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Published in Print: February 24, 1999, as News in Brief: A National Roundup

News in Brief: A National Roundup

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Wis. Settlement Reached In Open-Enrollment Dispute



A settlement between the Wisconsin education department and the Milwaukee public schools will allow a limited number of the city's white public school students to attend schools outside the city under the state's open-enrollment program.

The state agency and the 105,000-student system have been in court since August over a city policy that barred white students from participating in the state's public-school-choice plan. The state program allows students to transfer both within and outside their local districts.

The city maintained that the open-enrollment program ran counter to a racial-balance plan that the Milwaukee district adopted in 1976 as part of court-ordered desegregation. Milwaukee schools had rejected requests from white students--who make up about 20 percent of the system--to transfer to suburban schools through the choice program.

Under this month's settlement, one white Milwaukee student can transfer out of the system for every four minority students who apply.

--Kerry A. White

Greatest Influence on Student Learning

A recent survey of 2,525 adults nationwide found that of the three choices shown at right, more than half of the three choices shown at right, more than half of respondents say the quality of teachers is the greatest influence on student learning.

Judge Upholds Teacher Layoffs

A federal judge last week upheld the dismissal of 137 teachers by the Chicago school district. Changes to state law in 1995 made the layoffs legal, the judge said.

The Chicago Teachers Union had argued that the district should have followed the termination procedure for tenured teachers. Instead, the teachers were placed in a "reserve pool" and "honorably terminated" last month after they couldn't find jobs in other schools. Some had as long as 18 months to look for another job. ("'Honorable' Discharges Provoke Suit Against Chicago," Feb. 3, 1999.)

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel ruled that amendments four years ago to the state law that overhauled governance of the Chicago public schools gave the school board the authority to change its layoff policy.

Tom Reece, the president of the teachers' union, an American Federation of Teachers affiliate, contended that the ruling proves the 1995 legislation was an attempt "to destroy our union and our schools."

The union plans to contest the decision.

--Ann Bradley

Athlete Says Injury Ignored

A Wisconsin high school basketball player with a broken leg claims coaches ignored his requests for medical attention when he was injured during a game.

Spencer Frost, a 17-year-old junior at Waterford (Wis.) Union High School broke his leg last month at another area high school, located about a block away from a hospital.

Despite his requests to go to the hospital and to call his parents, coaches decided to carry him off the court, wrap and elevate his leg, and take him on a half an hour bus ride back to school, according to Larry Berg, the principal of the 930- student school.

Mr. Berg said that the district's policy on sports injuries is for coaches to examine the injury and talk with the student about what course of action to take. He also said the district has no policy requiring coaches to have medical training. He added that the coaches did what any reasonable and prudent person would do.

Gail Lorenzen, a lawyer for the boy's family, said the injury was severe enough to require surgery and keep him out of school for weeks. She added that the family has hired an investigator and has yet to determine if any legal action will be taken.

--Candice Furlan

Cincinnati Teachers Reverse Vote

Members of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, reversing an earlier vote, have approved a contract amendment that will allow the district to close and redesign poorly performing schools.

The amendment to the teachers' contract was needed to allow all teachers in a school slated for redesign to be declared "surplus." Those teachers then have the right to another job in the district.

Union members had rejected the change in December. But a vote taken this month, which drew some 350 of the district's 3,500 teachers, passed overwhelmingly. ("Cincinnati Union Rejects School-Overhaul Plan," Dec. 16, 1998.)

Tom Mooney, the president of the American Federation of Teachers affiliate, attributed the change to the union's effort to disseminate accurate information about the plan, public pressure, and the discussion by district officials of turning low-performing schools into charter schools. Mr. Mooney also said that teachers realized it was better to have a new assignment than not have a job at all.

Two elementary schools are scheduled to be closed and reopened under new designs in the fall.

--Ann Bradley

Hartford Names New Schools Chief

A New York City local district superintendent has been chosen to deliver the Hartford, Conn., schools from the academic and management problems that have plagued them.

The Hartford system's state-appointed board last week announced the hiring of Anthony S. Amato, the superintendent of New York's Community School District 6. He will take over the 25,000-student system in April.

During his 12 years at his current post, the 51-year-old Mr. Amato has earned a reputation as an innovative educator who managed to pull his district's performance up from the bottom of the citywide system. He launched an effort that put laptop computers into the hands of thousands of students, kept some schools open as late as 10 p.m., and allowed students' families to receive medical services at their children's schools.

