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Parents of Jewish Students Sue Alabama School System

The parents of four Jewish children are charging in a lawsuit that an Alabama school district violated the children's religious-freedom rights. According to the suit, school officials made the students remove yarmulkes from their heads, required them to bow their heads during Christian prayers, and failed to stop anti-Semitic taunts from other children.

Wayne and Sue C. Willis filed the suit in federal district court in Montgomery on behalf of their four children, who are in 1st through 8th grades in the 2,600-student Pike County district.

The suit, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, contends that the children have been denied the opportunity to practice their faith while the majority of students freely practice Christianity, often to the point of violating the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against government establishment of religion.

Map of Louisiana

On several occasions, the suit contends, the children were required to bow their heads during "student-initiated" Christian prayers in school assemblies. On another occasion, a high school vice principal allegedly disciplined one of the Willis' children by asking him to write an essay about "Why Jesus Loves Me." The boy did not write the essay, and the superintendent later wrote to the parents to assure them such punishment would not be levied again, the suit says.

The suit, filed Aug. 4, seeks an injunction prohibiting unconstitutional practices in the district but does not ask for monetary damages.

District Superintendent John R. Key acknowledged some of the incidents but said other allegations either did not occur or were "embellished'' in the suit. Some of the children were involved in fights "that have nothing to do with them being Jewish,'' he said.

Schools Recoup $27 Million

School districts in Orange County, Calif., will share a $27 million payment from Merrill Lynch & Co. as part of a $30 million out-of-court settlement over the investment firm's role in the county's 1994 bankruptcy.

County officials claim that advice from Merrill Lynch was partly responsible for the $1.64 billion in county investment-pool losses that forced Orange County to declare bankruptcy.

Merrill Lynch denies any wrongdoing. But by agreeing this summer to the $30 million settlement, an investigation into its role in the bankruptcy was closed.

School and county officials negotiated until late last month over how to split the payment, which partly compensates local school districts for their investment-pool losses of around $100 million.

Orange County supervisors ratified the plan Aug. 26 on a 4-1 vote.

Girls-Only Rule Challenged

A Maine boy's fight to play on his high school's girls-only field hockey team has ended up in court.

Jeremy Ellis, a 16-year-old Portland High School sophomore, brought his request to play on the team to the state's Human Rights Commission early last month. He argued that the Maine Principals Association's decade-old policy of limiting slots on field hockey teams to girls was discriminatory.

The commission ruled unanimously that the policy violates the Maine Human Rights Act. The principals' association, which oversees high school sports in the state, responded by filing a suit in Kennebec County Superior Court asking for a reprieve from the commission ruling.

The group's executive director, Richard Tyler, said the issue "boils down to equality of opportunity for girls."

He contends that opening up field hockey to boys would not only threaten girls' slots in that sport, but could ultimately lead to the displacement of girls in Maine's other all-female sports: softball, gymnastics, and volleyball.

Supply Warehouse Fills Need

An estimated 6,000 students at 12 Chicago elementary schools were the first to benefit from a pilot program that distributes free school supplies.

Kids 'N Need Resource Center-Chicago, an 18,000-square-foot warehouse, collected $400,000 worth of pens, notebooks, and other education materials for the start of the school year. More than 30 office-supply companies made donations to the new distribution center.

Chicago's warehouse is the first of what program coordinators hope will be many such facilities aimed at helping inner-city schools that serve low-income students. The 12 public schools receiving free supplies were chosen because at least 90 percent of each school's student population comes from low-income families.

Three groups sponsor the Kids 'N Need program: Vision Chicago; Brother to Brother International, based in Tempe, Ariz.; and the School & Home Office Products Association's Foundation for Education Excellence, based in Dayton, Ohio.

Dale Mercer, the executive director of the foundation, said plans are under way for additional centers in Atlanta and Cincinnati.

Good Career Moves

Math and English are the most important high school subjects for a student's career, according to a recent national poll of 2001 15- to 17-year-olds. Percentages add up to more than 100 because respondents could list more than one subject. The poll, conducted by the Drexel University Center for Employment Futures, has a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.

Mathematics 62% English 32%
Biology 19% Chemistry 15%
Social Sciences 12% Physics 10%
History 6% Computers 5%
Courses Job-related 5% Foreign Language 2%
Technical Courses 2% Other 16%
Don't Know/No Answer 3%
SOURCE: The Drexel Futures Poll: Teenagers, Technology, and Tomorrow.

Coke Signs School Deal

The Coca-Cola Co. and a Colorado school district have agreed to a 10-year, $8.1 million deal that gives the Atlanta-based company exclusive soft drink vending and advertising rights in the district.

The deal, believed to be the biggest of its kind between a company and a public school system, was a "slam dunk" for the 32,000-student Colorado Springs school district, said Dan DeRose, the president of DD Marketing Inc., the Pueblo, Colo.-based firm that brokered the deal.

The agreement guarantees that each of the district's elementary schools will receive an annual payment of $5,000 from Coca-Cola; the district's high schools will each receive $25,000 a year.

The contract could generate up to $11.1 million over 10 years if the company reaches its sales incentives, Mr. DeRose said.

The Colorado Springs district in 1993 launched what was described as the nation's most comprehensive program of allowing advertising in school facilities, including buses, hallways, and stadiums. ("From Walls to Roofs, Schools Sell Ad Space," June 4, 1997.)

NSF To Continue Urban Grant

The New York City public schools will receive a third year of funding under a National Science Foundation grant to improve math and science education in urban districts.

City school officials were warned by the independent federal agency last May that the five-year, $15 million Urban Systemic Initiative grant was in danger of being terminated because of "an array of programmatic deficiencies," NSF officials said. The agency cited problems with the New York program's leadership and direction.

After Schools Chancellor Rudy F. Crew replaced the project director and outlined a plan giving the initiative a more prominent role among the system's math and science programs, NSF officials decided last month to continue the funding for at least another year.

New York City is one of nine pilot sites for the project.

Medication Policy Tightened

A Boulder, Colo., elementary school plans to take photographs of all students who receive prescription medication at the school in the wake of an incident in which a 5-year-old boy was accidentally given medicine intended for another student.

A health aide at Heatherwood Elementary School last month mistakenly gave the kindergartner clonidine, a drug used to treat hyperactivity disorders. The boy was sent to the hospital, but returned to school the next day, school officials said.

The Boulder Valley school district requires that all medicines be prescribed by a physician and administered by authorized school personnel. Students must have permission slips on file and medications should be securely stored.

Lynn Widger, the principal of the 450-student school, said the student photographs will augment those measures by helping ensure that school workers know who should be receiving the appropriate medicine. In addition, the school will require that the person who administers the medication meet with parents and students before pills or other medicines are dispensed.

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