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Published in Print: September 16, 1998, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Boy Awarded $1.4 Million For Electrical Accident



The Leon County, Fla., school board was primarily responsible for an accident that left a 14-year-old seriously burned and disabled, said a jury in Tallahassee, which has awarded $1.4 million to the student.

Wilbert Stanley III sustained second- and third-degree burns to his hands and brain damage after a 32-foot aluminum handrail he and another child had been playing with fell onto power lines on the grounds of the district's Riley Elementary School.

The school had been warned by state inspectors that the rail, which had been lying on the ground near a wheelchair ramp for several weeks, was potentially hazardous, according to Ken Connor, the student's lawyer.

Lawyers for the school system argued in the case decided this month that the student should have known he was putting himself in danger.

The 32,000-student district will petition the state legislature for money to pay the award. Officials are still deciding whether to appeal the decision.

--KATHLEEN KENNEDY MANZO

Girl Wins Harassment Case

A federal district court jury has awarded $220,000 to a young woman who charged that officials of her Kentucky school district failed to stop her repeated harassment by classmates.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Alma McGowan alleged that for four years beginning in 1992 she faced sexual harassment and taunts from her classmates because of her national origin. The 17-year-old's mother is a German immigrant. The suit said the family's complaints to officials of the 1,600-student Spencer County district were ignored or dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell applied the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling in Gebser v. Lago Vista Independent School District to the peer-harassment case and held that school officials could be found deliberately indifferent to the girl's complaints. The judge dismissed a second student from the suit, ruling that officials did not have actual knowledge of his alleged harassment.

The jury awarded Ms. McGowan compensatory damages on Sept. 4 after a four-day trial in Louisville. The district is weighing an appeal.

--MARK WALSH

Youth Charged With Bus Tampering

A high school senior in Plymouth, Mass., has been charged with severing the brake lines of more than two dozen school buses on the eve of the opening day of school.

Employees with the school system's bus contractor avoided potential disaster when they discovered the damage Sept. 1 in routine inspections before their morning routes, said schools Superintendent Bernard Sidman. The contractor then borrowed buses from surrounding communities, most of whose schools were not yet in session, to substitute for the vandalized vehicles.

The 17-year-old youth was charged Sept. 4 with 25 counts of malicious destruction of property. Besides the cut brake lines, damage to the buses included some severed gas lines and smashed mirrors.

Mr. Sidman said the suspect did not have a history of serious discipline problems in the 9,000-student district. Police said their investigation may yield more arrests.

--CAROLINE HENDRIE

W.Va. District Officials Depart

West Virginia's largest district has lost four top administrators, including its superintendent and an interim superintendent, in the past six weeks.

Ron Duerring, currently an assistant superintendent, will step up as the interim chief of the 31,600-student Kanawha County schools on Sept. 21. He'll succeed John Clendenen, who resigned to return to his post as principal at the district's Capital High School.

Mr. Clendenen took over on an interim basis last month from Superintendent Jorea Marple, who asked the board of the Charleston-area district to, in effect, demote her to the head of the adult education center.

Along with Ms. Marple, the district's other two top administrators--the deputy superintendent and the assistant superintendent for curriculum--resigned from their jobs. The moves followed months of tension between the superintendent and the five-member school board.

--BESS KELLER

LAUSD, Trucker Charged in Spill

The Los Angeles city attorney's office has filed criminal charges against a tanker-truck driver and the Los Angeles Unified School District that employs him after the vehicle spilled 160 gallons of diesel fuel in a residential neighborhood.

According to the Sept. 1 suit, the truck, which refuels the district's bus fleet, had traveled three-fourths of a mile before a passing motorist noticed the leak.

Both the 680,000-student district and Randy Strickland, the 45-year-old driver of the vehicle, face six charges, including failure to close the safety valve on the tanker and failure to identify hazardous material on shipping documents, said Ted Goldstein, a spokesman for the city attorney's office. Each count carries a punishment of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for the driver. The district could be fined $6,000 under the law.

Howard Friedman, an assistant general counsel for the district, said last week that the spilled fuel was immediately contained and that no fuel reached any storm drains.

"We don't have any particular concern that an overzealous city attorney is going to be successful in the prosecution," he said.

--JESSICA PORTNER

School Safety Site Launched

Motivated by recent incidents of school violence, the nation's state attorneys general and school boards across the country have created a World Wide Web site that will serve as a clearinghouse for information on preventing and reducing violence.

The National Association of Attorneys General, based in Washington, and the National School Boards Association early this month announced the launch of the "Keep Schools Safe" site.

The site will provide information for parents, educators, and community leaders. It features school safety resources, detailed plans for school security, tips to help parents spot potential problems, and a 10-point safety plan.

The site is at www.keepschoolssafe.org.

--ADRIENNE D. COLES

Districts Cited for Anti-Gay Bias

Almost half the districts surveyed on anti-homosexual bias in schools received a failing grade, according to the second annual report card on the issue released last week by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

The report card, which looked at 42 of the nation's largest public districts, found that only eight districts received an A and that the overall average was only a D.

It also found that 32 of the districts provided no training for staff members on issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual, and "transgender" students. The report estimates that nearly 2 million of those students attend schools in districts that received a failing grade.

The report card by the New York City-based nonprofit organization has been endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the National Association of School Psychologists.

--KAREN L. ABERCROMBIE

Librarian Battles Reassignment

A Connecticut elementary school librarian who claims she was switched to a teaching job as punishment for speaking out against a policy to restrict student access to some books is back in the classroom. A federal judge declined to grant an injunction blocking the transfer.

New Bethlehem

U.S. District Judge Dominic Squatrito in Hartford had temporarily barred the South School in Windsor Locks from reassigning Cheryl Ward, the school librarian for the past nine years, to a teaching position. He reversed that decision last month.

Ms. Ward's lawsuit against the superintendent and the school board is pending.

Ms. Ward said the reassignment was in retaliation for her protest of a policy that would place materials deemed controversial in a special section of the library. The school's 500 students would have toget parental permission to use thematerials. Officials adopted the policy after a parent complained about Chris Lynch's book Iceman, which concerns a troubled teenage boy who is preoccupied with death.

School officials said Ms. Ward, who has previous teaching experience, was needed in the classroom. Several other staff members were also reassigned, they said.

--KATHLEEN KENNEDY MANZO

N.J. Search Manual Released

School administrators in New Jersey have a new resource to guide them in searching students for such contraband as weapons or illicit drugs. The state attorney general's office has published a 273-page manual to help educators and law-enforcement officers search students without violating their rights.

The manual is intended to help administrators wade through the complexities of the rules and case law stemming from the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

Subjects in the manual include the use of drug-detection dogs to search lockers and other property; random drug testing of athletes and other students; the use of metal detectors; and procedures for obtaining permission to search students through "voluntary consent."

--MARK WALSH

Vol. 18, Issue 2, Page 4

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