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News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Appeals Court Allows Suit Over Employee's Firing

An auditor fired from the New Orleans public schools after issuing a critical report can sue the superintendent and current and former school board members over his termination, a federal appeals court says.

Upholding a lower-court decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit sided with dismissed auditor Carlos Samuel on March 31. The board members and outgoing Superintendent Morris Holmes are not immune from being sued under federal or state "whistleblower" laws, the appellate panel said.

Under federal civil rights law governing due process, however, the board members could not be sued because they relied on the advice of the superintendent in firing Mr. Samuel. But, the court said, the superintendent could be sued under that civil-rights statute.

Mr. Samuel, who is unemployed, alleges he was fired in January 1996 in retaliation for a report suggesting the district overcharged the federal government by $6 million over 10 years. He is seeking $500,000 in damages and $65,000 in back pay.

Ernest L. Jones, a lawyer representing the 82,000-student district, said that he did not plan an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Ariz. School Loses Charter

A vocational charter school in Mesa, Ariz., sponsored by the Window Rock school district has had its charter revoked.

The Arizona Career and Technology High School had already shut its doors in January as a result of numerous alleged management problems, according to district Superintendent Paul Hanley. District officials have charged that the school filed inflated student-attendance figures, resulting in the 300-student school's receiving more than its fair share of state aid. In addition, district officials at the March 30 revocation hearing said the Mesa facility was unsafe.

The 3,300-student district, which serves students on the expansive Navajo Nation reservation in the state's northeast corner, had sponsored 12 charter campuses through seven charters in recent years. Several sites declared bankruptcy and closed earlier this year.

Last year, Window Rock officials gave the charter schools until June 1999 to find another sponsor.

District Cuts Web Links

Minneapolis school officials have disconnected links from the district's official World Wide Web site to the personal Web pages of district employees.

The district acted after a local newspaper reporter found discussions of Biblical prophecy and beer drinking on several of the personal Web pages.

Only about 10 out of about 800 employees have the personal Web pages.They pay $140 per year for the 46,000-student district's Internet service, which allows them to access the Internet from home, said Jerry Dalluge, the district's manager of information services.

The district does not monitor the personal sites, although it has a policy drafted--but not yet official--stating that the content on the sites must be "appropriate." The district will continue to offer Internet services and Web sites to staff members, although they will no longer be linked to the district's site.

Internet 'Death' List at School

A list of names titled "Persons Who Deserve to Die and How" that was posted on the Internet and later circulated at Cashmere (Wash.) High School last month worried school officials in light of recent school violence elsewhere in the nation.

But Joseph Crowder, the superintendent of the 1,620-student Cashmere district, said the Chelan County prosecutor said he would not prosecute because the list--which has a tone that is by turns satirical and vulgar--did not imply a real threat to any student.

The list, which was posted on a commercial World Wide Web site but circulated at the 420-student high school on paper, had first names only, but the names "matched up well with the student body," Mr. Crowder said. The writer has not yet been identified, Mr. Crowder said.

A similar list was discovered at Cashmere Middle School. In that case, a student admitted to writing it and posting it on the Web, he said.

Pontiac Gets Interim Head

Former Gary, Ind., Superintendent James Hawkins has been named the interim superintendent of the 13,000-student Pontiac, Mich., schools.

Mr. Hawkins, a former Pontiac school principal, replaces Sam F. Abram, who was put on paid leave last month by the school board until his contract expires in June 1999.

A national search for a permanent schools chief will begin this month.

District officials would not comment on the decision about Mr. Abram, who was at the helm of the Pontiac schools for nearly four years.

Mr. Abram said that he would not speculate on the decision because he is considering legal action. But, he said, "I have numerous calls, letters, and personal contacts that make me know for sure that what we were doing here was working."

Scouts Can Still Recruit

Despite the objections of an atheist parent, the Boy Scouts of America can continue to recruit at Oregon public schools.

State education officials there issued a finding March 27 that the Boy Scouts may come to public schools and encourage students to join the group, despite the religious aspect of some of the organization's activities. Officials said the practice was approved because the Scouts are not primarily a religious group.

The finding was prompted by Nancy Powell, who filed a complaint with the state education department after her son brought home Boy Scout recruiting materials. She argued the group should not be at the schools because it discriminates against atheists, such as her family.

The California Supreme Court ruled late last month that the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, can legally exclude atheists, agnostics, and homosexuals.

Judge Upholds Mascot Ban

The Los Angeles Unified School District can ban American Indian mascots from its schools over the objections of alumni, a federal judge ruled last week.

An alumni group from Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, Calif., where the mascot was an Indian brave, brought suit against the Los Angeles school board in January. They claimed the policy denied their constitutional rights.

The group, Save Our Braves, has campaigned to drop the policy since it was implemented last fall. U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins rejected the argument. Of the 681,500-student district's 660 K-12 schools, only four were affected by the ban.

Deal Offered on Searches

McMinnville, Ore., city and school officials have offered cash settlements to the families of 36 middle school girls who were subjected to a strip search to look for missing items from a locker room.

During a physical education class Jan. 29 at Duniway Middle School, someone reported a theft of money, a compact disc player, jewelry, and other items from a girl's locker.

The vice principal and a police officer assigned to the school called in female police officers to search the girls, including requiring them to shake their bras and lower their underwear. They searched three dozen girls before district officials put a stop to the search. The missing items were not found.

The vice principal resigned, and the school police officer was reassigned. The local prosecutor found last month that no criminal laws were broken in the incident.

But 11 families have filed notices of their intent to file civil lawsuits. The offer from the city and the 5,300-student district would provide $5,000, plus money for legal fees, for each family if it agreed not to sue.

Josephine Dobbs Clement, a longtime advocate for public education, civil rights leader, and the first black woman to sit on the Durham, N.C., school board, died March 23 in Atlanta. She was 80.

Mrs. Clement was instrumental in pushing the Durham public schools to integrate. During the 1950s, she and her husband filed lawsuits to obtain equal educational opportunities for their children in the city school system.

The City Council appointed Mrs. Clement to the school board in 1973. At the time, the board was involved in crafting a plan for integration of what was still largely a racially segregated school system. Mrs. Clement remained on the board until 1983, serving five terms as its chairwoman.

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