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News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Parents' Suit Seeks Vouchers For Needy Denver Students



More than 3,000 parents have joined in a class action against the Denver public schools that claims the district is failing to teach basic skills to poor and minority students. The lawsuit calls for the district to grant poor families tuition vouchers that could be used at public or private schools.

The suit was originally filed in May in Denver district state court by a small group of African-American parents. The suit last month was expanded to include Hispanic and white parents, according to lawyers involved in the case.

The 68,000-student Denver district is 48 percent Hispanic, 21 percent black, and 25 percent white, with much smaller percentages of Asian-American and American Indian students.

District spokesman Mark Stevens acknowledged that the wide achievement gap between minority and white students, but noted that the district has directed more resources into poor schools.

"We have taken steps and will take more steps to try to provide support and try to close this gap," Mr. Stevens said.

Colorado voters rejected private school vouchers by wide margins in a 1992 ballot initiative. ("Colo. Defeats Voucher Plan, Backs Limits on Taxes," Nov. 11, 1992.)

Ky. Board Violated Law

The Floyd County, Ky., school board broke the state Open Meetings Act when it debated reorganization in private meetings in 1993, the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled.

Three employees who lost their jobs with the school system as a result of the reorganization had filed suit challenging the legality of the meetings. The board met privately to discuss the downsizing plan in March and April of 1993.

The board had argued that the two meetings were covered by two exemptions in the law for discussions on personnel and litigation. But in a 6-1 decision late last month, the supreme court said that neither exemption applied.

The trio of employees lost in a county circuit court but won in the state court of appeals. The Nov. 20 high court ruling upheld the appellate court's decision. The school district must reinstate the plaintiffs' old jobs and pay.

Group Against Bilingual Plan

Opponents of a proposed California ballot initiative that would severely curtail bilingual education in the state's schools have launched a campaign to defeat the proposed measure.

Backers of the "Citizens for an Educated America: No on Unz" campaign include such groups as the state's two major teachers' unions, its school administrators' organization, the California Association for Bilingual Education, and politicians like Democratic U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra.

The English for the Children initiative generally would require that the state's nearly 1.4 million students with limited English skills be taught in English in special "sheltered English" classes for no more than a year before moving into the mainstream.

Sponsors say students do not learn English well or fast enough in bilingual education. Opponents say the initiative is an inappropriate one-size-fits-all approach.

The chief sponsors are Ron K. Unz, a Silicon Valley businessman and a 1994 Republican gubernatorial candidate, and Gloria Matta Tuchman, a teacher and longtime bilingual education critic. ("Plan To Curb Bilingual Ed. Progresses in Calif.," Oct. 15, 1997.)

Supporters last month said they had filed more than 700,000 signatures to meet the Dec. 1 deadline to qualify the initiative for the June primary ballot. They need 433,269 valid signatures, as verified by the California secretary of state's office.

Union Settles Teachers' Suit

The Pennsylvania State Education Association recently settled a federal lawsuit brought by seven teachers who challenged the way their "fair share" dues were spent.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, based in Springfield, Va., sued on behalf of the teachers, who are not members of the union. Although they don't pay full dues, the teachers are required to pay for costs associated with collective bargaining.

Last June, the foundation lost its bid to have the lawsuit certified as a class action covering other fair-share payers in Pennsylvania. Under the Oct. 23 settlement, six of the teachers will receive refunds of $363.20 each. Another teacher, the lead plaintiff in the case, will get $74.56.

Aureliano Sanchez-Arango, a spokes-man for the foundation, said the decision means that any future fair-share payers will be charged less money. But Wythe Keever, a spokesman for the PSEA, disputed that assertion.

In another case brought by the Los Angeles-based Individual Rights Foundation, a California arbitrator last month rejected a challenge by 1,250 teachers to the way their fair-share dues were calculated.

Former Chief Admits Theft

The former superintendent of the Muskegon Heights school district in Michigan pleaded no contest Nov. 18 to two felony counts of embezzlement.

Eddie West Jr., 54, resigned as superintendent in September after being charged with 16 counts of embezzlement. In the plea agreement, prosecutors dropped 14 of the counts. Sentencing is set for Jan. 9.

Mr. West allegedly took money from the 2,900-student district by using a school system Visa card for personal expenses, said Les Bowen, the chief trial attorney for the Muskegon County prosecutor's office. While the prosecutor's office will recommend that Mr. West be held responsible for $10,000 of embezzled funds in the sentencing process, Mr. West has pleaded no contest to taking $1,150.

