.

Test-Coaching Alleged in Ky.

The Kentucky education department is investigating allegations that teachers at the 800-student Louisa Elementary School in Lawrence County improperly prepped 4th graders for a state achievement test.

The 4th grade teachers are accused of coaching students on the exam questions and helping them with the writing portion of the test, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper.

The school's scores on the test--the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System--have risen dramatically in the past couple of years.

The education department has used 4th graders' KIRIS test scores to rate elementary schools since 1991. Employees at schools with rising scores receive substantial cash bonuses.

Department officials said they will not comment on the specifics of the case until the investigation is complete. Lawrence County school officials did not return phone calls last week.

Sacramento Bond Defeated

For the second time in seven months, Sacramento, Calif., voters have narrowly defeated a $225 million school construction bond issue.

The ill-fated effort, Measure U, fell 580 votes shy of the needed two-thirds majority in balloting June 3. Voter turnout was 25 percent.

The final tally was 65.4 percent in favor and 34.6 percent against. Election officials said late last week that the 1,000 outstanding absentee ballots would not change the outcome.

The Sacramento City Unified schools had planned to use the money to renovate and repair 77 schools. By losing the bond issue, the 53,000-student system also lost out on up to $150 million in potential matching funds from the state.

An identical bond issue lost in November by 260 votes.

Girls' School To Stay Open

Parents at Detroit's last all-girls Roman Catholic high school have successfully mounted a last-ditch effort to keep the school from closing.

Officials of the grades 6-12 Dominican High School and Academy said earlier this semester that declining enrollment would force them to close their doors after this year's graduation.

Enrollment at the 57-year-old school has fallen from about 1,200 students in the 1970s to 260, said Sister Tarianne DeYonker, the school's president.

School officials reconsidered their decision late last month after parents presented a proposal to boost fund raising and preregister more students.

Dallas Chief Shuffles Jobs

Dallas schools Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez last week reassigned 155 administrators in an effort to increase academic performance and accountability.

The shuffle will move 77 principals, 60 assistant principals, and 18 deans of instruction in the 155,000-student system. About 100 schools will be affected, including 60 percent of the system's secondary schools and 30 percent of its elementary schools.

Most of the reassignments are to different schools at the same job level, but nine are demotions, according to Jon Dahlander, a district spokesman.

Segregation Charge Probed

The U.S. Department of Education's office for civil rights is investigating a complaint alleging that a Louisiana school district segregates students by race in extracurricular activities.

The complaint asserts that racial separation takes place on senior-class trips and at proms in St. Landry Parish schools in Opelousas. It was received by federal officials April 17, said Rodger Murphey, a spokesman for the OCR.

The investigation of the district is ongoing, Mr. Murphey said. He declined to say who filed the complaint.

District officials could not be reached for comment last week.

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