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News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Dallas School Board Settles With Chief Finance Officer

The Dallas school board has reached a deal with its chief financial officer that pays him $600,000 in exchange for resigning and dropping two $10 million lawsuits.

Matthew Harden Jr. had filed separate suits against a former board president and the board as a whole over allegations stemming from an ongoing corruption investigation that has resulted in convictions of 13 of his subordinates.

Mr. Harden, a 20-year veteran in the 158,000-student district, accused the board in federal court of attempting to fire him and ruin his career because he is black. He filed a separate suit in state court against board member Kathleen Leos, who had accused Mr. Harden of mismanagement. He alleged that she had conspired to ruin his career.

Mr. Harden also had battled with former Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez after she helped launch the corruption probe. He accused her in another lawsuit of defamation and sexual harassment. Ms. Gonzalez, who resigned last fall, was sentenced this month to 15 months in prison for illegally buying bedroom and office furniture with public funds. ("Former Dallas Superintendent Sentenced to 15 Months," Feb. 11, 1997.)

Mr. Harden resigned Feb. 12, and district officials were planning a national search for his successor.

School Uniform Plan for N.Y.C.

Prekindergarten and elementary students in the New York City schools would start wearing uniforms in the fall of 1999 under a plan proposed last week by the president of the city's school board.

William C. Thompson Jr. will need the support of at least three of the other six board members to win adoption of the proposed policy. A vote is scheduled for next month.

Under his plan, schools would be able to opt out if local "school-based planning teams" voted against such a requirement. Schools could also vote to begin requiring uniforms this coming fall, if they wished. Individual children could be exempted for religious or medical reasons, such as an allergy to a certain fabric. Families that could not afford to buy uniforms would receive financial help.

Several schools in the 1.1 million-student district, the nation's largest, already have uniform policies. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has expressed support for Mr. Thompson's plan, but Schools Chancellor Rudy F. Crew said last week that he was still considering it.

School Banned for Racial Slurs

Alleged racial name-calling of Indiana high school basketball players by fans of the opposing team has prompted officials to impose swift and severe punishment on the host school.

The incident took place at a Martinsville, Ind., high school boys' basketball game Jan. 23.

According to Jim Russell of the Indiana High School Athletic Association in Indianapolis, players on Bloomington North High School's basketball team, a state powerhouse, were taunted before and during the game with racial slurs by fans from Martinsville, which is 20 miles north of Bloomington.

Bloomington North High is a racially and ethnically diverse school that enrolls the children of many Indiana University faculty members. The school's basketball team includes three players from Africa and one from Indonesia, as well as four African-Americans, Mr. Russell said. There are no black players on the Martinsville High School team.

The IHSSA has placed Martinsville High on probation for one year, and all home games and all sporting events at the school have been prohibited. In addition, the school's administration has been directed to take steps to prevent such behavior in the future.

San Antonio School Revamped

The superintendent of the San Antonio school district has ordered the restructuring of a large, comprehensive high school into four separate academies, each with its own principal and teaching staff. The school board approved the new administrative appointments Feb. 2 by a 6-1 vote.

Diana Lam

Superintendent Diana Lam appointed a monitor last July for the 2,317-student Thomas Jefferson High School because of its high teacher and student absenteeism, disciplinary problems, and below-average performance on state tests.

In a report released last month, the monitor described a school where teachers and administrators were still at odds and where the teachers' perceptions of their effectiveness did not match students' performance.

Under the new arrangement, students will take all of their classes within one of four academies, each with a distinctive theme: fine arts; architecture, design, and technology; leadership, government, and diplomacy; and environmental science. Athletics and other extracurricular activities will remain schoolwide.

All of the teachers will have to reapply for their jobs or receive a new assignment elsewhere in the district.

Ms. Lam has requested that the rest of the district's high schools begin discussions about restructuring, with the goal of preparing a plan by December for implementation in August 1999.

Dogs Attack During Recess

Nineteen children and two adults were injured when a pack of dogs attacked a group of about 200 Atlantic City, N.J., 1st and 2nd graders during their morning recess last week.

Teachers, custodians, and other adults, using brooms and sticks, chased the two pit bulls and one Rottweiler from the city park where the Uptown School Complex students were playing.

Victims were treated at a local hospital and released the same day. Two of the dogs were immediately apprehended. The third was captured two days later.

School officials will ask the city to fence in the two-acre park. The dogs had apparently escaped from a nearby yard. Their owner could face criminal charges for each person attacked.

Pledge-Related Suit Settled

A former public school student who claimed she was excluded from the National Honor Society because she refused to pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag has won $60,000 as part of an out-of-court settlement with the city of Waterbury, Conn.

The agreement announced Feb. 5 settled the 2-year-old lawsuit of Tisha Byars, who claimed that Wilby High School had discriminated against her when it refused to admit her to the National Honor Society. Ms. Byers, who is black, said the school based its decision on her refusal to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Arguing that blacks are not afforded freedom and justice in America, her parents had discouraged her from saying the pledge.

School officials said their decision was due to an unrelated disciplinary action against Ms. Byars, who is now in her first year at the University of Connecticut.

In addition to the cash settlement, the city agreed to amend the district's student handbooks to explain that students are not required to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943 in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that public schools cannot impose such a requirement.

Mich. Revamps State Tests

The Michigan state board of education has approved revisions to the state's high school proficiency tests that were passed by the legislature in December.

The unanimous vote by the board means that, as early as April, 11th grade students will begin taking the newly condensed set of proficiency exams in mathematics, science, reading, writing, and social studies. In the past, the tests lasted 11 hours; that length has been shortened to a maximum of eight hours total. Results are to be released in September.

The board is to hear back from staff members in April about recommendations for new categories of student performance on the exams. The state has done away with the controversial labels of "proficient," "novice," and "not yet novice."

The Feb. 5 board action also renamed what had been known as the High School Proficiency Test. It is now the Michigan Educational Assessment Program High School Tests in Mathematics, Science, Reading, Writing, and Social Studies.

Ky. Principal Barred

The former principal of a Lawrence County, Ky., elementary school who allegedly encouraged teachers to cheat on a state exam has been barred from serving as a school administrator until next year.

The state's teacher-certification arm, the Education Professional Standards Board, ruled Jan. 27 that Toni Armstrong, the former principal of Louisa Elementary School, may not hold any administrator job in the state again until 1999. The board also stripped her teaching certification for 90 days and ordered her to undergo training on ethical testing practices.

State investigators determined last July that under the direction of Ms. Armstrong, some 4th grade teachers at the school engaged in an assortment of "inappropriate test practices." ("News in Brief: Test Violations Uncovered," Aug. 6, 1997.)

Ms. Armstrong, who was promoted to district elementary-curriculum supervisor last year, could not be reached for comment.

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