Mr. West's lawyer, John R. Beason, said that the school system didn't have "restraints or policies" for how its credit card should be used. "The only problem with Mr. West was that he did not pay the expenditures back in a timely fashion."

Harassment Claims Probed

City and federal civil rights officers are investigating charges of sexual harassment and age bias leveled against a Houston middle school principal by 13 of his former employees.

The employees, eight of whom are teachers, allege that Principal Ben Carmona of Patrick Henry Middle School made sexual comments and then transferred them to other schools after they complained, said Gayle Fallon, the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, which is representing the employees. They also allege that they were singled out because of their ages.

Mr. Carmona, who is on administrative leave, "has proclaimed his innocence and denies the charges," said Terry Abbott, the press secretary for the 212,000-student Houston school district.

The Houston schools and the Houston office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are investigating. After concluding one investigation, EEOC officials wrote that Mr. Carmona had created "a hostile work environment" through his jokes, innuendoes, and gestures. The EEOC added that the district's policy for dealing with sexual-harassment complaints was ineffective.

Former Teacher Charged

A former elementary school teacher, distraught that her contract with a North Carolina district had been terminated, has been charged with shooting at a district administrator, sheriff's department officials said.

Deborah Faye Brogden of Greensboro was charged last month with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill after shooting at Daniel M. Thomas Jr., the assistant superintendent in charge of personnel for the Rowan-Salisbury public schools, after an argument outside his home. Mr. Thomas ran after Ms. Brogden pointed a gun at him. He was not hurt.

Ms. Brogden, who taught math to gifted and talented students in the 19,730-student district during the 1996-97 school year, had met with Mr. Thomas on several occasions since last June, when the decision not to extend her contract was made. She had taught in the state since 1985.

Teacher Fired Over Search

The New Haven, Conn., school board has dismissed a physical education teacher who participated in the strip search of 22 5th graders to look for $40 missing from a classmate.

The board voted unanimously on Nov. 13 to dismiss Marie Young, a teacher at Jackie Robinson Middle School. The district has already fired a security aide who participated in the search. It has also begun termination proceedings against the assistant principal of the school, said Jay Bovilsky, the district's lawyer.

The school board rejected the recommendation of a hearing panel, which had ruled 2-1 in Ms. Young's favor. The panel majority said the district had a poorly communicated policy on student searches.

But Superintendent Reginald Mayo recommended that the board dismiss Ms. Young for showing poor judgment.

Ex-Offender Faces Charge

A teacher in a Roman Catholic high school could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of breaking a New Hampshire law that bars convicted sexual offenders from working with children.

The Hillsborough County attorney's office says that Brother Shawn McEnany broke the state prohibition by taking a job at the 800-student Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, N.H., in 1990, two years after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor sexual-contact charge involving a 15-year-old female parochial school student in Maine.

Following a local journalist's inquiry, Nashua police investigated the matter and arrested Brother McEnany. Later this month a grand jury will decide if the case should go to trial.

A lawyer representing the teacher said Brother McEnany did not believe that the New Hampshire law, which went into effect after his Maine conviction, applied to a misdemeanor.

Conviction in School Deaths

A 19-year-old was found guilty Nov. 20 in the fatal shootings of a teacher and a student two years ago when he was a senior at a Lynnville, Tenn., high school.

Jamie Rouse was sentenced to life in prison without parole for walking into Richland High School with a rifle and killing 14-year-old student Diane Collins and teacher Carolyn Foster.

He was also convicted of the attempted murder of another teacher and the football coach, and will be sentenced on those charges later this month.

15 Arrested in Lunch Brawl

What began as a fistfight between two students at a Philadelphia high school turned into a brawl involving hundreds of students and took more than 100 police officers to control.

When the melee died down, 15 students at Strawberry Mansion High School were arrested on charges including assaulting a police officer and disorderly conduct.

The fight broke out in the cafeteria while nearly 500 of the school's 2,300 students were eating lunch.

All of the students arrested in the Nov. 19 incident have been suspended, and officials are making arrangements to send them to alternative schools, officials said.

Major Differences

Eighth graders--especially those who are poor--whose teachers do not have a degree in mathematics tend to score lower on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in math.

School lunch eligibility Average 1996 NAEP math scores Percentage of students taught by teachers with math majors
Math major No math major
Not eligible 283.3* 277.8* 48.1%
Eligible 259.9* 248.0* 37.7%

*On a 500-point scale.
SOURCE: National Assessment of Educational Progress

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