News in Brief: A National Roundup
Charlotte School Board Wants Desegregation Order To Remain
Agreeing that "vestiges of segregation" still remain in the district, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board in North Carolina has asked a federal judge not to remove a decades-old desegregation order.
In an executive session this month, the board agreed to not to seek "unitary" status for the system. Such status would have essentially closed the historic Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case.
Responding to an inquiry from the judge, the board cited disparities in achievement between black students, who make up more than 41 percent of the 96,000-student system, and white students.
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard D. Potter had raised the issue of unitary status--meaning a district is free of the vestiges of a segregated system--in agreeing last month to consolidate with the long-dormant Swann case a new suit brought by the parent of a white student who was rejected by a district magnet school. ("N.C. Lawsuit Revives Historic Integration Case," March 25, 1998.)
The parent's suit is expected to go to trial by next April.
Pa. Voucher Plan Challenged
A small Pennsylvania school district's decision to set up its own voucher program has earned it a legal challenge.
Eight local residents filed a lawsuit in state court last week against the 4,100-student Southeast Delco district, which last month approved plans to give vouchers to area parents who send their children to private or religious schools. ("Pa. District Gives Go-Ahead To Local Voucher Plan," April 1, 1998.)
The suit is backed by several organizations including the People for the American Way Foundation and the Pennsylvania Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.
The group argues that the vouchers would rob the public schools of needed funds while creating unconstitutional entanglements between church and state.
D.C. Chief To Depart Early
The head of the District of Columbia schools will leave his post April 30, two months ahead of schedule, after members of the federally created board that oversees the city's finances blamed him for a $62 million deficit in the school budget. The announcement came just weeks after he said he would step down June 30 from the job he has held since late 1996. (" D.C. Schools Chief Announces Resignation," April 1, 1998.)
Julius W. Becton Jr. wrote in an April 14 letter announcing his expedited departure that members of the financial-control board had failed to rally to his defense over the shortfall, which he said was the result of flawed spending assumptions approved by the board.
Arlene Ackerman, the school district's chief academic officer, will replace the former U.S. Army general on May 1, a spokesman for the control board said.
Admissions Policy Overturned
The Arlington, Va., public schools' admission process for a countywide magnet school discriminates against white students, a federal judge ruled last week.
In an effort to increase the number of black and Hispanic students at Arlington Traditional School, which serves about 300 students in grades K-5, the 18,365-student district has been using a weighted formula that gives minorities a greater statistical chance of admission. But U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan, who last year rejected a similar selection process, said the newer weighted system still discriminates against white children.
The decision could affect 46 students who have already been told that they will be attending the school in the fall, and dozens more who were rejected. The ruling could also have an impact on the district's H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, which uses the same weighted lottery. A final ruling is expected in about two weeks.
L.A. Replaces Advocacy Panels
The Los Angeles school board voted April 13 to replace seven commissions that serve as advocates for specific minority and special-interest groups with one panel charged with looking out for all the groups' interests.
The commissions, which cost the district $890,000 a year, include panels representing the interests of American Indian, Asian-Pacific, African-American, and Mexican-American students. The three other commissions address issues concerning gay and lesbian students, gender equity, and special education. Minority students make up nearly 90 percent of the district's 667,000 students.
District spokeswoman Socorro Serrano said the school board created the new Human Relations Commission in part to avoid legal challenges under Proposition 209, the 1996 ballot measure that ended most racial and gender preferences by public agencies in the state.
Paterson Teachers Back at Work
Teachers in the state-run Paterson, N.J., schools went back to work April 13 following an all-night bargaining session between their union and district negotiators.
The teachers, who have been without a new contract since July, struck April 8-9. The action prompted sharp criticism from state officials because it coincided with the administration of a test required for high school graduation in New Jersey. On the strike's second day, administrators in the 24,500-student district won a court order requiring the teachers to return to work. (" Strike Halts Student Tests In State-Run N.J. District," April 15, 1998.)
The disrupted high school proficiency exams were administered last week after the teachers returned to their classrooms.
Homecoming Case Settled
The Montgomery County, Ala., school board has reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount with a student who said her mixed-racial heritage affected her chances of being nominated for homecoming queen.
A policy dating to when the district was desegregated in the 1970s required students at Cloverdale Junior High School to nominate both a black and a white candidate for homecoming queen.
Bethany Godby, who has a black mother and a white father, said her bid for the title was denied after students nominated her as a white candidate. Her school records listed her as black. Ms. Godby and her parents filed a federal lawsuit against the 34,000-student district in fall 1996. The school board changed the policy in October of that year.
Spec. Ed. Parents Win Suit
The Hillsborough County, Fla., school board has been ordered to pay $600,000 to the parents of a disabled boy who say the district refused to provide the special education services he required.
In the case of Whitehead v. School Board of Hillsborough County, a federal jury decided that the board had retaliated against the parents by refusing to offer individual speech-therapy sessions to their son, even though it was ordered in his individualized education plan.
The jury awarded each parent $300,000 under Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The jury rejected the parents' claims that the board discriminated against their son.
The lawyers for the parents are also seeking more than $400,000 in fees. Thomas M. Gonzalez, the lawyer for the 147,500-student school district, said the district plans to appeal.
Start Times Changed Again
The Fayette County school board in Lexington, Ky., is having a tough time deciding what time schools should start. In February, the board voted to start the school day later, beginning next fall. But several parents' objections have caused the board to change its policy again.
The board plans to keep this year's starting time, with all schools beginning between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m.
Starting early has caused the 32,500-student district to lose about $400,000 in state aid this school year because of lower attendance by middle and high school students, Superintendent Peter F. Flynn said.
L. Clure Morton, the federal judge who ordered massive crosstown busing to racially integrate the Nashville, Tenn., schools in 1971, died April 11. He was 82.
Judge Morton said in a 1996 interview that he and his wife were ostracized in white legal and social circles following his busing decision. He said he was personally opposed to busing and was simply applying federal law. The order is still in effect, although officials and plaintiffs are working on a plan to reduce busing and end federal oversight of the district.
President Nixon named Mr. Morton to the U.S. District Court for central Tennessee in 1970. Among his other cases, Judge Morton ruled in 1982 that a Tennessee law requiring a minute of silence each day in the state's public schools was unconstitutional.