The tenures of chief administrators in Hartford have been notoriously brief. The last superintendent, Patricia Daniel, resigned after just about a year on the job. ("Embattled Hartford, Conn., Superintendent Resigns," May 27, 1998.)

--Jeff Archer

Teen Fatally Shot at School

Police in the Chicago suburb of Elgin, Ill., arrested a 15-year-old boy last week in connection with the death of a 14-year-old student who was fatally shot at a private alternative school for at-risk students.

Hugo Rodriguez, 14, was sitting in a classroom Feb. 11 when a gunman walked in and shot at him several times. Mr. Rodriguez died shortly after the midday shooting. No other students were injured.

The suspect was arrested Feb. 16; a 19-year-old man suspected of driving a getaway car was arrested later that day.

Elgin Police Sgt. Tom Linder said authorities were treating the incident as a gang-related shooting, although they were still trying to identify a specific motive.

Lori Sweeney, the co-owner of the Libertyville, Ill.-based Ombudsman Educational Services, the company that runs the school, said the incident was the first of its kind in the 65 centers it operates in 10 states.

--Robert C. Johnston

Miami-Dade Settles Suits

The Miami-Dade school board has voted to pay more than $1 million to settle two sexual-harassment lawsuits involving William Clarke III, a former high school principal who now serves as a district administrator.

Board members agreed this month to pay $635,700 to cover legal fees and damages for Jacqueline Hazel, a Northwestern High School guidance counselor. In a civil trial last year, a jury found Mr. Clarke guilty of sexually harassing Ms. Hazel.

The board also agreed to pay $400,000 to Sonja Miller, Mr. Clarke's former secretary. She had filed a lawsuit claiming that Mr. Clarke had resisted granting her maternity leave after she repeatedly turned down his advances.

District funds will pay the costs of the settlements.

--Jessica L. Sandham

Los Angeles Principal Attacked

A elementary school principal for the Los Angeles Unified School District was beaten unconscious earlier this month, allegedly by two men who didn't want him to remain in his job.

According to Los Angeles police, Principal Norman Bernstein, 65, was attacked when he arrived at Burton Street Elementary School on Feb. 1. The assailants held a sharp object at his throat and punched him in the head, leaving him unconscious in his car, police said.

Mr. Bernstein, who has been the principal at the school since 1983, told police that one of the attackers said, "We don't want you here, white principal." He was treated and released from a local hospital, but has not returned to school.

The principal, who has worked for the district since 1959, told police the attackers were Hispanic males in their 30s. Police suggested that the incident could be related to growing discontent at the school, which is 90 percent Hispanic, over the scaling-back of bilingual education programs.

A spokesman for the 667,000-student district said school officials would wait for findings from the police investigation before taking any action of their own. If the violence spreads beyond the single incident, officials said, the district will enhance security at the school.

--Candice Furlan

Chief Quits Over School Safety

An Idaho superintendent has resigned over the condition of his district's high school building.

Harold A. Ott, the superintendent of the 680-student Whitepine district in northern Idaho, said that Troy High School is an accident waiting to happen. The veteran administrator said that he's not willing to gamble on the safety of students and teachers, and should something happen, that he doesn't want that on his conscience.

Voters last fall defeated a $7.2 million bond issue that would have paid for a new building.

The existing building, parts of which were built in 1905, has failed the state's last two safety inspections. It has been listed as one of the six worst school structures in the state.

Mr. Ott will leave the district at the end of the school year to take a job heading the nearby Lapwai district.

--Bess Keller

Judge Rejects Saturday Classes

Students with an excessive number of absences who are able to provide administrators with reasons for why they were not in school should not be forced to make up the class time on Saturdays, a Bibb County, Ga., superior court judge has ruled.

The decision affects a policy of the Bibb County school board, instituted at the beginning of last school year, that allowed principals to send middle and high school students with more than eight absences in one class--excused or unexcused--to Saturday school.

Andreal Brown, who had 14 excused absences in one semester during her sophomore year at Central High School in Macon, challenged the policy.

The local board had appealed a ruling by the state school board last November, which said that districts could not place additional conditions on students for them to receive passing grades. State policy requires only that students justify their absences and make up their work.

--Linda Jacobson

Vol. 18, Issue 24, Page 4

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