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News in Brief: A National Roundup

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N.J. Youth Charged in Death Of Student Selling Gifts

A 15-year-old New Jersey youth has been charged with the strangulation death of an 11-year-old boy who was selling gifts door to door for a school fund-raiser.

Authorities did not release the name of the suspect because of his age, and school officials would not confirm where he went to school. He was charged Oct. 1 with the murder and aggravated sexual assault of Edward P. Werner, a 6th grader at Christa McAuliffe Middle School. Both boys were residents of Jackson Township, N.J.

The suspect and the victim apparently met for the first time as Edward went from house to house selling wrapping paper, nuts, and chocolates to raise money for his school, officials from the Ocean County prosecutor's office and the Jackson Township school district said.

The district last week suspended all fund-raising activities by students, said Stephanie Yusko, a district spokeswoman. The local PTA had encouraged students to sell goods only to their families and friends, Ms. Yusko said.

Wash. Teenager Guilty

A Moses Lake, Wash., teenager is facing life in prison without the possibility of parole after a jury last week found him guilty in a 1996 classroom shooting that left three people dead and a fourth wounded.

Barry Loukaitis was tried as an adult in the case, but was only 14 years old when he shot three classmates and a teacher in a classroom attack at Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake.

Mr. Loukaitis, now 16, pleaded innocent by reason of insanity but was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of second-degree murder, and multiple counts ranging from assault to kidnapping. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 10.

Teacher Talks Stalled

Picketing teachers in East St. Louis, Ill., have kept 13,000 students out of the classroom for a month now, and with no new talks scheduled, the strike shows no signs of letting up.

The school system and the district's 920 teachers have been in a stalemate since Sept. 5. Teachers last week rejected what the board called its final offer. The dispute centers on classroom size and salaries.

Teachers are asking for a 5 percent raise and a reduction in class sizes for every grade. The district has offered a three-year contract that includes a 3 percent raise and smaller class sizes for grades K-3.

TCI To Sell Education Arm

Tele-Communications Inc. is selling ETC, its education and training subsidiary, to Knowledge Universe LLC, a Los Angeles-based investment concern started last year by financier Michael Milken and Oracle Corp. chief executive Larry Ellison.

TCI, a cable television giant based in Englewood, Colo., launched ETC last year. Washington-based ETC's subsidiaries include Ingenius, which develops K-12 curriculum products, and the National School Conference Institute, a professional-development arm.

Former U.S. Rep. Tony Coelho has been the chairman and chief executive officer of ETC, but TCI officials said he will give up his posts and sell his minority stake in the company.

Knowledge Universe has invested in a variety of technology and education projects.

"We are very excited to have KU as a potential partner," said Leo J. Hindery Jr., the president of TCI, in a Sept. 23 statement.

The firms did not detail the financial arrangements of the deal except to say that Knowledge Universe would make a "substantial investment" in a new venture that would include a significant portion of ETC's assets.

San Antonio Voters Say Yes

The San Antonio Independent School District is moving ahead on a seven-year construction plan that will bring improvements to each of its 94 campuses, following the passage of a $483 million bond.

The measure won by a 2-1 majority, with 9,673 voters in favor of the bond and 4,394 against it in the Sept. 27 ballot.

Bond revenue will be used to wire schools for technology, make safety-related improvements, and replace 670 portable classrooms with permanent rooms.

It was the first school bond passed by the Texas school district in 12 years. In 1992, San Antonio district voters defeated a $211 million proposal by a 2-1 ratio.

What made the difference this time? "It was a wonderful communitywide effort that was started over a year ago," explained Bobby Zamora, a spokesman for the 60,679-student system.

Quitting Union Made Easier

The San Diego Teachers Association has reached an out-of-court settlement with a local teacher in a move that paves the way for teachers to resign their membership at any time.

Jean C. Apple, a special education teacher at Kearny High School, sued the union last year when she was told she had to wait until the end of the existing contract, or more than a year, to quit the union. Ms. Apple said that she wanted to part ways with the union because of political differences.

As part of the settlement announced Sept. 23, the California Teachers Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, agreed to notify its affiliates across the state that they must allow members to leave the union if and when they want.

Sandra Jackson, a spokeswoman for the CTA, said members have always had the option of leaving. Officials of the San Diego local, she said, had misinterpreted the rules.

Youth Gun Deaths Drop

For the first time in a decade, the number of U.S. children and teenagers killed by guns dropped in 1995, according to government-compiled statistics released by the Children's Defense Fund.

Overall, 5,254 people age 19 and under were killed by guns that year, a decline of almost 10 percent from 1994 and the smallest total since 1990. The number of young black men killed by guns dropped 20 percent in 1995.

The report released last month by the Washington-based advocacy group cites the declining U.S. homicide rate and the decrease in accidental deaths and suicides as reasons for the decrease. However, the report says, one person age 19 and younger dies by gunshot in America every 100 minutes--about 14 children each day. The report also says that children under 15 in the United States are 12 times more likely to die from guns than children in 25 other industrialized countries, including Israel and Northern Ireland.

"A new, safer world for children will depend in great part on the work of communities that provide children with positive alternatives to the streets," said Kim Wade, the CDF's assistant general counsel.

Hepatitis B Shots Required

In the coming years, children in New Mexico will have to be immunized against hepatitis B in order to enroll in school, thanks to new state health rules.

Compared with national rates, New Mexico has a high rate of infection for the disease: 26 cases for every 100,000 people last year vs. four cases out of 100,000 people across the country.

Hepatitis B, a viral inflammation of the liver, is highly infectious and is transmitted through blood or body fluids. State health officials consider it a sexually transmitted disease but are not sure why the state has such high rates of infection.

Under New Mexico's plan, beginning in 1999, all children entering 7th grade will have to be vaccinated against hepatitis B. By 2000, all children who are at least a year old and attending state-licensed day-care centers will have to be vaccinated. By 2002, all children entering kindergarten or entering school for the first time must be vaccinated.

Schools in five states began inoculations of students and staff members in the wake of an outbreak of hepatitis A earlier this year. Unlike hepatitis B, hepatitis A is most often spread orally or through human waste, often by people with poor hygiene who handle food. ("Hepatitis Scare Spurs Administrators Into Action," April 9 and "Hepatitis Outbreak Spurs Inoculations in 5 States," April 16, 1997.)

Meningitis Fears in Chicago

Chicago public school officials assigned nurses to a number of schools last week to address parent concerns after bacterial meningitis claimed the lives of two Chicago-area youths.

The nurses were in place at a dozen schools to answer questions from parents and students following the deaths of 11-year-old Marcus Mills and 5-year-old Ian Henly late last month.

In addition, a team of nurses, psychologists, and social workers was on hand at Duke Ellington Elementary School, which Marcus Mills had attended as a 6th grader. Team members briefed parents and students on the symptoms, precautions, and health risks associated with meningitis, which is an acute inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. School officials said the team would remain at the school as long as necessary.

As of last week, there had been no additional cases of confirmed meningitis reported by the Chicago Department of Public Health, according to school officials.

Test Firms Settle Suit

Two leading competitors in the test-preparation business reached a settlement last week in lawsuit over promotional claims by one of the companies.

The Princeton Review agreed to put stickers over inaccurate claims that appear on two of its products.

Kaplan Educational Centers had sued its competitor in a New York district court after discovering that a book by the Princeton Review, Cracking the GMAT CAT 1998 Edition with CD-ROM, includes only one practice test on its CD-ROM, not the four tests promised by the book jacket.

In addition, a Princeton Review's software program, "Inside the SAT and ACT Deluxe," does not include some of the features trumpeted by the packaging.

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