Published Online: March 4, 1998

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Settlement Reached in Fla. Over Controversial Bible Class

A Bible course in Florida's Lee County schools will be renamed and students taking the class will also have to enroll in a world-history or comparative-religion course, under a Feb. 25 settlement.

The out-of-court settlement between school officials, parents, and religious and civil liberties groups, requires that the course title be changed from "Bible History" to "An Introduction to the Bible."

The Fort Myers-based Lee County school board approved the course in March of last year, and high schools began offering it at the beginning of January.

Opponents filed a lawsuit against the 53,000-school system in December, and in mid-January a federal judge issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the New Testament portion of the course but allowing the Old Testament to be studied.

Miami lawyer Thomas R. Julin, who represented the plaintiffs in the suit, said in an interview that although his clients would prefer no Bible course at all, they are satisfied that the Bible will no longer be taught as fact. Lee County officials could not be reached for comment.

W.Va. Takes Over District

West Virginia education officials have reached an agreement with the Mingo County district to run its schools for the next four years.

The state moved to take over the system in January, citing four years of budget deficits, the third-lowest achievement-test scores in the state, and poor leadership and teaching.

Mingo officials originally sought to appeal the state's move, but last month they consented to the arrangement that keeps the Mingo board in place but replaces the superintendent. Last week, the state board appointed the former superintendent of the Preston Co., W. Va., schools, John T. Mattern, to the post. Under the agreement, state officials will also oversee all financial decisions until a $2.3 million deficit in this year's $47 million budget is erased. In addition, the state will be responsible for all personnel decisions.

The takeover of the 6,000-student system is the second in state history, and not as extensive as the 1992 takeover of the schools in Logan County. Those schools have since returned to local control.

Catholic School Not Liable

A Roman Catholic high school cannot be held liable for alleged sexual harassment under a federal anti-discrimination law because the school is not a recipient of federal money, a judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon of Brooklyn in New York City dismissed most of a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed against St. Anthony's High School in South Huntington, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Rockville Centre.

Lauren Buckley, a former student at the 2,100-student school, alleged in the suit that she was subjected to sexual harassment by a teacher at the school. Her lawyers argued that the school and the archdiocese could be held liable under Title IX, which prohibits all forms of sexual discrimination in schools receiving federal funds, because one of the officials to whom Ms. Buckley complained about the alleged harassment was a school psychologist assigned to St. Anthony's by the South Huntington school district.

Judge Gershon rejected the argument that Title IX liability could be extended to the Catholic high school because of the involvement of an employee of a public school district.

"The two entities have no institutional affiliation," the judge said in her Feb. 5 ruling. "There is no evidence that they share funds."

Lead Endangering Poor Youths

Poor children enrolled in Medicaid are more than three times as likely to have high levels of lead in their blood as children not enrolled in a government-run health plan, a federal report says.

The recent U.S. General Accounting Office study concludes that more than half a million children on Medicaid--about one in every 12 children between the ages of 1 and 5--have harmful levels of lead in their blood.

Despite federal mandates that children be screened for lead toxicity, 81 percent of children on Medicaid, the federal health-care program for low-income people, have never been checked for lead poisoning, the report released last month says.

Lead poisoning, considered to be the most serious environmental threat to children's health, has been shown to impair children's ability to learn.

The fact that children on Medicaid are poorer and may live in older and less well-maintained housing may explain the high exposure levels, said Bernice Steinhardt, the director for public health at the gao, the investigative arm of Congress.

Ms. Steinhardt said the GAO is planning to survey states to find ways of improving lead-screening procedures.

Schools Chief Takes Pay Cut

One of the nation's best-paid superintendents has voluntarily cut his own salary.

Herman A. Sirois of the Levittown, N.Y., school district will see his salary and benefits package drop 18 percent, from its current $224,000 to $195,000, in July.

Mr. Sirois said the rollback will put his compensation more in line with what other mostly middle-class districts on Long Island are paid. He said that "give and take" should be part of the long-term relationship he has with the 7,500-student district, where he has served for 12 years and hopes to serve for 10 more.

"I decided to take a reduction in pay because my pay had gone much higher than the norm," the superintendent said in an interview.

Last month, the Levittown school board unanimously adopted a modified contract as proposed by Mr. Sirois. The superintendent and the board had been considering for two years a change to the 7 percent annual increase built into his contracts.

Teacher Data On-Line in Minn.

Beginning this week, information on the teaching licenses of Minnesota educators will be posted on the Internet, the state's department of children, families, and learning has announced.

Anyone who types in a teacher's name or license file number at the department's World Wide Web site will learn if the teacher has an active or expired license, said Doug Gray, a spokesman for the department, which runs the licensing system.

The new plan had already been under consideration, but was spurred by the January arrest of a teacher accused of having sex with a student, Mr. Gray said.

The teacher allegedly lied about his teaching credentials to his employer, the 1,100-student Norwood-Young American schools, west of Minneapolis. State law bars districts from hiring unlicensed teachers.

After protests from teachers, the department backed away from listing teachers' home addresses on the Web site. But home addresses are still available by written request, Mr. Gray said.

Milestones

Charles Cogen, the first president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City and later the president of the UFT's parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, died Feb. 18 at the age of 94.

Charles Cogen

Mr. Cogen was one of the original faculty members at the Bronx High School of Science. In 1959, he became the president of the 2,000-member Teachers Guild, one of more than 100 groups representing New York City teachers. In 1960, the guild merged with the High School Teachers Association to form the UFT, with Mr. Cogen as president. That same year, he led New York City teachers on a landmark strike to win collective bargaining rights. Mr. Cogen assumed the presidency of the national union in 1964, retiring in 1968.

Abraham A. Ribicoff

Abraham A. Ribicoff, a former U.S. secretary of health, education, and welfare, U.S. senator, and governor of Connecticut, died Feb. 22. He was 87.

The lifelong Democrat served as a state lawmaker and congressman before becoming governor in 1955. In 1961, he joined the Kennedy administration as HEW secretary. His department included the U.S. Office of Education.

As a three-term member of the Senate, first elected in 1962, he was noted for his support of integrating public schools.

Douglas F. Bodwell, a public-broadcasting executive who helped acquire funding for 22 school television series, including the Emmy Award winners "Reading Rainbow," "3-2-1 Contact," and "Square One TV," died Feb. 16.

As the director of education at the Washington-based Corporation for Public Broadcasting from 1974 until his death at age 55, Mr. Bodwell also organized the CPB's participation in a five-year outreach project to encourage adults to learn to read.

He helped initiate the Adult Learning Service of the Public Broadcasting Service; Learning Link, a computer network for public broadcasting stations and schools; and the Satellite Educational Resources Consortium, a 23-state distance education partnership.

P. Alistair MacKinnon, a longtime Washington lobbyist for the New York Department of Education, died Feb. 14. He was 65.

Mr. MacKinnon retired from his position as the agency's federal education legislation coordinator last year. Among other positions he held before joining the state education department in 1969, Mr. MacKinnon worked in the U.S. Office of Education, where he helped craft the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act.

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