News in Brief: A National Roundup
Ariz. Court Agrees District Liable for Bus-Stop Injuries
An Arizona appeals court has upheld a $900,000 jury verdict against a district found partially responsible for severe injuries a student suffered after getting off at a school bus stop at a major intersection.
In unanimously upholding the negligence award against the 13,000-student Tempe Elementary School District, a three-judge state appellate panel said a district has a duty when locating a bus stop to "refrain from subjecting its students to any foreseeable and unreasonable risk of harm." In its Sept. 16 ruling, the court also said evidence showed that residents of a nearby subdivision had unsuccessfully requested that the district move the stop.
Andrew C. Warrington was 7 in 1993 when he got off his bus, then darted into a busy avenue to escape a boy who had threatened to beat him up, according to his family's lawsuit. He suffered severe brain and spinal injuries when struck by a car. The jury allocated 45 percent of the fault to Andrew, 40 percent to his parents, and 15 percent to the district.
Bradley R. Jardine, a lawyer for the district, said the ruling greatly expanded districts' potential liability in the operation of their transportation systems. Tempe may appeal.
Parents Sue Over Uniform Policy
Parents and students have sued Polk County, Fla. believed to be the only public school district in the nation that requires its students to wear uniforms.
The suit, filed this month in U.S. District Court in Tampa, lists 500 plaintiffs who want the policy thrown out on the grounds that it infringes on freedom of expression and the right to privacy.
The school board of the 77,000-student district voted last May to require elementary and middle school students to wear uniforms. The new measure replaces one adopted in 1996 that allowed parents to opt out of having their children wear regulation apparel to school.
District officials say they removed the "opt out" provision because schools in which the majority of pupils wore uniforms showed a decrease in violence, property damage, and suspensions.
Charlotte Buys Sites for Schools
For the second time in a month, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board in North Carolina has approved the purchase of a second, new school site within the city limits.
The 99,000-student district is anticipating the need for several new buildings to accommodate more than 7,000 students who could return to neighborhood schools as a result of a recent federal court ruling that ended race-based admissions to magnet schools. ("Federal Judge Declares Charlotte-Mecklenburg Unitary," Sept. 22, 1999.)
In his Sept. 9 ruling, the judge in the district's 30-year-old desegregation case ended court supervision of the district. Since the landmark 1971 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, which allowed mandatory busing for desegregation, the district has used busing and an elaborate system of magnet schools to integrate schools in the city of Charlotte and suburban Mecklenburg County.
The board has not decided whether to appeal.
--Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Conn. Sues Charter Founder
Connecticut's attorney general is seeking the return of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the founder of a charter school who is accused of mismanagement and misuse of state funds.
Robin Barnes, a University of Connecticut law professor, started the Village Academy, an elementary school in New Haven, two years ago.
The academy was located in a building she had bought and then leased back to the school, according to the state's lawsuit. Later, Ms. Barnes allegedly failed to make mortgage payments on the property, and this fall, moved the school to another location without informing state officials.
The state also alleges that while Ms. Barnes told state education officials the school would be governed by a board of trustees, the panel she assembled played only an advisory role, allowing her to maintain sole authority. The state school board revoked the Village Academy's charter Sept. 8.
Although not listing a total dollar figure, the lawsuit seeks damages equal to three times the amount of grants, loans, and other state money Ms. Barnes allegedly misused.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had yet to decide last week whether criminal charges should also be pursued
Ms. Barnes could not be reached for comment last week.
School Returns Christian Texts
A Southern California school is removing curriculum materials with explicit references to Christianity in its attempt to settle a lawsuit.
Steven J. Wentland, the principal of the 64-student, K-8 Belridge Elementary School, said staff members removed every piece of multidisciplinary textbooks and supporting materials published by A Beka Books Inc., a Pensacola, Fla., company that bills itself as the "largest Christian textbook publisher in the world."
The curriculum, which the school purchased this summer, includes repeated references to the Bible and Christian doctrine, according to the federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Aug. 24, the day after school opened.
"These books never got into the kids' hands," said Mr. Wentland, who also is the superintendent of the one-school Belridge district in the desert about 50 miles from Bakersfield. "We shipped them all back."
The district is addressing the ACLU's complaints, and the two sides are near a formal settlement, said Michael Fleming, a spokesman for the Los Angeles chapter of the ACLU.
--David J. Hoff
Violence Data To Go Online
Nearly a dozen New Jersey school districts will soon be submitting data about school violence to the state education department via the Internet.
The pilot program, which is scheduled to start next month, involves 11 districts, including Newark, Jersey City, and Trenton.
Officials expect the Electronic Violence and Vandalism Reporting System to streamline reporting procedures and enable educators to design programs to keep students safe.
All districts in the state will be expected to start using the Internet to report the data in February.
Cat Burned in Homecoming Fire
A Colorado student was suspended for 10 days last week for throwing a cat into a bonfire at a homecoming pep rally.
Fire officials and adult chaperones were in attendance during the celebration and traditional hillside bonfire for the 380-student Gunnison (Colo.) High School, according to Principal Steve Coleman.
The cat had to be euthanized as a result of the burns it sustained.
Five other students were suspended for two to five days for their indirect participation.
Mr. Coleman said the primary offender's return to school was pending a full psychological evaluation, but he would not release any further information about the students. Gunnison police are pursuing a separate investigation, and the students could face criminal charges as a result.
W. Arthur Garrity Jr., the federal district judge whose school desegregation order in Boston touched off violent protests and indelibly linked that city to the image of forced busing, died of cancer Sept. 16 in Wellesley, Mass. He was 79.
Judge Garrity's 1974 ruling in Morgan v. Hennigan said that the Boston school committee had deliberately and unconstitutionally segregated the public schools, leaving black students with an inferior education.
Foes blamed him for a mass exodus of white families to local parochial or suburban schools and lingering troubles in the public system.
But others praised his decision as courageous and said mandatory busing played only a marginal role in "white flight" from the city.
In an interview this year marking the 25th anniversary of the ruling, Judge Garrity expressed no regrets over his decision and said the school system was better off for the court's intervention. ("Judgment Days," June 2, 1999.)
--Kerry A. White
Vol. 19, Issue 5, Page 4