News in Brief: A National Roundup
Class-Size-Reduction Plan Approved For L.A. Schools
The Los Angeles school board has decided to reduce the size of 9th grade English classes as part of plans to spend a windfall from the state.
In two installments, including a marathon 12-hour meeting this month, the board decided how to spend $45.5 million of a $63.8 million surplus in state revenue that came its way, thanks to California's robust economy. The money was in addition to the original $6.5 billion 1998-99 budget for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In the first round, the board approved the use of $9 million of the extra money for class-size reduction, from 39 to 20 students per teacher in 9th grade English classes in the 681,000-student district, according to a district spokesman. It also approved plans to continue such programs as professional development and earthquake preparedness.
In the second round, the board voted to hire 25 more 9th grade counselors, to expand a tutoring program for elementary students, and to provide matching funds for a new application for the federal "E-rate" technology program, among other items.
--Mary Ann Zehr
Fired Teachers Get $520,000
Two teachers fired last year by the Vaughn, N.M., district for using unapproved curricula will share a $520,000 settlement.
The teachers, Nadine and Patsy Cordova, filed a lawsuit against the 500-student district last summer, claiming they were wrongfully fired for exercising their First Amendment right to free speech. The sisters refused to discontinue using Chicano-oriented materials and books intended to promote racial and religious tolerance in their predominantly Hispanic classes. ("Board Fires N.M. Teachers," Aug. 6, 1997.)
All negative references about the case will be removed from the teachers' personnel files as part of the settlement announced last week. Nadine Cordova said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the pair, that the case was a victory for teachers who stand up for their rights.
The Cordovas have since taken jobs elsewhere.
District officials could not be reached for comment last week.
--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
N.J. Axes Single-Sex Classes
The New Jersey education department has pulled the plug on single-sex classes at a middle school, citing what it says are violations of Title IX, the 1972 law barring sex discrimination in schools that receive federal aid.
Under the voluntary single-sex pilot program at the 1,080-student William Allen Middle School in the Moorestown Township school system, 44 boys and girls in 8th grade had been taught in separate mathematics and science classes since September.
Teachers and administrators had hoped to determine whether the setting encouraged boys and girls to perform better in those subjects. Though the experiment was going well, according to district officials, the program's students were integrated into coeducational classes last week to comply with the state's order.
A number of single-sex programs are being tried in public schools around the country. While many teachers, parents, and students involved laud their benefits, most experts caution that studies on the effects of those programs have not been conclusive.
--Kerry A. White
Boy Fatally Stabbed at School
A 13-year-old Alabama boy has been charged with murder in the stabbing of a 12-year-old classmate while students changed classes at Wetumpka Junior High School in central Alabama.
Je'cordy Buycks died Nov. 5 of two stab wounds to the head, Chief William Pertree of the Wetumpka police said. The victim was buried Nov. 11, on what would have been his 13th birthday, Mr. Pertree said.
The suspect, whose name was not released, is accused of attacking the victim at the 500-student school, on the outskirts of Montgomery, the previous day. The 7th graders apparently had a disagreement, which led to the stabbing, Mr. Pertree said.
The suspect, who will be tried as a juvenile, remains in a Montgomery detention center.
Management Flaws Plague Phila.
An audit team hired by Pennsylvania lawmakers has concluded that the problems in Philadelphia schools are management- and not funding-related, and that more-streamlined practices could save the district nearly $600 million over five years.
The auditors from PricewaterhouseCoopers presented the 1,000-plus-page report to the state House appropriations committee this month. The report, which cost the state nearly $500,000, contains 130 recommendations for the 215,000-student district, including eliminating some administrative positions and seeking a property-tax increase from the city.
Barbara Grant, a spokeswoman for the district, said that while she was still reviewing the report, many of its recommendations would require policy changes out of the district's control. Many of the proposals, she added, were already being pursued.
--Kerry A. White
Youths Charged in Alleged Plot
Police in Burlington, Wis., arrested five boys last week for allegedly conspiring to shoot their high school principal, the assistant principal, the school police officer, and about 15 classmates.
Police in the town of 9,700 learned of the plot from an informant. As recounted by police, the 15- and 16-year-olds planned to steal a stash of rifles and handguns owned by one of the youth's parents, then enter Burlington High School, cut the phone lines, take administrators hostage, and gun down classmates who the boys said had harassed them.
All of the students--two freshmen, two sophomores, and a junior--have been charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree homicide. While three were in custody, police said that two of the students who backed out of the plot before it was discovered were released to their families last week. If tried as adults and convicted, each could be sentenced to 40 years in prison. All have been suspended from the 1,200-student school pending an expulsion hearing.
One of the students told a local television station that the plan was a joke to rile the youths' parents. But Gary Large, Burlington's assistant police chief, said he was convinced the students would have carried out the plan had officials not intervened.
Student Employment Questioned
Administrators in Ottumwa, Iowa, are seeking state permission to continue with their practice of having elementary students work in their schools' cafeterias.
State officials informed the district this month that it may be in violation of state labor laws after officials read in a newspaper that the 5,000-student system had elementary pupils working without pay.
Superintendent Joseph Scalzo said the practice goes back 20 years, but only became an issue when, for budgetary reasons, the system did not replace a number of part-time employees who left one of its schools and instead increased the number of students working in the cafeteria.
Generally, five to eight students work at a school, voluntarily, for no more than 30 minutes a week, Mr. Scalzo said. Other Iowa schools engage in the same practice, he added.
But for safety reasons, state law forbids children younger than 14 to work. Late last week, however, Mr. Scalzo said he was asking state education and labor officials to consider changing the statute to exempt schools.
Chicago Activists Seek Voice
About 250 parent and community activists in Chicago rallied outside the mayor's office last week in a bid for a greater voice in running their local schools.
Stand Up for Our Children, a coalition of local school councils, parents, and community groups, asked Mayor Richard M. Daley to restore the councils' authority to select their own principals and to spend state Title I funds. The coalition also released a study that it says documents an enrollment decline in the seven high schools that were "reconstituted" when the mayor took over management of the 420,000-student district in 1995. ("Daley Names Team in Takeover of Chicago Schools," July 12, 1995.)
The study, conducted by Designs for Change, a local nonprofit organization that works to improve education in the city, shows that total enrollment in Chicago's reconstituted high schools dropped by 29 percent between 1995 and this year, a loss of some 2,800 students.
Antonio Delgado, the author of the study and the policy-reform director for Designs for Change, contends that the state has undermined the authority of the school councils and that the outcome has been a tremendous loss in the number of low-income students.
Officials at the mayor's office could not be reached for comment.
--Adrienne D. Coles
Vol. 18, Issue 13, Page 4