News in Brief: A National Roundup
Court Finds Disabled Girl Not Discriminated Against
The Alexandria, Va., public schools did not discriminate against a disabled student who was left alone during a fire-alarm incident, according to a ruling by a federal judge.
The parents of Cady Shirey, now age 15, brought a civil suit against the 10,800-student district after their daughter was left alone in a room at George Washington Middle School after a fire alarm went off for an unplanned drill in March 1997.
That was the second time Ms. Shirey had been left alone. After an evacuation for a bomb threat in April 1996--when the girl, who uses a wheelchair or motorized scooter, was left alone in the school for about 70 minutes--her parents worked with school officials to improve emergency procedures for students with disabilities.
Officials created supervised areas in schools throughout the district equipped with flags and cellular telephones to help rescuers find such students.
U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris ruled Nov. 25 that Ms. Shirey was not in any danger during the 1997 incident because a teacher arrived in the room in less than two minutes. Her parents plan to appeal the decision.
--Karen L. Abercrombie
Students Injured in Explosion
A science experiment gone awry has hospitalized two California students, leaving one with life-threatening injuries.
Christopher James and Nolan Lemar, both 17-year-old seniors at William S. Hart High School in Newhall, Calif., were injured Nov. 25 during a velocity experiment with their teacher on the football field during their first-period physics class.
The students were firing tennis balls through "cannons" made of apple-juice cans and fueled by wood alcohol or methanol when one of the homemade devices exploded, said Robert Lee, the superintendent of the Hart School District. A third student was treated and released from the hospital the same day.
Mr. James suffered potentially fatal burns and underwent surgery last week. Mr. Lemar, who was also severely burned, is expected to recover fully, according to the superintendent.
District administrators are awaiting an official report from Los Angeles County authorities before initiating a formal investigation into whether proper safety precautions were in place.
--Adrienne D. Coles
Source: Gordon S. Black Corp.
Phila. To Appeal Federal Ruling
Philadelphia officials decided last week to appeal a judge's dismissal of their unusual federal lawsuit against the state over school finance.
The suit, which the city, the 215,000-student school district, and students and parents announced last March, argues that Pennsylvania's school funding formula violates federal civil rights law because it gives proportionately less aid to mostly nonwhite districts compared with similarly poor students from predominantly white districts.
It is believed to be the first use of federal civil rights law in a challenge to a state's school finance formula.
In dismissing the lawsuit Nov. 15, U.S. District Judge Herbert J. Hutton wrote that the complaint boiled down to a " 'we need more money' allegation of a type that has been held nonactionable" under the 1964 civil rights law cited in the suit.
--Kerry A. White
Union Faces Fines for Strike
Though its members are back at work after a five-day strike, the Jersey City (N.J.) Education Association faces $400,000 in fines as a result of the walkout.
A 24-hour negotiating session broke the deadlock between the union and the administration of the 33,000-student district, New Jersey's second largest.
Educators won a salary increase of 12.3 percent over 3 years, and guarantees that supervisors will schedule meetings with teachers before and after their evaluations.
Teachers had complained that supervisors often showed up in their classrooms unannounced to evaluate them, and that the administrators did not previously explain what was expected of them, said Thomas J. Favia, the president of the JCEA , the local affiliate of the National Education Association.
The day after the strike began Nov. 19, the state-run district won an injunction ordering the teachers back to work. The union was then issued $100,000-a-day fines for the remainder of the strike. Mr. Favia said that the local plans to fight the penalties in court.
Parent Takes Hostages, Is Killed
A man apparently upset with the education of his deaf child was killed by police after he held two school officials hostage in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Michael P. Genekaros, whose teenage son is receiving special education services in a local school, walked into the county's education department offices with a gun and two pipe bombs Nov. 23. He held two employees hostage for almost three hours, then forced an assistant superintendent outside, holding the gun to his back, according to police reports. When Mr. Genekaros refused to drop the gun, a police officer shot him in the head.
Mr. Genekaros, 45, was recently divorced and was involved in a custody battle with the boy's mother, according to local news reports.
--Joetta L. Sack
Boy Honored for Bravery
A senior at Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore., was awarded a medal for his bravery during the fatal shooting spree at the school last May.
Jacob Ryker, 17, was awarded the Silver Cross for Valor from the Legion of Valor of the United States of America Inc. at a veterans' banquet last month. He was recognized for his efforts to subdue the gunman who opened fire in the crowded cafeteria of the 1,500-student school. After receiving a bullet wound to his chest, Mr. Ryker tackled Kipland P. "Kip" Kinkel, who has been charged with killing two students and injuring 22 others in the May 21 incident. ("Two Students Die, 22 Injured in Ore. Rampage," May 27, 1998.)
The Legion of Valor, established in 1890 for decorated veterans, awards the medal to those who have saved or preserved the life of another while risking their own during peacetime.
Police Seize School Paper's Photos
Two high school newspaper reporters covering a gang beating involving students had their film confiscated at the off-campus crime scene by a Denver police officer.
The officer told Nick Gaylord and Dustin Jacobs, who work for The Gargoyle, the weekly student-run newspaper at South High School in the Denver district, that the investigation was confidential.
After seizing their camera, the officer offered to develop the film and return any photos that did not include the witnesses, whose identity he was trying to protect.
The students, who declined the offer, told The Associated Press that they were concerned that the officer took the film and didn't say what he planned to do with it.
The law prohibits law-enforcement officials from restraining press coverage, said Mark Goodman, the executive director of the Arlington,Va.-based Student Press Law Center. And student journalists are entitled to the same rights as professional journalists, he added.
Despite that, school officials have sided with the police.
The boys have no plans to pursue a lawsuit, said Carsten B. Engebretsen, the newspaper's adviser.
Report Sees Continuing Inequities
Low-income and minority students continue to be shortchanged by schools, according to a report released last week by a nonprofit group that works to improve achievement for all students.
Over the past two decades, high school completion rates for African-Americans--when General Educational Development diplomas are included--have increased to within about 9 percentage points of white students, according to "Education Watch 1998." Graduation rates for Latinos and American Indians, however, are well below other groups', and the report by the Washington-based Education Trust says there are no signs of improvement.
The 250-page report provides profiles of 50 states and the District of Columbia and ranks them according to 21 indicators of educational quality and equity. Of the 37 states the report lists in one category, for example, Michigan, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Indiana, and Florida have made the most progress in ensuring that low-income students score at or above a basic level in mathematics.
--Mary Ann Zehr
Roy P. Peterson, Kentucky's secretary of education, arts, and humanities, died of lung cancer Nov. 28. He was 64.
Mr. Peterson was named to the Cabinet by Gov. Paul E. Patton, a Democrat who was elected in 1995. In that position, he oversaw the state's education department, arts programs, and educational television authority.
Before taking his job in the Patton administration, Mr. Peterson was the assistant to the executive director of the Kentucky Council on Higher Education for almost 10 years.
--David J. Hoff
Vol. 18, Issue 15, Page 4