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News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Students on the Move

Despite a lack of school bus service, more than 450 5th graders from the violence-plagued Albany Avenue School in Atlantic City, N.J., found their way last week to the newly renovated Central Junior High School, now known as the Ohio Avenue School. State Commissioner of Education Leo Klagholz ordered the move because of concern for the students' safety.


James M. Nabrit Jr., a prominent civil rights legal scholar who successfully argued the U.S. Supreme Court case that desegregated Washington's public schools, died Dec. 27. He was 97.

Mr. Nabrit, an Atlanta native, also was the president of Howard University in Washington from 1960 to 1969, after having joined its law school faculty in the mid-1930s.

Among the highlights of his career was his litigation of the case challenging the District of Columbia's segregated school system. The lawsuit, Bolling v. Sharpe, was a companion case to four other school desegregation suits.

The high court decided the cases on the same day in May 1954, issuing a separate ruling in Bolling and combining the four others into a single decision. That landmark ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case from Topeka, Kan., declared racially segregated schools to be "inherently unequal."

Charter Schools' Labor Status Is Clarified in Minnesota

Teachers employed by a Duluth, Minn., charter school run by the Edison Project are not part of the local district's collective bargaining unit, a state labor agency says.

Under state law, a charter school's nonprofit governing board is considered the public employer of the school staff, the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services ruled last month.

The Duluth affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers had asked the bureau to clarify the status of the charter school's teachers. The local union contends that management of the school by the for-profit, New York City-based Edison is a misuse of the state charter school law. The union is considering an appeal of the ruling.

Teachers at the school, which is sponsored by the local district, have not organized and have not formed a bargaining unit, according to a spokesman for the mediation bureau.

Bilingual Ed. Reforms Mulled

Chicago schools officials have announced a plan that they say will boost accountability in the district's bilingual education programs.

Of the 424,000 students in the nation's third-largest school system, 71,000 are considered to have limited English proficiency.

Under the proposed plan, most students would undergo a transition into a mainstream classroom after three years of bilingual education, depending on their academic performance and English skills.

Currently, 41 percent of students with limited English skills stay in the program for more than three years; 27 percent stay more than four.

The plan envisions a more uniform bilingual education program in which students are increasingly taught in English over time. The district's plan also would include bilingual "bridge" programs over the summer, continued tutorial support for students who move into the mainstream, and increased professional development for teachers.

"This plan is making everyone accountable for the progress of our bilingual education students," Paul G. Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, said in a statement last month. School board members may vote on the measure at a Jan. 28 board meeting. If approved, it would take effect next fall.

Christian Hymns Permitted

The inclusion of Christian hymns in a public high school's music curriculum and choral performances does not violate the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 2-1 ruling by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit came last month in a case involving Salt Lake City's West High School.

Rachel Bauchman was a sophomore when she and her family challenged West High's choral program in 1995.

Ms. Bauchman alleged that the choral director had for years selected Christian music for the school choir to sing at graduation ceremonies and at outside performances, most of which were held in Christian churches.

In its Dec. 18 ruling in Bauchman v. West High School, the appeals court majority said the director could have had valid secular reasons for selecting religious choral works and for arranging to perform them in churches.

The dissenting judge said that the suit raised questions that should have allowed the case to go to trial.

Student Suspension Upheld

School administrators did not violate the rights of a high school senior when they suspended him for distributing a newspaper urging students to urinate in the school's halls, New York state's highest court has ruled.

The state Court of Appeals ruled unanimously last month that Monticello Central district provided the student, Jeffrey Herzog, with appropriate due process protections before suspending him for 10 days.

The court said there was clear evidence that Mr. Herzog had produced the publication and distributed it on the campus of Monticello High School in January 1995.

The publication had also called on students to smoke in the restrooms and write graffiti on the walls, saying that police would not be able to handle a rebellion by all 1,000 students. School officials said they believed the publication could lead to the destruction of school property.

Mr. Herzog's suspension had been overturned by state Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills, who ruled that Mr. Herzog did not get fair notice of the charges against him and that the evidence did not support the student's guilt.

The high court upheld a lower court ruling that reinstated the suspension.

Adviser To Pay in Bond Case

A financial adviser accused of defrauding Pennsylvania districts out of the proceeds of municipal-bond sales has settled a civil lawsuit with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission.

John Gardner Black and two companies he controls, Devon Capital Management Inc. and Financial Management Sciences Inc., agreed to settle an SEC lawsuit accusing them of violations of federal securities laws. Mr. Black and his companies did not admit wrongdoing and will negotiate the amount to be paid in penalties.

The SEC has alleged that Mr. Black defrauded 55 small- and medium-sized Pennsylvania districts, as well as a handful of districts in other states, of $71 million by attempting to hide losses in an investment pool made up of the districts' bond proceeds. ("55 Pa. Districts Victimized By Alleged Financial Scheme," Nov. 12, 1997.)

A federal judge in Pittsburgh approved the civil settlement Dec. 12. Mr. Black still faces a federal criminal investigation.

Md. Approves New Tests

The Maryland board of education has approved a new series of high school tests that students will have to pass to earn a diploma. The unanimous vote last month followed months of debate.

Starting in 2004, seniors will be required to pass three tests--in English, algebra or geometry, and government--to graduate. By 2006, 12th graders will have to pass 10 exams to earn a diploma.

The new exams, to be phased in over three years, will replace the 15-year-old functional tests in reading, writing, and math now required for graduation. The current tests are so rudimentary that most students pass them in middle school.

The state education department will offer extensive teacher training and student tutoring in preparation for the more rigorous tests, said Ron Peiffer, a department spokesman.

Ninth graders will take the first trial tests a year from now. After two years of practice tests, the board could vote to alter the exams if too many students fail, Mr. Peiffer said.

Cleveland Gets Interim Chief

While a federal judge mulls over the fate of the Cleveland schools' governance and desegregation program, state officials have named an interim superintendent.

The district's chief operating officer, James W. Penning, has assumed the position vacated Dec. 31 by Richard A. Boyd, who had led the troubled district under state oversight since 1995, and is now the interim state superintendent in Mississippi.

Mr. Penning has worked in the 76,000-student system since 1969 and served as interim superintendent twice before. He will fill in until a decision is reached by U.S. District Court Judge George W. White on whether to release the district from state supervision and allow Mayor Michael R. White to choose new leadership.

East St. Louis Chief Leaves

The departure of Geraldine Jenkins as the superintendent of the East St. Louis, Ill., schools may usher in more cooperation between the elected school board and a state-appointed oversight panel. Her tenure was a major source of friction between the two groups.

Tensions peaked in 1996, when the board refused to let Ms. Jenkins' contract expire despite the state panel's insistence that she was failing to manage properly the impoverished and low-achieving 12,000-student system.

Ms. Jenkins, who receives $80,000 annually, went on paid administrative leave last month. Her contract is up in May.

The oversight panel and the school board agreed to appoint Stephanie Carpenter, the principal of Hawthorne Elementary School, as interim superintendent, said Richard J. Mark, the chairman of the panel. The Illinois School Boards Association is conducting a national search for a permanent schools chief.

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